"Mostly, now, I go looking for new technology," he says. For instance, Lauret says that many of the supplemental restraints have been changing in airbags and seats because they are more electronically controlled. The fleet is also anticipating a late-summer delivery for hybrid and multi-fuel vehicles. Training for these new additions to their fleet won't be immediate because the vehicles will be under warranty, but they're preparing technicians by giving them bits of information ahead of time. Lauret compiled a list of acronyms related to the new technology as a starting point, which will give the team a head start on understanding the vehicles they will be repairing in the not too distant future.
Lauret and Brushafer both believe in a team-oriented approach to managing their technicians. Each month, Lauret moderates a shop meeting for all technicians to raise concerns or to bring ideas to management in an open forum setting. During the meetings, Lauret will also give technicians information about new procedures, techniques or tools that may be helpful for their jobs. It's also a good way for technicians to talk about specific repair problems they've encountered, and share what worked in the repair process with their colleagues.
"The guys here are pretty good at sharing the knowledge," Lauret says. "It helps people feel like they're part of a team."
Brushafer agrees. "It helps to keep people in the loop a little bit."
Another important aspect of managing their team is to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each technician to avoid a negative or competitive environment.
"Everybody has their strong points. My weak point might be the guy across the way's strong point," Lauret says.
"We do try to hand out the work load where we'd rather address somebody's strong points than with something where they're going to stumble and fall," says Brushafer.
Brushafer and Lauret's team consists of 16 technicians on the first shift schedule, three technicians on second shift and one on the late shift. Today, the staff is about two-thirds smaller than what they had 10 years ago.
Lauret says they have a combination of newer and more of what he calls 'old-school' technicians, but stresses that each person is an important part of the team, and they all work together to do their best work.
A VARIETY OF TRAINING
For the technicians at Milwaukee county's department of public works garage, training is easily accessible. A dedicated room above the floor shop is used for individual or group training. The room, complete with a bank of computers and network access, is used for Web-based training or driver education classes, and Lauret says that approximately two-thirds of the training courses are either Web-based or available on DVD or CD-ROM.
If technicians aren't able to participate in training sessions offered at work, the city of Milwaukee offers tuition reimbursement for employees to receive job-appropriate training off-site, at local technical colleges, for example.
Reference materials such as Mitchell OnDemand, and factory service manuals are also commonly used in Lauret's shop, as well as online access to Ford and General Motors electronic service information. This comes in handy, especially with 600 police vehicles in the fleet. In addition to the online manuals, Lauret and Brushafer's team use Ford scanners, proprietary scanners and MasterTech scanners. Whether repairing a new or old vehicle, each has various challenges for technicians to tackle.
Lauret says working with older vehicles can be a maintenance challenge, because it usually becomes a time-consuming restoration project.
"The older vehicles are more work but the newer ones are more complicated than what we had ten years ago, because they have a lot more accessories, more safety equipment, emissions and electronics. It's much more hi-tech," says Lauret.
"We never even had air conditioning 10 years ago on the fleet vehicles, but all the police cars and city vehicles have that as a standard now," he says.