Chris Means, CAFM, CAFS, assistant director of property management-fleet for the City of Fort Worth, Texas, has always had an interest in the automotive industry. Originally an insurance adjuster, he also worked long-term for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He rose through the ranks and started helping with their fleet repair system. While he never thought he'd be working for a municipality, he’s been with the City of Fort Worth for five years. Like many fleet managers, he is facing and trying to beat the technician shortage.
Finding technicians with a large knowledge base has been a challenge for him.
“We saw this years ago, especially when I was working in the body shop industry. A growing trend developed of relying on years of experience to diagnose an issue to a reliance on technology to tell the technician the issue. Further, the movement toward replacing parts until the problem is alleviated developed from the lack of knowledge in the industry,” he says.
Specifically, a lack of technicians with a focus on diesel applications has put the city at a disadvantage.
“We usually start with technicians who have a knowledge in light equipment only, cars and trucks. The technician path then moves through either an apprentice-type program or by working with other technicians in our different service facilities.”
Now he’s been working with local junior colleges on a diesel training program. They plan to put a professor onsite at one of the City of Fort Worth’s main facilities. Students will be able to use the training room and also go out on the floor to work with experienced technicians on day-to-day diesel repairs.
“Providing an interactive classroom with real issues they’ll have to solve makes for truly complete training," he says. This way, they receive a mixture of book knowledge and hands-on experience in one spot instead of being stuck in a college classroom.
The program helps them identify local citizens who grow through the Fort Worth independent school system.
“As we're training them, maybe they'll have an interest in working with the city or other local businesses, so that way we can help stave off the shortage of diesel techs. For us that's important because we're smack dab in the middle of the oil industry.”
Training Never Stops
Chris believes knowledge is everything, and believes pursuing certifications will only make you better at what you do. “You're dealing with finance, contracts, and people skills, too. Don't just focus on fleet related certifications or studies; you need to look at the big picture.”
The city’s employees take part in internal training as well, from learning how to be a power user of Excel to improving customer service.
“As fleet managers, we have to make sure our teams are better than we are and expand their knowledge base. Don’t stay in one place; continue to grow, and make sure you're growing your team at the same time.”
Keeping Up with Change
The concept of a green fleet constantly changes. Means says it’s been tricky trying to keep up with where the industry is headed so he can stay on top of it as the city needs him to.
“I find that whatever is considered the ‘best’ fuel keeps changing. For example, propane. Manufacturers get involved with it, and then they get out of the propane business. Now CNG is the new thing. Because again, what you do is train your technician for propane. Well, now all of a sudden you have to pivot to CNG, or electric, or hybrid. It’s difficult to become a subject matter expert when we don’t know what the best option to work with is.”