News | March 8, 2021

Skills for maintenance technicians of the future

The Smart Maintenance Skillslab project brings together educational institutes (Avans Breda and ROC Tilburg) and organizations (Actemium, Dimensys, Kuehne + Nagel and Stork) to identify the necessary skills for the maintenance technicians of the future and to ensure that these skills will be taught in (new) educational institutes. The Skillslab shares its results of the first year.

Skillsgaps at mechanics of the future

To be able to perform an activity properly, a person needs competences, knowledge and skills. For example, to be able to make a technical drawing, a person needs spatial insight and creativity (competence), the person must be familiar with the guidelines for technical drawings (knowledge) and the person must be proficient with the drawing software (skill).

A skills gap can arise due to an increase in the need for skills, for instance when a technology is scaled up, the demand for a product increases (and therefore the desired production capacity), technical drawings are adjusted after a maintenance stop, and so on. But a skills gap can also arise due to a decrease in the production capacity, when people retire, switch to another profession or lose their skills by using them too little.

In this Skillslab project we are particularly interested in the skills of the mechanic of the future. A technician who is supported by Augmented Reality (AR) works with digital work instructions and makes maintenance decisions based on condition information. What skills still need to be taught to allow this mechanic to perform his job properly and how can we best teach this?

A pilot: performing maintenance supported by AR

In the spring of 2020, it turned out that Augmented Reality (AR) can be a great option to offer remote support of technicians. If it is not efficient – or allowed – to be together physically, an experienced technician can still remotely monitor and provide support. Few companies have already implemented AR on a large scale, however many organizations have started pilots to explore the added value.

In the Skillslab project, three Avans students, in collaboration with Stork, Actemium and Kuehne + Nagel, carried out a pilot with 20 technicians from Stork and Kuehne + Nagel. The aim of the pilot was to observe which skills the employees master and which they still lack. The test results showed that everyone, young and old, has successfully completed the entire setup. The younger generation needed less guidance in carrying out the tasks and therefore took the initiative themselves to carry out steps. The older generation was a little more careful. However, the following applies to all technicians: with a training of about 1 day, they are capable to work with the AR app (Fieldbit in this case). Additional training – and experience – will probably be required in structurally working with AR glasses/ tool in practice, looking up information with the AR glasses in their own IT systems and in clearly communicating with the technician who is not present physically. However, the main conclusion is: this skills gap must be overcome!

Which skills gap does the maintenance sector experience?

Who better to make a statement about the Skillsgap than the companies in the maintenance sector themselves? That is why two Avans students conducted a survey last year among maintenance departments in the Netherlands to ask how difficult it is to fill a vacancy (and for which positions this is most difficult), how large the inflow and outflow is within the workforce and which new knowledge and skills are most needed.
The results of the study show that in particular new knowledge and skills are required for the new (smart maintenance) technologies which are becoming more digital. In addition, new knowledge is required for the increased regulations regarding safety and sustainability. On average, vacancies remain open for about 3 months of which the positions of Reliability Engineer, Maintenance Technician / Technician and Work Planner remain open the longest. The (national) challenge in particular is to attract young people to the maintenance sector. However, the development in smart maintenance technologies may help to make the sector even more attractive for this group.

An overview of digital teaching methods

Not only the technological possibilities for the maintenance sector have increased, also the technological possibilities for learning have improved. Virtual Reality (VR), 360 ° films, MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) and learning platforms are some examples. In order to keep seeing the trees among the forest, ISPT has made an overview of the digital teaching methods and the best practices in them.

Read more about Smart Maintenance Skillslab.

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