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“No one wants to work in the boiler rooms,
No one wants to work with the tools.
The nation’s youth are taking the easy way out,
There’s no one left to fix our schools.
Maintenance technicians are 'bout to retire,
Company executives got no one to hire,
How safe does it make you feel?
How safe does it make you feel?”
“The Maintenance Crisis Song” by Joel Leonard
Many experts, including myself, believe that America is in the midst of a major maintenance crisis caused by: 1) the millions of retiring skilled maintenance technicians and maintenance professionals; 2) lack of interest by future generations; 3) companies that are installing increasingly complex, new equipment with no or minimal budget allocated for additional training; and 4) old equipment that continues to age and requires more maintenance. A perfect maintenance storm is brewing — and is forming largely under the radar screen.
The basic question that every company should be asking is: “What is the product of the maintenance department?” The typical answer will be reactive — to repair broken equipment. But the real product of the maintenance department is not repair; it is capacity. Even as companies are substituting technology for labor in machine operations, they need more maintenance workers for the machines themselves. The highly sophisticated automated systems require even more care and attention to keep the plant running at optimal levels.
When people think of this field, they see Bubba and Skeeter. But the maintenance stereotype of grease monkeys is way off the mark. Companies now need technicians not just for mechanical systems, but also for electrical and electronic control systems as well as sophisticated predictive maintenance technologies like vibration analysis, ultrasonic leak detection and infrared thermography.
Business and government leaders need to remember that as they strive to fund bleeding-edge ideas to get cutting-edge results and competitive advantages in a global marketplace, they also must polish the rusty edge of business. We cannot neglect the proper maintenance of the hydraulic, electronic and electrical systems that sustain us today as we strive to develop biotech and nanotech solutions for tomorrow. If we can become the “Reliability Nation” by building a strong foundation of skilled technicians, uptime performance and rapid recovery strategies, our economy will grow and more high-paying jobs will be created and captured in the United States.