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Survey: Hands-on training, mentorship best way to transfer knowledge

Troubleshooting identified as critical skill

October 2015

Fluke Connect system includes collaboration features to transfer knowledge


Many forecasters see trouble ahead for replacing what’s called the “graying workforce” in skilled technical jobs.

One survey by Plant Engineering magazine found more people over the age of 60 working than under the age of 40. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, the share of the civilian workforce age 55 and over is expected to increase to 25.6 % by 2022, more than doubling from 1992.

As these wise veterans choose retirement, who will rise up to replace them? And how will younger workers receive the training they need to continue the gains in productivity of
the last decade?

Fluke News surveyed people in industry about their training, and asked questions about past education and how workers deal with upgrading skills while on the job. We heard from 61 respondents, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in six other countries. The biggest cohort of answers came from people in maintenance or electrical jobs (61%) who work in either an industrial or government facility (49%).

The most valuable training is “hands-on” or directly from on-the-job mentors, such as coworkers or vendors who are demonstrating new machinery, respondents wrote.

“On the job training is invaluable. Seeing and troubleshooting in real world environments”, is the best classroom, one worker wrote. “The best training for me is from coworkers who have been doing the work for 30+ years”, wrote another.

When giving advice to younger workers, many repeated the most important skill is “troubleshooting”. Another wise person suggested “learning how to learn”.

"Learn to troubleshoot"

“Learn to troubleshoot”, one worker wrote. “Finding what causes the problem is equal to fixing the problem. Learn to respect electricity. Keep learning.”

There were specific recommendations, including these: read the schematics, think analytically, understand test equipment, read as much as possible. Several respondents highlighted the importance of safety and that knowledge is one of the best ways to make manufacturing plants safer in the long term.

One man wrote: “Learn how to understand a process/equipment/technique so thoroughly that you can describe three different ways to accomplish the same task depending on the situation.”

People skills and talking to colleagues also got an emphasis from many respondents. A staggering 88 percent said they consult with more experienced coworkers daily or weekly on the job.

It may not be a surprise that email is the most common form for “talking” to each other (51%) but face-to-face is a healthy (39%) of communication.

Besides talking, many workers keep detailed data or notes about their plants, and using it to try to plan ahead to fend off trouble.

One worker takes infrared images of substation equipment and industrial plant equipment such as motors and switch gear. He uses that to do energy audits and building diagnostics, and stores the information on flash drives and CDs.

Power of information

All that crucial information helps save money and find trouble that could hit in the future, as well as keep units on schedule for maintenance and budget ahead for replacement parts, respondents told Fluke News.

“We collect failure data on new products through thorough testing, and use established ISO procedures. We have a central database of test reports and summarize our conclusions and store this in secure IT storage”, wrote one worker.

The majority of respondents (89%) have a vocational or technical degree, or an associate of arts degree. But as many wrote, they’ve learned a lot of what they need outside of classrooms and on the job. Some community colleges are adding “industrial maintenance” programs to try to train the army that industry will need in the next decades.

What some call the “wave” of retiring industrial workers will require creativity from manufacturers as they struggle to adjust to losing skills and experience. That effort will likely include new workflows and tools to help transfer knowledge from one generation to the next.