Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Charting a career path in maintenance management.

How long have you been in maintenance management? Ten years? Twenty years? Maybe thirty? And, how did you get to your current management position? Was the career ladder mapped out for you, or did you have to create your own job?

For some fleet maintenance professionals, it's an easy climb to a management position. But once they're there, how do the best managers stay on top?

Many have found an answer in the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program, offered by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA). In a profession that has no "official" curriculum, degree program or career track, the CAFM program is a beacon of light for fleet managers who never want to stop learning.

That's how it was with Rick Hilmer, CAFM, fleet maintenance supervisor for Prince George's County, MD, Department of Public Works and Transportation. After over 12 years in fleet management for the County, Hilmer had spent a lot of time networking with other area fleet professionals who had acquired the CAFM and CFM titles (CFM is an earlier version of the same program), and he respected the level of knowledge and professionalism that his colleagues displayed. At the same time, he was a strong advocate of technician certification through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) for his 12 technicians.

"It was one of those things where I kept saying, ‘One day... one day I'll do this,'" Hilmer recalls. "And, a lot of us have put the push on our staffs in recent years, as far as ASE goes: on the one hand, encouraging them to be ASE certified, and extolling the virtues of that, and on the other hand working with our agencies to develop incentives for that… and one day I was giving somebody the spiel on why they should be certified, and it just dawned on me that, ‘How can you sit here and tell people all these great reasons why they need to be certified, and there's a certification program for you, and you're not doing it?' It kind of snuck up on me."

When Hilmer made the decision to pursue a CAFM three years ago, while he was with the County's Park & Planning Commission, he planned to proceed at a comfortable pace. But once he began the two year program, he found that many of his preconceived notions fell by the wayside.


The first surprise for Hilmer came when he realized that the program followed a very strict and rigorous schedule.

"Once I sent that application in I was on the clock, because I had to get this done in that period of time," he says. "It was a little overwhelming, because I had this idea in my mind of what pace I was going to be working at, and how I was going to do it. And the program was more structured than I thought previously.

"So in other words, they had me on a timetable," he continues. "I just thought I'd take a class or two a year and sooner or later I'll get there, and that's not how it was. There was a six-month period of time in which I had four courses to complete, and they were pretty tough."

The structure of the program is dictated by NAFA's "Education Competency Model," according to NAFA director of education Joe Dunne. "The Education Competency Model is divided up into seven disciplines, and one of those disciplines is maintenance management," he explains. The other disciplines are: asset management, business management, financial management, fleet information management, risk management, and vehicle fuel management.

"They gave us these giant binders for the four courses that made up a semester," Hilmer says, "but that didn't work for my way of thinking, so the first thing I did was I disassembled the whole thing and put them into individual course binders."

Hilmer flips through the course binder he put together for his maintenance classes, showing off the detailed technical sections dealing with such topics as ‘Gas vs. Diesel,' ‘Alternative Fuels,' ‘Spec'ing Trucks,' and ‘Maintenance Shop Operations.'

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