"That way it's not viewed as a disciplinary thing. And a lot of times, I think it's viewed that way. With the technician shortage the way it is right now, I can get someone to leave another place for 50 cents an hour, but I can't get them to stay for 50 cents an hour. I have to be providing them something that the other guy's not. Otherwise, if someone will jump ship to come to me, they'll jump ship to go somewhere else."
Rawlings says that if she specifically seeks technicians' weaknesses, for example, in electrical work, the technician might know this, and 'cover up' the fact that they're not as experienced. Instead of concentrating on the negative aspects, she focuses on the positive.
"By pulling out [a technician's] strengths, I can say "you're really good at hydraulics, I'd like you to teach a session," she says, and offers training classes on-site for employees.
REWARDS IN HARD WORK
Most of the time, Rawlings says that the employees who demonstrate leadership qualities in an organization are not always in a leadership position, but one of her goals is to make sure to get the right people in the right role.
"They're going to lead whether they've got the position or not," she says.
Brad Wright is an example how leadership, training and a strong work ethic has allowed him to grow in his career. Wright was recently promoted to operations manager after working on the shop floor as a mechanic, and hasn't allowed industry changes to hamper his career growth.
"I don't think you ever get to a level where you're comfortable, especially nowadays with the technology changing so quickly," he says.
Wright explains that various mechanic training sessions are offered yearly in order to keep up-to-date with the pertinent changes in fleet equipment. For instance, the Freightliner ambulances in the county fleet are serviced every six weeks; this service schedule ensures issues are detected before they pose a serious problem.
Technicians also provide emergency vehicle operation training to emergency medical system (EMS) employees with various ambulance functions.
Wright says that some of the problems with the EMS vehicles come from idling for extended periods of time when transporting a critical care patient from the ambulance bay into the hospital. Because paramedics need to move the patient quickly, the lights are often times left on, draining battery power.
"We explain to the EMS why they should do certain things that will keep batteries from going dead and keep them from being broken down while they're trying to respond to a call," he says.
"We go over every item, and tell (EMS personnel) what they should expect to see, and examples of things they shouldn't be seeing," Wright says.
"We're very proactive on our service," Wright continues. There have been very few instances where vehicles needed to be towed to the shop for repair as a result of this training program, he says.
TOOLS, TECHNOLOGY & TEACHING
One piece of equipment that is used frequently for the Lee County fleet technicians is the Palm PDA.
"We have a Cummins program that will only work on certain PDAs. I don't know if that's an industry standard, it probably depends on the program that's purchased," he says.
According to Wright, the Palm PDA is good for quick diagnosis and isn't as cumbersome as some laptops to detect maintenance problems.
"A lot of vehicles may have only one 'check engine' light," Wright says, "but it may have several hundred codes for the one light, and in some cases it may be that the lights are left on too long and the battery was dropped below a certain threshold. So we use the PDA for that, but I'm not sure, industry-wide, if that is picking up or going out."
Rawlings says the challenges with the kinds of technological equipment used on the shop floor come from the differences in manufacturer computer programs. One OEM's software will only work with a PDA for example, but there could be a program for another OEM that might operate on a completely different platform.
"It would be nice if there was more of an industry standard that would work with all equipment," Rawlings says, but does not know of one at this time. Nevertheless, providing new technology to employees is very important.