In 1993, a study was published by a researcher named Alma Schaafstal that concluded the following:

  1. “Technicians lack a systematic approach in troubleshooting”
  2. “[Technicians] lack a functional understanding of the installations they have to maintain”

Years later, in an article published in the Engineering Psychology and Cognitive Ergonomics journal in 2016, another set of researchers came to a remarkably similar conclusion and added:

  1. “The training of a systematic approach to troubleshooting should be embedded in regular training courses, in such a way that this systematic approach becomes a ‘second nature’ to technicians”.
  2. “The knowledge of installations should be taught at a function level, not at a component level”.

How does this problem manifest itself in today’s workplaces? In many cases, manufacturers hire generally skilled technicians to perform maintenance tasks. When it comes to electrical related work, many of these employees are dedicated and skilled electricians who have a good understanding of electrical concepts.

However, in some cases due to chronic skilled labor shortages, these technicians come from a mechanical background and are asked to perform maintenance functions. This recipe is when troubles with troubleshooting begins.

Today, many companies rely on a patchwork of training systems to train their technicians. One common method is called the ‘buddy system’. It’s when a skilled technician teaches a new employee what goes on at the plant, how to perform day-to-day tasks, and how to troubleshoot when something goes wrong.

At best, the buddy system covers the most common issues that come up at the plant, and hopes that a systematic method is being used to troubleshoot. However, that is usually not the case. As a matter of fact, with the buddy system, troubleshooting methodology varies by plant, shop, shift and individual and since there is no standard proven method. The result is varied and often leads to loss of productivity, longer downtime and safety issues.

Another common troubleshooting difficulty is the lack of knowledge transfer from the technicians who installed the equipment to the technicians who regularly maintain it day-to-day. Many plants rely on the OEM’s to install and maintain the equipment for some time after installation. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it should be coupled with proper training for the rest of the technicians on the installation method and known issues of each piece of equipment.

This issue is further compounded by the fact that automation and smart equipment are now more than ever self-diagnosing machines. This creates further distance between the maintenance team from the components. With increased automation and data, time between incidents is increasing, which is undoubtedly a good thing. However, when problems arise, they are now more severe and time to repair is longer, causing more losses for plants.

As this trend continues, the only mitigation for it is the implementation of comprehensive and continuous troubleshooting training. This is a great lesson learned from the airline industry, as autopilots and computers take over the flight operations of a plane, time between flight incidents increases, but has the severity of problems.

In response to this, pilots have become master troubleshooters, able to address both common and uncommon problems that arise. The way they learn those skills safely in a controlled environment that replicates real-life dangerous scenarios that require a mastery of troubleshooting skills, is in the flight simulator to practice, over and over and over again.

All of this research offers two good suggestions in order to combat the issues raised:

  1. Embed a systematic troubleshooting methodology in your training. At Simutech, we do just that, offering our 5-step Systematic Troubleshooting Approach to anyone that wants it.
  2. Train at a functional level, not a component-specific level. Take a step back from a specific component or brand and have the employee learn at a functional level so they can think critically and troubleshoot on any component made by any brand. We build our training system on this principle of functional universality.

One more item that was not addressed in the research and quite important in teaching troubleshooting, and that is related to the creation of a comprehensive training program that focuses on the trainee and using data to make sure they are progressing to a level needed to be able to complete their work effectively.

If you like to discuss how best to teach troubleshooting skills in a way that focuses on the trainee and hard data by creating a comprehensive training program, reach out today to [email protected].


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