Training & Testing Pay Big Returns

November 2010, Government Fleet - Feature

by Kelly Reagan

The City of Columbus, Ohio's Division of Fleet Management has enjoyed a high ranking with the nationally recognized "100 Best Fleets" for the past three years. This year, the City of Columbus ranked No. 16. The City has also achieved the coveted status of ASE Blue Seal for 2010, the third year in a row, and continues to be recognized both on a state and national level as a green fleet, driving change within the Midwest.

This would not be possible without the dedication, commitment, training, studying, and development of many dedicated fleet management employees, who are not simply resting on their laurels. The City has demonstrated significant savings in both parts and supplier services to all end-user divisions, even in a climate with fewer dollars available to purchase new light- and heavy-duty vehicles. 

In 2009, Columbus was faced with an aging fleet and little to no acquisition dollars committed to vehicle replacements. Yet, despite these circumstances, the City decreased expenses within the fleet budget, with the majority of savings coming directly from parts and supplier services. So how can it happen with an aging fleet? Answer: Train, train, train, test, test, test, and implement improved processes with a focus on using each employee's expertise within the required tasks on the shop floor. Develop a spirit of cooperation and support between both labor (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union — AFSCME) and management, so that everyone shares the same vision and goals. Stop sending work out the door to a vendor and train staff to keep work in-house. Doing so reduces supplier service expenses, protects jobs, demonstrates competency, and develops strengths within an organization that help people become more than they imagined they could ever be.

Increasing Morale & Credibility

Every time an investment is made in fleet staff, it not only increases their value to the organization, but also increases the employees' commitment to the organization. Employees enjoy the break from the day-to-day grind of working the floor, and appreciate the fact that management believes in their continuing education and feels they are valued employees, so much so that they are willing to invest in them.

This can be equated to a finely tuned marathon runner — the more one trains by running 10K-runs and half and full marathons, the better one gets. Times improve, muscles strengthen, and a finely tuned athlete emerges. This is also the case with city technicians on the floor. The more they train, test, and perform, the more finely tuned they become at their vocation.

Other agencies within the City also recognize this fact: When there are more than 475 ASE certifications and 35 Master ASE certifications on the floor, these individuals command respect — and have earned it — because they have demonstrated competency within their chosen vocations. This is also true and even more prevalent within the circles of EVT-certified technicians, as the City now has 73 EVT certifications and seven Master EVT Certifications on the floor.

Decreasing Parts Expense

Fiscal-year 2009 represented one of the most challenging years for the City of Columbus, as both General Fund and Capital Fund dollars virtually dried up with sinking tax revenue proceeds, joblessness, and an overall dismal economic climate. The City tightened belts, but committed more dollars to training during a time when every other budget in the City was stagnant and ensured that enough wrenches were on the floor to get the work done in-house.

One might guess the City's parts expenses should have increased for the same period, but this was not the case. Columbus' parts expenses dropped by more than $470,000, or 14 percent, from the same period the previous year.

Investing in people through training and testing means increased proficiency on the shop floor, more confidence in a technician's trade, and putting a stop to changing out parts simply for the sake of changing out parts.

Unfortunately, this industry is known for being "parts changers" — parts are arbitrarily replaced until the City eventually or accidentally replaces the actual broken part. This process "of-old" increases come-backs, frustrates end users, and instills a sense of ineptness at every level in the City. Plus, it is a very expensive way to do business.

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