Making the Transition to Management

May 2013, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At A Glance

With many experienced fleet managers retiring, public agencies are filling these positions through:

  • Training and grooming internal candidates for the role.
  • Conducting a nationwide search for a fleet manager.
  • Hiring fleet supervisors from other agencies.
  • Hiring individuals from other areas of the auto industry.
  • Hiring retired fleet managers full-time or contractually.

Experienced fleet managers often comment about how difficult it is to find a replacement when they retire, and those retirements may become more frequent. Government Fleet’s 2012 salary survey of public fleet managers shows that 13% of fleet managers are 61 years old or older, and 49% are between 51 and 60 years old. As many fleet professionals approach retirement age, how are agencies handling their departures, and how can they ensure a smooth transition?

Identifying the Problem

Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent at the City of Troy, Mich., summarized the problem: “Experienced fleet managers are getting ready to retire, and the pool of replacement managers is somewhat reluctant to take the reins because of all the responsibilities of a fleet manager.” These new responsibilities have emerged as the role of the fleet manager became more professional and budgets have been slashed. Fleet managers aren’t just responsible for repairing vehicles and managing a technician staff anymore; added ­responsibilities include being able to communicate with city management, city council, and department heads; preparing budgets; writing reports; and being pressured to do the same amount of work with fewer staff and a reduced budget, Lamerato said.

He noted that not only are baby boomer fleet managers retiring, but the staff members they have trained to take over may have taken early retirement packages.

This has led a few public agencies to allow their staff to retire, and hire them back for consulting work while the agencies search for a replacement, or while the new fleet manager is training. According to Lamerato, this could be a good option for agencies facing a “brain drain,” allowing the agency to pay a flat hourly fee for the expertise of a professional who truly knows the fleet.

“They know fleet inside out and know where to save money, where the connections can be made, know the people to talk to [in order] to get better prices. That’s not built in two- to three-week transition period,” Lamerato said.

In addition, it’s not uncommon to hear about esteemed fleet managers retiring and then getting hired by another agency.

Lamerato also said more agencies are requiring applicants to have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which aren’t necessarily accurate indicators of a good fleet manager.

“A lot of really good fleet managers, the education they had was from a trade school and on-the-job experience,” he said. “A lot of successful managers I know don’t have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.”

What’s more, the financial stability of a municipality can be a concern for experienced fleet managers looking at other positions. Potential candidates can now use the internet to look up whether an agency’s fleet is fully staffed or furloughed, as well as the agency’s benefits packages, its bond rating, and its fleet replacement fund, Lamerato said.

That’s a lot for a public agency to consider when recruiting a new fleet manger. And aside from rehiring those who have officially retired, what are other ways public agencies can prepare for a staff transition? Whether planning a departure or just making sure employees have a path for advancement, having a transitional plan or ensuring a new fleet manager gets adequate training can help the fleet run smoothly during a staff change.

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