Succession Planning and Training

While much of the focus on fleet training is on the training curriculum, course availability and other factors associated with the training itself, the larger picture likely involves a closer alignment between training and human resources. One of the key components of HR - employee succession planning - often requires a close inspection of your fleet's training strategies and completion tracking.

Succession planning establishes a process that not only recruits employees for higher-level positions, but also develops the skills and competencies of existing employees, preparing them for advancement. In the long run, this can lead to retaining these employees and ensuring a return on your company's training investment.

Succession planning usually involves a three-step approach:
1. Understanding your fleet organization's long-term goals and objectives.
2. Determining and predicting workforce trends (for example, your likely needs at one-year, three-year and five-year intervals).
3. Identifying the developmental areas required to help your workforce meet the organizational objectives ("gap" analysis).

In the past, succession planning typically targeted only key management or other leadership positions. In today's leaner organizations, however, it is important to include key positions in a variety of job categories.

Downsizing has reduced the number of internal candidates at many fleet companies, especially when you add in normal attrition rates. Although a large portion of our older workforce is now delaying retirement, one cannot ignore the fact that in 2006, an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. workforce was 55 or older - up from 13 percent in 2000.*

With some of the physically demanding jobs at a vehicle fleet company, the aging workforce numbers may stand out even more. Having a technician ready to step in and assume a master tech or shop foreman role, for example, could prove more critical - and more difficult - than filling a vacant management position.

With good succession planning, employees are ready for new leadership roles as the need arises. Through a targeted training strategy, a current employee is ready to step up to the plate when another employee leaves.

In addition, succession planning can help develop a cross-functional workforce now, while also enabling decision makers to look at the future make-up of the organization as a whole.

Begin by looking at your current strategy for training. Is it "just-in-time" training to meet current needs, or is there an eye to the future?

Also, begin segmenting the skills and knowledge each employee level needs to advance, and begin plugging in the types of training that will aid that advancement. Next, you'll need to seek out the training providers who can deliver the training at each level.

Formulating a strategy for implementing a succession planning strategy or re-evaluating your current plan will likely lead to more valuable training initiatives, better retention and employee satisfaction, more prepared leaders and even a greater commitment to work and the workplace.

* O'Brien, Sharon. About.com: Senior Living.

Stephen Howe is employed by United Rentals, the largest equipment rental company in North America with more than 600 branches and an equipment fleet worth approximately $3.5 billion. He is past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council, an organization of more than 60 member companies dedicated to recognizing training excellence and sharing best practices in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.

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