Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Charting a career path in maintenance management.

"A lot of the classes have a broad focus, like ‘Principles of Supervision and Management,'" he says, "but then they add onto that more specific things, where they talk about current issues in fleet management, so you can start to relate some of the principles that you've learned to specifics."


There are currently over 160 CAFMs working in the fleet industry, according to Dunne, who oversees the CAFM program, and works with the certification board to make sure that the course content is relevant, comprehensive and up-to-date.

As Dunne explains, many people enroll in the CAFM program because their employer requires it, while many others pursue it for the knowledge and experience they hope to gain. Some CAFM candidates are technicians with a high level of vehicle expertise but no management experience, while others are experienced managers who are completely new to the world of vehicle management. Indeed, as Rick Hilmer points out, "really and truly it's amazing that there are people who have the exact same job title in this business, whose jobs look nothing like each other, and they have very little in common in terms of how they work and what they're responsible for."

"We're providing them the broadest, most comprehensive training program we can, specifically because we know that there are different kind of fleet managers, different kids of fleet administrators," Dunne explains. "Some are going to be more concerned with asset management, some are going to be more concerned with maintenance management. Some are going to work for government fleets that have their own shops, some are going to work for corporate fleets that are outsourcing almost all of their maintenance. But, whatever the emphasis in your job, you're going to find value in our program."


Over the two-year study plan, CAFM candidates take a total of eight courses, in two groups of four, and are tested on those. Usually that comes in the form of a proctored examination at a local community college.

When Hilmer went through the program, that test was followed by a "case study" exercise, in which he was presented with a real-world fleet management issue and then tasked with writing a detailed report on how to address that issue.

Although NAFA has recently reworked the CAFM program and replaced the case study with a new study module, it's still worth looking at the challenges Hilmer faced in doing what he describes as "the most work I've done on anything since college."


"They give you a package of information, and essentially give you a challenge," Hilmer recalls. "The idea is that you're in a working environment, and your boss has given you an assignment to research an issue and provide a well-organized position paper. In other words: this is where I think our organization needs to go on this issue, and here's all my background information and my research and here are my findings of fact, and here is my recommendation.

"The first thing that popped into my mind as I read through that was that I knew the answers to every one of those things," he says. "He wants to know whether we should do A or B? Well, we're going to do A."

But a funny thing happened when Hilmer started to research the problem: he found that none of his assumptions were correct.

"I had to throw my assumptions out; it didn't work," he admits. "It was like a wake-up call to me. This forced me to recognize that I am set in my ways in some fashion, and that I do have certain assumptions, that may be based on some amount of experience. But this business is always changing, it's always evolving."

After throwing out his initial attempt, Hilmer tried again, producing a 50-page report that ultimately earned him the CAFM.


On a practical level, NAFA changed the case study to allow more frequent testing and quicker turnaround. But on an educational level, Dunne explains, the new Education Competency Model demanded a more comprehensive study exercise than the very specific case study model would allow.

"Our program now, we feel, is more comprehensive, and of more value to fleet managers," Dunne explains, adding that the challenging learning experience Hilmer praises in the old model will still be present in the new one. "The curriculum is research-based for all seven of the disciplines, so rather than have that effect simply for one specific area, we're hoping to produce that effect across the seven disciplines."

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