A broad swath of industrial offerings are grouped under the umbrella of "maintenance management," many of which involve outside (or contract) providers.
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They include training and professional development, engineering and consulting services and equipment-repair and overhaul services, among others.* The importance of these to industrial enterprise has grown significantly for two big reasons: (1) The skilled-labor shortage has driven the demand for training. (2) The recent economic slump has driven the demand for consultants—who can improve efficiencies—and for contract (or outsourced) operations—that can help smaller staffs maintain equipment and facilities.
Though manufacturing enters 2011 in a period of upswing, these trends are unlikely to subside. Rising energy costs alone will keep U.S. industry on an efficiency learning curve, reinforcing its need for the professionals and the technology that can help companies maximize energy dollars. But the most significant driver in this category is the one-two punch delivered by vast numbers of retiring Baby Boomers, coupled with low numbers of younger, trained replacements. This "perfect storm" topic has dominated industrial circles for years, including having been discussed in numerous articles in this magazine. While efforts are underway to address it, no single, effective broad-based solution has emerged. In one recent survey of 700 global companies, more than half of respondents (51%) said they believe that problems resulting from the ongoing loss of talent could hinder growth. Another indicates that this yawning "job gap"—the difference between the number of available, qualified workers and the number of open jobs—will continue to widen, creating as many as 5.7 million "vacant" jobs by 2018. Organizations confronted with this dilemma have created their own solutions, using combinations of outside training and development help, software that enables better transition of tribal knowledge and outreach efforts involving community colleges and other local connections. Interestingly, the burgeoning workforce crisis is not confined to one industrial area—it affects all levels of expertise. It's also not confined to the U.S.
All of these trends are expected to benefit the contract (outsourced) services sector. Most maintenance and reliability professionals have contracted for (or outsourced) something over the course of their careers, and surveys place the current overall percentage of manufacturing-related outsourcing at about 40% and growing. Given the vast number of creative, flexible contract or outsourced options available to plants and facilities—and the worsening workforce constraints under which they're trying to operate—this is probably right on track.
Rick Carter, Executive Editor
*Definition determined by Maintenance Technology editorial staff.