When Marilyn Rawlings joined the Lee County, FL fleet maintenance department in 1994, she had 800 vehicles and her goal was to provide staff technicians with 40 hours of technical training per year. With a fleet of approximately 1,850 vehicles today, her goal is to provide her technicians with 40 hours of training, 52 weeks per year.
"Giving job knowledge can make a better technician, but it may not make them a better employee," Rawlings says. "You've got to look at the whole person."
As an experienced fleet manager, Rawlings says she shares her vision for the organization with the technicians and reminds them about the importance of personal and professional growth. She has implemented a wellness program for all of her staff members, regardless of title or rank in the organization, and every new employee participates in a 10-week employee leadership program.
Rawlings says that it can be a challenge to talk with technicians about a different way to work, or develop a new mindset with new hires, but she stresses that it's all about making the work environment better and allowing technicians to grow individually and as part of a team.
"The biggest thing I get is people who say, 'I'm not a leader here. Why am I going through this [training]?'"
Rawlings believes that technicians need to be immersed in teaching or learning for success. She encourages them to grow, and to take others with them as their career progresses. "It's not the position that makes the leader, it's the leader that makes the position," Rawlings says.
In her opinion, the leadership strategies she's implemented have improved employee retention. The only recent changes were due to employees moving or retiring. One employee went to a different facility to make $6-7 more per hour, but he's already talked to Rawlings about coming back to work at Lee County.
CREATIVE TRAINING TECHNIQUES
For most fleet managers, maintaining a training budget can be a challenge, and Rawlings says that her colleagues often comment about the lack of money in their budget. Training is something a fleet can't afford to cut from the budget, she says, and notes there are ways to manage tight financial situations in order to provide it to technicians.
In-house technician training is one way to save money. According to Rawlings, the only costs involved come from taking the technician out of the shop. But that is much more cost-effective than bringing someone in from the outside, Rawlings says.
Partnering with surrounding municipalities and agencies has also helped stretch the Lee County fleet technician training budget. Rawlings explains that recently, Lee County hired Ford Motor Co. to train their light duty technicians at a flat rate for 15 attendees. Only eight staff technicians were interested in participating, so she asked managers from other local municipalities if they would pay the attendance fee to send their technicians. As a result, Rawlings' overall cost for sending her employees decreased from approximately $60-70 to $15 per person.
"There are creative things you can do, if training and growth become a big deal," Rawlings says.
Training needs are often difficult to determine with such a large staff, but one technique Rawlings uses to determine this is to monitor technician reworks.
"If you get a guy who is continuously having reworks in some areas, then you know that is an area where you need to spend some time training," Rawlings says, and adds that this is a common approach used by most managers.
But Rawlings also has another technique: she recognizes the strengths in specific areas for each technician such as electronics or diagnostics. When she notices a particular skill needing improvement, she asks more experienced technicians to teach at in-house training sessions for coworkers requiring additional help.
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