Technicians: Cornerstone of your facility

Ed Bass

In the hierarchy of your business facility, technicians’ roles may easily be overlooked.

We assume they know their craft and expect them to take care of our equipment. If your business has a variety of machines, it may well be vulnerable without excellent technicians.

It boils down to this: How much downtime can you tolerate without creating a serious business problem? In a lean business, it’s usually measured in hours, not days. Since technicians stand in the gap when machines go down, it make sense to consider the attributes you need in your technical staff.

Allow me to describe three technicians from among the many I have known as a project engineer in research, test and production facilities. I hope to use their stories to explain how certain attributes are key in identifying and developing the best technicians.

Mick was skilled with measurement instruments and their calibration. He diligently studied and honed his craft. A likeable guy, he socialized with everyone in the organization. I could rely on him to help out with anything in his domain, but not beyond it.

Ted was a smart guy who could have earned an engineering degree if his aptitude had been recognized by a counselor or recruiter. He would soak up all the information he could get his hands on, focus on the details of every process, and insist on the best tools for data acquisition and controls. Always tweaking the equipment and talking about new techniques, it was hard to keep up with him. But Ted was frustrated with the lack of change in the facility and poor decision making of facility leaders.

Rob was the guy you could easily walk right past without noticing. His head and hands were always busy; socializing was not his thing. I noticed him because he was working on a complex electro-mechanical control system while explaining it to a younger technician. It was the kind of equipment that most facilities would have had serviced by a specialized outside firm — such as the manufacturer.

I learned that day that Rob was the manufacturer. He built the system with help from an engineer after looking at the options from outside vendors. He had no fear of any challenge. For him, it was exciting to learn about and do something new. That was the reason I selected Bob when a techie-turned-automotive-journalist asked me to form a team to break the world speed record for electric vehicles in the 1990s. That was a challenge we met in six months.

Rob was a veteran in more ways than one. After his service to his country, he served his employer loyally for three dozen years. He knew every system inside and out.

Rob’s skill and demeanor made him the go-to guy for the toughest problems in the plant. He wasn’t perfect. His personal life was no rose garden. It was his work ethic, continuous learning, focus and fearlessness that made him so valuable.

Mick and Ted were two of the many good technicians I have enjoyed working with. Rob, however, was the best. How someone so talented was kept by one employer for an entire career?

He was given a stable work environment. He was shielded from most of the inevitable churn in leadership and facilities. Rob was allowed some latitude in equipment, tools and time. Simpler, routine tasks were given to others so he had time to work with engineers. He was consulted for every major facility proposal. He felt secure, trusted and appreciated.
Installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting equipment is not easy. Most of the time, the work is done on a deadline, with someone looking over your shoulder and adverse ergonomics and climates.

Reflect on the staff of your facility. Are you developing your own “Rob” and allowing them to be challenged, secure and trusted?

Edward Bass is an instructor of advanced manufacturing systems at Hagerstown Community College. Email him at eabass@hagerstowncc.edu.