The 2015 Works Management People Productivity report stated that 39% of companies suffered from a shortage of multi-skilled maintenance engineers.

When I did my apprenticeship with British Rail Engineering in the 80s there were a number of trades, namely mechanical, machinist, electrical, carpentry, sheet metal working, welding, pipe fitting, plumbing and painting. I could go on. We were trained to quite an advanced level in our chosen vocation.

Fast forward not many years and multi-skilling started in the automotive industry. There was a need to keep the assembly line going so mechanical fitters were trained in high-frequency low-risk electrical tasks so that the fitter did not need to wait for an electrician to isolate and disconnect the motor before the fitter changed the gearbox.

In the water industry, some providers went a stage further by giving the mechanical fitters electrical and instrumentation skills. Why have three vans at an outlying pumping station when a multi-skilled technician could complete most of the day to day tasks?

We are now interested in the breadth of skills rather than depth of skills. No longer does the electrician rewind a motor in the workshop. In 2015 it is far more likely that the motor is scrapped or sent to a contractor to refurbish. The multi-skilled technician’s role is to maximise the uptime of the asset. This involves fault diagnosis, remedial work and then root cause analysis to prevent the fault recurring.

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Focused training, particularly that aimed at multi-skilling of maintenance staff, can be a powerful force in addressing current skills shortages.

Some of the benefits of multi-skilling include

  • Motivation and development of staff
  • Improved staff retention
  • Formal targeted training with direction and end focussed on business need
  • Encouragement of teamwork through coach and assessor communicating more with opposite trade
  • Refocussed of training budget
  • SOPs and training packages are written around business need
  • Safe job; Timely job; Right first-time job
  • Improved productivity as downtime is reduced due to increased skills base
  • Cross cover of skills in event of absenteeism, sickness etc
  • Nationally recognised qualifications where appropriate; skills are validated
  • Training records meet and exceed those required by HSE etc
  • Fulfils requirements of Investors in People
  • Government wants to see competence at work