Are you paying skilled lubrication technicians enough?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducts a national survey of various job duties, sorting average hourly compensation on the basis of a job level determined by nine categories. By discussing the job duties and level of expected performance according to those criteria, we may come to an understanding of fair compensation for a lubrication technician (lube tech).
This analysis should help maintenance organizations determine the appropriate wage for a lube tech so that they may attract truly qualified candidates, as well as help formulate an accurate and appropriate job description. Each of the nine categories is discussed in some detail.
On the BLS Web site (www.bls.gov), these categories classify jobs, with the level deemed most appropriate for a lube tech indicated in quotation marks.
“Knowledge of extensive rules in a generic field to provide a wide variety of tasks.” In this case, lubrication is the generic field. Lube techs routinely perform a variety of tasks ranging from visual inspections of plant machinery, to oil sampling and lubrication maintenance and application tasks.
A qualified lube tech must understand not just the “what” of these tasks, but the “why.” This requires an understanding of contamination control, oil analysis tests’, susceptibility to biases from sampling and lubrication to recognize the warning signs of equipment in trouble.
The best lube techs understand how to read an oil analysis report and understand the significance of the data it contains. They also take independent action to correct minor problems before they can advance to major ones, such as taking an unscheduled sample because of an undesirable state noticed through visual inspections.
“Employee handles ongoing assignments, supervisor makes decisions.” While this is commonly true as a minimum level of lube-tech autonomy, some organizations require their lube techs to operate with even less supervision. Such individuals command superior compensation.
“Guidelines are not always applicable; employee uses judgment in adapting them.” While it is generally important that procedures be followed strictly to ensure that work is performed properly, procedures cannot be created to handle every conceivable situation.
Lube techs must therefore be able to judge when such situations exist and be able to adapt their procedures to produce the best possible result. This is true for lubrication maintenance tasks as well as for oil analysis job functions.
“Tasks involve unrelated methods, employee must recognize them and choose based on relationships.” As previously discussed, the tasks performed by lube techs are varied, and guidelines for their performance and scheduling sometimes are unclear. This adds a certain degree of complexity to their work.
“Work is essential to the mission of the establishment.” If your organization does not recognize that a well-performed lubrication task is fundamental to the continued operation of the plant and its ability to achieve its mission, it is on a path to trouble. The role of maintenance is not the repair of equipment once it has already failed.
Maintenance is the business of keeping the plant up and running, and the most effective way of doing that is preventing failures. Lubrication and oil analysis are at the very heart of maintenance because they deal with eliminating and monitoring root causes of failures - particulates, moisture and the ineffective separation of contacting surfaces.
“Contacts are with employees in the same establishment . . . in moderately structured situations.” For a lube tech to be most effective, communication channels must be fully open and used. Structured reporting environments, such as the collection of data for compilation into regularly prepared reports, are good; however, the effective lubrication management program reacts quickly to early warnings of serious equipment troubles.
The effective lube tech recognizes when an abnormal condition is serious and has the self-confidence, motivation and communication skills to seek out a manager, an operations person or engineer to rapidly address the concern.
“The purpose is to obtain, clarify or give facts.” Lube techs are investigators, data collectors and analysts, but they are not managers in most organizations. Some world-class programs however may require that lube techs perform some supervisory role relating to lubrication tasks performed by more generalized maintenance personnel. Such individuals would obviously command a higher wage than the average discussed here.
“Work requires physical exertion.” This is not work performed while sitting at a desk. Lube techs must spend the majority of their time in the plant, carrying and using tools necessary to perform lubrication tasks that are moderately physically demanding.
“Work involves moderate risk - special safety precautions.” All work in industrial facilities involves some element of risk. While safety in general industry has been steadily improving over the years, industrial work remains inherently more risky than office work. Some work environments are riskier than others.
A lube tech working on an offshore drilling platform, for example, may fall into the higher-risk category of the “Work Environment” criteria, and should be compensated accordingly.
Adding up the scores of the selections outlined above, the job is categorized as at least a level 8, which tends to be at the top of the range for what are traditionally considered skilled trade jobs. Level 8 “Machinery Maintenance Occupations” were paid an average hourly wage of $17.66 in 1999, and the historical data tend to indicate that wages in this job classification have remained relatively flat over the previous few years with some volatility.
If this trend has in fact continued from 1999 to the present, we may assume that this is a good estimate of the average wage for someone performing this task at this level of competency.
It must be pointed out that this is a far cry from outmoded evaluations of the job task (back in the dark ages of “oilers”) that was performed by staff who were commonly paid significantly less than other maintenance craftspeople. Many maintenance organizations that are working to achieve their full effectiveness still struggle with this.
In fact, a full-time lube tech, by multiplying the hourly wage by 40 hours per week and by 52 weeks per year, would be paid an annual amount, excluding benefits and overtime, of almost $37,000. It must also be recognized that these figures are national averages, and local cost-of-living factors and labor market realities will influence the actual wages, as well as the skills and qualifications of individual candidates.
Exceptional employees who are highly knowledgeable, well-trained, certified and motivated may always demand higher wages. Candidates who are less qualified than average are often paid less. I have yet to find the organization, however, that will publicly admit to be searching for subpar employees. I know I wouldn’t want to live downwind of the industrial facility that was!