It is a daunting challenge to staff a vehicle maintenance shop for the most efficiency and operational savings. Many variables and factors need to be considered and addressed.
Among the considerations are organizing the workplace and outlining the direction of management control of the workers; deciding upon staff structure; determining and clearly defining day-to-day duties, responsibilities and authority of all job positions; and having systems in place in order to track, measure and analyze technician and shop expenses, activity, productivity, efficiency, etc.
Beyond this, there needs to be systems for prioritizing and assigning work; ensuring compliance with federal, state and local laws, regulations, codes and/or standards; and creating safety committees. Policies and procedures, along with training and certification, are necessary for maintaining safe operating practices, quality standards and a safe working environment.
Several years ago, to help shops better manage their staffing solutions, NAFA Fleet Management Association produced its Fleet Maintenance Staffing Guide. It was a complete source of information on staffing and organizing fleet maintenance operations.
NAFA is a not-for-profit, individual membership professional society serving the needs of members who manage fleets of sedans, public safety vehicles, trucks and buses of all types and sizes and a wide range of military and off-road equipment for organizations across the globe. Its members are responsible for the specification, acquisition, maintenance and repair, fueling, risk management and remarketing of more than 3.5 million vehicles, including in excess of 1.1 million trucks of which some 350,000 are medium and heavy duty trucks.
The staffing guide was very well received and generated a lot of requests for additional information and guidance on maintenance operations. As a result, NAFA earlier this year, published its Fleet Maintenance Operations Guide. A comprehensive reference for in-house and outsourced maintenance operations, it includes an in-depth section on maintenance staffing and offers ways and means to determine the appropriate staffing levels.
Material and resources are provided to help shop managers develop accurate methods for evaluating technicians individually to ensure they are functioning at peak efficiency given their experience level when compared to peers and industry benchmarking standards. There is information and guidance on eliminating excuses for poor performance by providing adequate tools, shop equipment and work space, as well as on how to adjust staffing levels, including overtime use, until fleet downtime is acceptable to all parties.
"There are a wide range of considerations when it comes to shop staffing," says NAFA project volunteer Mark Bellamy, CAFM, fleet manager for the County of York, Virginia. "The number of technicians and supervisors will depend on the organization's size and make up of the fleet; its mission; whether it is a private, corporate or government fleet; types of maintenance and repair services; and so forth.
"The organization's overall structure will certainly have an impact as well," he continues. "Traditional organizations may use many layers of management, where as some industries are seeing flatter structures in a depressed economy.
"But no matter the number of variables involved, the surest place to start is with the boots on the ground - technician staffing."
A relatively quick way to start the process of optimizing a shop's maintenance staff is to develop maintenance repair factors and vehicle equivalencies. This information will help in determining minimum staffing, need for shifts and, ultimately, provide a guide for the number of bays needed based on the number of technicians needed and the type of equipment that makes up the fleet.
Basically, vehicle equivalency is a method for breaking down a diverse fleet conceptually into a homogeneous one so it is easier to deal with, explains Bellamy. This technique is especially useful when comparing one garage to another, or even one fleet to another, and makes sure that it is an "apples- to-apples" comparison. It also provides an idea of what staff is needed to support a fleet expansion, reorganization or new facility where no direct experience supporting the particular mix of vehicles to be maintained in a given shop is available.
Maintenance repair factoring is an analysis technique that categorizes a fleet according to a vehicle classification, with vehicles grouped into classes according to similar maintenance requirements.
Technician skill and certification level also factor into staffing a shop, Bellamy says. "There is the tendency to want to hire all the best people with the highest skill sets. However, the reality is that a top-tier technician is not going to be crazy about changing oil all day, and a technician with a lower skill set will not be productive when it comes to complicated repairs."
Written, comprehensive job descriptions can help avoid these types of situation. Defining duties, roles, authority and responsibilities by skill and knowledge level for each position makes it easier to align each position with the appropriate person for the each position, says Bellamy. It is also a good idea to create specific guidelines that can be used for recruitment, and to develop information for employees related to what they need in order to progress through the organization. "The guide contains a section on model job descriptions," he notes.
There are also recommendations for recruiting technicians. "There are a number of approaches, but the key is to recognize which technicians you are trying to attract," he says. "Their experience and skill level will generally dictate where and how to look for them. Technical schools will produce younger technicians and career switchers, while traditional recruiting, such as newspapers and trade publications, will produce a different type of candidate. In addition, having your own employees recruit for you can also be a successful experience."
As for advice on figuring competitive salary and benefit packages, Bellamy says it is necessary to recognize what is important to the candidates. "For some it's all about the money. For others, benefits such leave, retirement and insurance are paramount. Keep yourself engaged in the employment market, know who is hiring and why."
Obviously a shop won't know if its staffing is effective or needs improvement unless there are systems and methods in place for tracking technician and shop activity, productivity and efficiency. Toward this end, Bellamy says, NAFA's Fleet Maintenance Operations Guide has thoughts, ideas and methods for benchmarking staff performance.
Benchmarking is a process used to evaluate certain aspects of an organization's processes in relation to industry best practices, sometimes within the same organization and often with other similar organizations or operations. The intent is to learn what an organization needs to do to achieve similar performance.
Benchmarking can also be used to help gauge progress towards the attainment of specific goals and objectives.
The guide also examines how shop management software can help with shop productivity and administration. Shops looking to purchase such software for the first time "need to be concerned with software that tracks fleet assets, maintenance and repair costs, parts costs, fuel and any other item that creates an expense for that fleet asset," counsels Bellamy. "Software should be able to allocate those costs against that asset and towards a department, division or cost center.
"Shops looking for software upgrades may want to add some type of document storage for accident photos, title, registration and sublet invoices. Another great feature is communication between shop, parts, drivers and vendors. Some programs allow for this non-verbal communication via email or texting, which is convenient for everyone.
"Another upgrade of real value," he adds, "is software with the ability to interface with your organization's financial software."
Outsourcing of some maintenance tasks and duties as a way to help a shop reduce downtime and costs is another subject addressed in the guide. It discusses, among other matters, some of the key considerations for deciding if outsourcing maintenance would be beneficial.
In general, outsourcing should be used when the work can be performed at a lower cost than a shop can provide, when the infrequency of the repair type keeps the organization from gaining economies of scale and when regulatory issues make certain tasks too burdensome to the organization, Bellamy says.
Additionally, outsourcing is an option when there is a surge in work flow that can not be handled in a timely manner by fleet maintenance.
Information on ordering NAFA's Fleet Maintenance Operations Guide and companion CD-ROM can be accessed on the association's website at www.nafa.org or by calling (609) 720-0882. The guide is available as an e-download or on CD.
The price for NAFA members is $49 for the e-download or $69 for the CD. The non-member price is $82 for the e-download and $99 for the CD.
Orders for CDs will include a $2 shipping and handling charge.