Do you know the skill sets needed for tomorrow’s workforce?

There have been a lot of news stories recently about federal and state funding for job training.

While it looks like this funding will be a target of needed budget cuts, many of the decision makers have discussed the need to become “smarter” about job training. That is, eliminating redundant programs and, more importantly, making sure trainees are gaining the right skills for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.

That got me thinking about just what are the right skills, especially as they apply to maintaining the vehicles of the future?

Future Workforce

To assess those skills, it is necessary to first look at what factors will drive changes in the future workforce. Here are six such drivers, as provided in a 2011 University of Phoenix study1:

  • Extreme longevity.
  • Rise of smart machines and systems.
  • Computational world.
  • New media ecology.
  • Super-structured organizations.
  • Globally connected world.

Lifelong Learning

The first driver, extreme longevity, is certainly an issue in the fleet maintenance world. As the workforce ages, and many plan to work beyond age 65, the concept of lifelong learning becomes even more important.

Some of the new skills that tie into this trend include new media literacy and virtual collaboration, which also tie into the new media ecology driver.

With social media expected to continue infiltrating more and more lives and business processes, new methods for acquiring and using technical/operational information, diagnostic processes and repair procedures will require the training and re-training of many persons who are still behind the curve for computer literacy.

Despite efforts over the past decade, much of the information used by the maintenance technician is still print-based, but that is now changing more rapidly.

Different World

Technicians have already been dealing with the rise of smart machines and the computational world for the past 10 to 15 years, but there is no slowdown in sight.

This is not just true of the computer and logic systems on the vehicles themselves, but also in the service bay.

Skills such as enhanced computerized diagnostic testing must continue to evolve. At the same time, technicians will also need to improve at critical thinking - knowing how onboard computers make their decisions and interpreting related data for diagnostic purposes.

Another skill referenced in the University of Phoenix study is “sense-making.” While computers are able to make more and more decisions and provide piles of data in mere seconds, it still takes the human mind to make sense of the data, and to apply it to whatever the person needs to do with that data.

Beyond Borders

When it comes to the last two drivers, super-structured organizations and the globally connected world, one only has to look at the parts list of a modern vehicle to see that the technology goes far beyond our nation’s borders.

With new media and global collaboration, the possibilities of putting the technician directly in touch with a design engineer in the Asia-Pacific Region, for example, certainly exist now and in the future.

Beyond the skills themselves, delivery of training is also becoming a heated issue. Many are looking at the German model, where a vehicle technician goes through a lengthy apprenticeship program and graduates into the working world with the knowledge level of a four-year engineering student.

Without getting too political, this requires businesses and government agencies to work better together in true public-private partnerships, as much more learning and job training will have to move out of the classroom and take place where the work actually gets done.


1Davies, Anna; Fidler, Devin; Gorbis, Marina. Future Work Skills 2020.” © 2011, Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

Stephen Howe is employed as a field trainer by United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, with approximately 600 locations in North America and an a rental fleet worth more than $3.5 billion. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council - a global non-profit organization dedicated to sharing best practices and recognizing outstanding training in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.