Management Excellence

Keith Swearingen is one to give credit where credit is due, and, as the fleet services supervisor for the City of Casa Grande, AZ, and the current president of the Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association (RMFMA), Swearingen gives a lot of the credit for his professional success to his colleagues in RMFMA.

"I can tell you that the members of the organization have made me what I am today," he insists. "I definitely would not be the person I am within the city, and what I do for the organization, without all the other members. That is the really cool part of this, is that the networking side that is offered--and definitely delivered upon--by this organization. Doesn't matter who you are, what you are, everybody answers their phones and everybody communicates. It is great."

And who are the members of RMFMA? They are over 1,500 fleet maintenance profesionals from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas (the latest addition to the group) and Utah, who believe the old adage about "strength in numbers." After all, if the fleet maintenance professionals in one state can create a strong member-supported organization, why not band six states together?

RMFMA members manage fleets ranging from 25 units to more than 4,000, they attend quarterly State Chapter meetings and one National Conference that rotates among the six member states.

"The way the states interact is, each (state) organization from the top tier is coordinated by national officers," Swearingen explains. "Then you have an association board and the rest of the officers. The association board gets together with each chapter chairman, so each chapter has its chapter chair at the association meetings, two a year, so we all intermix at that point."

JOINING THE CLUB

A few years ago, Swearingen had never even heard of RFMFA. He had spent most of his career working for the family business, servicing and rebuilding alternators, starters and fuel injectors, oftening catering to fleet needs but never a part of the fleet world. Then, six years ago, he took the job with the City of Casa Grande and supervisor he replaced took him to an RMFMA chapter meeting. That one meeting was all it took: recognizing that involvement in this group could be a key ingredient in his success at the new job, Swearingen was hooked.

"There have been a lot of positive influences, and to mention them all would be impossible," Swearingen says. "I will tell you that, what is a very pleasing factor for me is that the Arizona membership, where my dues go, we have quarterly meetings faithfully. They are all over the state, so you get opportunities to meet fleet managers from all over. I've had the opportunity to go to almost every meeting, so I've been all over the state and met all kinds of people, and shared all kinds of things with them and heard all kinds of things."

To this day, Swearingen is amazed by how valuable networking within the Assiciation can be: "One of the biggest things that has always surprised me is finding out how much we all have in common, which really goes back to networking; my problem is your problem, your problem is my problem. We all work to get through it, and it's so fantastic."

A LOT IN COMMON

A great many RMFMA members, it turns out, are, like Swearingen, responsible for municapal fleets, so they have a lot to talk about.

"We service all of it," he explains. "We are fire, we are police, we are landfill, we are sanitation, we are streets, we are parks & maintenance, we are engineering, all the divisions. That is typical of RMFMA members; the question then becomes, 'Who has fire? Who has police?' Some of those are farmed out in different communities, as well as sanitation and landfill."

Swearingen's one-year-old shop consists of eight truck bays and three automotive bays. His crew consists of four technicians, one Master EVT, a parts manager, and a secretary. The lion's share of his shop's time is spent maintaining refuse vehicles, and he says, "I don't know many of our members who are responsible for their sanitation fleets who don't say that.

"Beyond that, we have fire, police and emergency services that are also large drains on our services," he goes on. "The uniqueness of the police and the fire is the apparatus itself, and the severe duty that it sees. When it comes to sanitation, it is because of the huge amount of mechanical and hydraulic work that it gets in a single day. Because it's mechanical, it's bound to break sometime; you can't keep it from wearing. Hence, you see it a lot."

ADDRESSING PROBLEMS

Because so many of its members have such similar fleets and similar maintenance issues, RMFMA is big on training. Every meeting has an educational component, and that's what keeps members like Swearingen so committed.

"Another great thing, probably the most meaningful to me, was the quality of speakers that they bring in," he says. "In Arizona we usually, once a year, try to bring in a nationally-known speaker in our industry, and they generally come in and speak about fleet maintenance. The actual learning side of: if you're going to become a fleet manager, these are the things you need to know, these are the things you need to track, these are the ways you put it together, and put that on for the membership. It's one of the main reasons I believe in this now, because of the things that it's taught me. It's a cheap investment, just your membership dues. These dues have been saved by the City of Casa Grande so many times over by people helping us that I can't even begin to list the ways..."

CERTIFICATION BEGINS

There is a new return on the city's investment that Swearingen can list, however. RMFMA made headlines recently when it announced that it would offer the nationally-recognized Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) and Certified Automotive Fleet Supervisor (CAFS) programs to its members.

The new offering represents a significant ednrosement of the two programs administered by the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Through NAFA, over 225 fleet professionals have been certified, and with the RMFMA's endorsement many more will surely follow.

According to Swearingen, RMFMA had been interested in providing its members with a professional certification program for some time, but had a difficult time finding the right fit.

"We as an association came to the conclusion that we wanted to take ownership in a program, to make it our RMFMA program. We soon discovered that that was going to be a very expensive venture to go into," Swearingen says.

Swearingen relates that several organizations offered certification programs that came close to meeting RMFMA's reprequisites, but for one key point: "One of the criteria we were looking at was that we wanted it to be accredited as well, and that was a key component when we were looking at this," he says.

"We had put an RFP together, as a board, of what we wanted to see in ownership of a program," he says, "and we saw very quickly the expense behind that venture. Then it was offered to us in alliances. One of the key pieces for the CAFM/CAFS, which was developed by NAFA, was their criteria, their accreditation, and their offerings on an alliance that allowed us to become a member of the alliance, and take ownership of the program.

PART OWNER

That ownership element is important to RMFMA, Swearingen says, because it lets the Association play an active role in making the certification programs relevant and valuable to its members.

"As a partner, we actually have a say in their development, their testing, and so forth," he explains. "We're only one on that table of probably ten players that are voting and discussing this; but we are at the table. It does put some ownership into our hands as far as the way we feel that this is. It was very close, almost 100% coverage of our RFP, everything we requested, with the exception of ownership. But, in what they offered us--partnership instead of ownership--we felt it was the right thing to do, and we now have an RMFMA CAFM/CAFS program that we offer."

Unfortunately, the program was announced at a time when many RMFMA member organizations are finding it difficult to fund management training courses, and so the CAFM/CAFS program has had a slow start in its first few months. But that doesn't mean it's a non-starter.

"We have done a survey, and there are more than 30 people interested in the program," Swearingen says. "These are hard times now, so most of these trainings in the past would have been put onto your own municipality's or state's budgets; right now, it is very tight and that opportunity probably will not exist, so most of this will have to come out of individual's pockets.

"I'm aware of three individuals who are going to commit to this, with it coming out of their own pockets," he says. "We're not one hundred percent sure right now how we're going to do, because we're jumping in at one of the hardest times we've seen. I fully feel that it's going to be a huge piece of RMFMA in the future--a huge piece, because of what it offers our members.

"It allows a RMFMA backed certification program that is accredited and has an alliance with NAFA," Swearingen continues. "This is an industry-known program and it allows fleet supervisors and managers to go out and get an accreditation that will have meaning to them in the community and in the industry."

LOOKING AHEAD

One can only hope that economic conditions will change soon, and more than three RMFMA members will enroll in the certification program.

Just the same, even three certification candidates counts as a success in Swearingen's eyes.

"We are a fan of certification," he insists. "It's hard to get municipalities to buy into it, to be perfectly frank, but there is a need in areas, and we're there in those areas."

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