Make 2007 Count

Getting a group of fleet professionals together to share knowledge and ideas is always enjoyable. I had an opportunity to do this again in December at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Fleet Maintenance Management Course.

The course included excellent information on a number of technical topics. Jeff Tews from the City of Milwaukee discussed vehicle specifications, Roger Thompson of Bucher, Willis, Ratliff Corporation told how to configure a new fleet maintenance shop or reconfigure an existing shop to work efficiently and cost effectively. John Walton of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, IL shared his experiences implementing alternative fuels in the district fleet. John McCorkhill of the City of Lynchburg, VA discussed outsourcing the parts room, tracking and managing vehicle utilization.

As we find ourselves in 2007 we are focused on technical issues. How will the new diesel engines and new fuels perform? What will happen to oil prices and what alternative fuels can we adopt cost effectively? How will we be successful in 2007 as we face these challenges? While facing these issues, we must not forget about the other major component of our fleet operation that has the most effect on our success—the people. Just as we invest in new vehicles and equipment and new fuels and new facilities, we need to invest in the people who manage our fleets.

Realizing that they face shortages of qualified technicians, many companies have increased technician pay, provided training incentives and are trying to increase the pool of trained technicians. But what are we doing to retain and develop the supervisors and fleet managers responsible for our fleet and how are we developing the management skills of the people who will succeed them?

The current and future fleet managers and supervisors who attend our courses are thrilled that their company or government agency has invested in their professional development. They are excited to learn analytical and management skills that will make them better managers of the fleet and better managers of people. Unfortunately, many of our current and future fleet managers are not getting this type of professional development opportunity.

Fleet managers who come up through the ranks from technician to supervisor to fleet manager often do not have training in budgeting and financial analysis. In our course we focus on the basics of financial management of the fleet operation. We discuss the key measurables that a fleet manager needs to look at to effectively manage a fleet, including fleet availability, technician productivity, parts turnover, preventive maintenance compliance, scheduled work and rework. We work in groups through examples to show the components that go into a shop's hourly rate and discuss how to manage the operation to keep the rate competitive. We look at vehicle utilization and financial strategies for vehicle and equipment replacement. Through these discussions, the fleet manager earns a greater understanding of the financial engine that keeps the fleet in operation.

Most fleet managers, like most other technical managers, are more comfortable fixing a mechanical problem than they are fixing a people problem. Fleet managers need strategies on how to motivate employees, recognize good performers, improve poor performers and deal with personalities and conflicts in the workplace. In our course, Marilyn Rawlings, fleet manager of Lee County, FL, shared her experience turning around a fleet operation. Much of the improvement occurred by motivating employees, getting them to buy-in to changes, take pride in their work and have fun doing their jobs. Marilyn provided suggestions of low cost and no-cost things that a fleet manager can do to motivate employees while making work more fun and also provided good advice on turning around negative employees and managing poor performers. Fleet managers are hungry for practical and applicable strategies to manage people.

As we go though 2007 and beyond, invest in your current and future fleet managers and supervisors. Give them opportunities not only to stay up to date on technical issues, but also to advance their skills in managing people and finances. Your organization will benefit with improved management and employees who feel valued by the organization. The relatively small investment in training will reap rewards on the bottom line.

Benjamin J. Jordan is a Program Director at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Department of Engineering Professional Development, where he develops and delivers continuing education courses for working professionals. The University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development offers continuing education courses for fleet professionals. The next scheduled course is February 20-21, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Additional information is available online at