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The Maintenance Management Blog

June 11, 2012

Maintenance Management: Retaining Professional Experience

Maintenance Management

Keeping the Knowledgebase when Critical Employees Retire

One of the most difficult tasks in maintenance management has always been employee retention. Many a maintenance manager has remarked, "How am I going to continue servicing the plant when Jake retires next month? Jake was the go-to guy when the recoiler acted up – he was the man I sent to get the entry conveyor back in operation after it quit running – he was the person every department asked for each time they had a repair turn!"

Here’s a sobering statistic to consider; the average age of maintenance employees throughout the US is at its highest level in the past 30 years. There are several reasons for this:

  • Corporate downsizing due to economic and technology issues;
  • Fewer training and apprenticeship programs being offered; and,
  • Employees are working longer, retiring later.

However, what if you looked at the problem from a different perspective? In other words, what if your goal was retaining professional experience, exclusive of the employee himself? After all, employees do eventually retire or simply find other career paths. Yet, as a maintenance manager, you can’t afford to lose the critical skills and knowledge that senior professionals often have locked up inside their heads.

It doesn’t matter what maintenance management scenario your operation is facing, the reality is you need to a competent staff to maintain the plant. As a maintenance management professional, you likely have little control over downsizing. Even if you’re working with a crew half the size it was 5 years ago, chances are the demands on their talents have remained pretty much the same – recoilers, conveyors continue to require expert service and repair. But as employee attrition inevitably occurs, you have to face the need to retain the knowledge you've counted on from your employees for so long.

Building the Knowledgebase

One of the best ways to ensure the know-how doesn’t leave once with the employee is to begin building a knowledge base. There are several ways to accomplish this, the most helpful being a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) software application that provides the tools for "maintenance documentation". A good CMMS software package will contain features that allow you to record the step-by-step procedures to safely and efficiently complete any maintenance task. Initially, this will take some time and a commitment on your part, but the benefits of doing so will last well into the future.

Does the CMMS software package you currently use allow you to "Attach" existing documents to your various Maintenance Records? This is a valuable tool when, for instance, a department already has Safety Procedures or Job Safety Analysis (JSAs) records maintained in another program like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. This is a great place to start and could reduce your implementation time significantly. Windows-based CMMS software applications should also allow ‘copy and paste’ from one application to another.

Populating your CMMS Maintenance Records with existing information allows documentation to be linked to other features within the CMMS software. Safety Master, Preventive Maintenance, and even ISO/QS9000 Records can provide this knowledgebase information directly to the maintenance staff. Periodic reviews and updates of your procedures (which, by the way, is a critical component of maintaining and retaining an ISO/QS-9000 certification) can also be managed through your CMMS software.

Sharing practical experience

On-the-job training (OJT) is a good way to teach younger, less-skilled employees the things they need to know to maintain the plant. Obviously, it’s a good idea to pair one of these workers up with a senior employee whenever possible, especially when faced with a breakdown that impacts production. Chances are this exactly how the experienced person learned his skills. It is no surprise that this wise policy is often overlooked in the urgency of a production crisis. "You never want a crisis to go to waste," may be a very smart maintenance management policy!

Once the job has been completed and any ‘crisis’ is over, give the crew or team time to discuss the repair. Please note, this very same policy is also resolutely followed by the U.S. military after any tactical operation! In a maintenance management environment it may go something like this:

  • Was the plan solid or should changes be made?
  • Did the team have all the necessary tools on hand to complete the job?
  • Were spare parts/hardware available?
  • Has the procedure been entered into the CMMS software?

This is where a full-featured CMMS software application provides the tools to collect, record and associate maintenance processes with maintenance records that will reward your company with fewer breakdowns, more uptime, less cost and increased profitability. How and what do you capture? Try this outline:

Collect: Your CMMS software should have Maintenance Records (sometimes referred to as ‘Tables’) designed to allow documentation data to be typed, copied and pasted, or attached.

Record: Effective CMMS software applications make it easy to plan work, identify which craft (skill set) is needed, any specific tools or spare parts required and an estimated time to complete the repair or procedure.

Associate: Once a step-by-step procedure has been identified, the CMMS software application must provide links to equipment records and to validate crafts and availability as well as the ability to generate a work order to track the "who – what – when – where – why and how" for future review.

Labor Management Participation Teams

Here’s a suggestion for a successful program that we used to resolve problems. These are modeled on the quality teamwork process. Our organization called it "LMPT" or Labor Management Participation Teams. As the title states, the team includes representatives from the labor force and company management. Without mutual cooperation between management and labor, it’s doubtful that significant improvements can be made to any organization’s maintenance management.

Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, you may want to consider multiple LMPTs. Let the team identify the problems and processes that have the potential to save time and money. Once their work has produced a plan, get it entered into the CMMS software and the knowledge base.

Don’t forget to discuss your plan or process. Is it clearly stated? Are all aspects of Safety addressed? Should additional changes be considered? Does it meet your expectations?

Finally, keep this in mind; an efficient, effective maintenance management system is a Work in Progress – Always Evolving, Always Improving.


Ed Johnson

About the Author – Ed Johnson

Edward Johnson has spent his entire professional career in the field of Maintenance. After graduating from a state-approved Machinist Apprenticeship in NE Ohio, he enlisted in the US Army. He served as an Instructor in the Machinist Course at the United States Army Ordnance Center & School in Aberdeen, MD. Mr. Johnson was decorated and promoted for his work in implementing a Self-Paced learning concept for that program.

After completing his tour of duty, Ed returned to his job in NE Ohio where he worked as a Machine Shop Supervisor and Maintenance Planner & Scheduler – finishing his career as the System Manager of the plants MAPCON Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). Mr. Johnson trained and supported over 700 users of the CMMS. He also served as President of the MAPCON Users Group for 14 years before his retirement. Mr. Johnson has been published in Maintenance Technology magazine in 2004 and in several books dealing with Maintenance Management. He is currently retired, residing with his wife Kathy in NE Ohio.

Filed under: CMMS Software, employee retention, maintenance management — Ed Johnson on June 11, 2012