Shaping the Future Fleet Workforce

November 2013, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

When the fleet departments at Snohomish County, Wash., DeKalb County, Ga. and City of Santa Ana, Calif., began allowing students to work in their shops and learn from experienced technicians, the impetus for all three was the same: They needed the help.

With a growing demand for staff in their maintenance facilities and a dwindling pool of qualified technicians, they were eager to encourage students to seek this career path. Allen Mitchell, retired chief of the Equipment Bureau at Arlington County, Va., helped form the training program at  Snohomish County while he was there. As he puts it, “It was getting hard to find qualified technicians — so we decided to develop them.”

Each fleet accomplished its goal of training more qualified workers. But the fleets also learned that’s not the only benefit of pairing technicians with student workers — the programs yield much more for their fleets and for their students.

Same Goal, Different Models

Although these three fleets began with a similar goal in mind, each fleet’s mentoring program shaped up differently.

At Snohomish County in 2010, Mitchell’s fleet took the internship path, partnering with a local community college to source students for the program. Student interns were paid for their work, while also receiving real-world work experience.

Rick Longobart, facilities, fleet, and central stores manager for the City of Santa Ana, Calif., also works with college-­level students. However, his fleet’s model differs a bit — instead of paying interns a stipend, time spent in their facility replaces the “lab” portion of an automotive course at Santa Ana College, a local community college. The college allots students 60 hours to spend on site with experienced technicians, and students receive both on-the-job experience and college credits toward an associate degree in automotive technology. Santa Ana relaunched its program a year ago, and so far eight students have participated.

On the opposite coast, Robert Gordon, fleet service superintendent, DeKalb County, Ga., runs a work-based learning program that’s been in place for 10 years. While students still get hands-on experience, they aren’t college-aged. Instead, Gordon works with Warren Technical School, a high-school-level ­technical school in DeKalb County.

Every school year, 16 slots are available for students to work throughout the fleet department. Because the County has six shops in which students can work, it is able to offer the opportunity to a larger class of students.

For three days a week, three hours per day, students can work in any of the six shops, which include the lube shop, tire shop, heavy truck shop, heavy equipment shop, body shop, and fire and rescue shop.

When Warren Technical School approached Gordon about starting a program, he couldn’t refuse. “There was such a shortage of technicians. We just couldn’t find quality technicians and couldn’t find young people to come in and train. Pairing up with the school allowed us to start training our own future technicians,” he said.

Although his program started several years after Gordon’s, Longobart had a similar experience at the inception of his program. “Our workforce was shrinking  — there was a greater demand for work but fewer resources to draw on,” he said. “Our program creates an environment where students learn a trade, but also creates a pool in the workforce from which future workers can be pulled. It’s a total win-win.”

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