Lending a hand to technical colleges and trade schools isn’t just helpful to those building curriculums. It enables fleet operations in need of quality technicians to create a pipeline of promising candidates. Robert Biller, CAFM, fleet management director for Polk County, Florida, has experienced firsthand the benefits that come with developing a relationship with institutions training the technicians of tomorrow.
Currently, eight out of Polk County’s 32 technicians have come from local trade schools. The Fleet Department has partnered mainly with Traviss Technical College and Ridge Technical College, but also reach out to a few others in the area.
Biller stated the department has a close relationship with Traviss, which began a couple years ago through Tim Calhoun, Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators’ (FLAGFA) training coordinator.
“He instructed me to visit the local automotive training facilities and find out how our facility could assist in training their students. When I got to Polk County, I did just that and Traviss welcomed us with open arms,” he said.
As a result, Biller and Operations Manager Mike Chase sit on the advisory board for the automotive and dealer curriculums at the college. Just recently, the Fleet Department had 26 students and staff from the college come out to the county’s main fleet facility for a two-hour tour and brief training exercise.
“This sparked a lot of interest, and we had several of the students in that class apply for a position that was open,” Biller explained.
When Polk County’s Fleet Department has a technician vacancy, Biller contacts one of the technical colleges and gives them a heads up to have their students watch the internet for online job postings on the county’s website.
“This way, we have a pool of trained applicants ready to apply as soon as the advertisement hits the job board. We're then able to conduct interviews fairly quickly because we don’t have to wait weeks to collect qualified applicants to interview. In fact, the last five technicians we have hired have all been fairly young and had some level of technical school training,” he explained.
Although not all applicants come from the local tech school, some have learned about the Polk County Fleet Department from former classmates or coworkers through personal social media accounts. This amplifies the fleet’s outreach to local community and technical colleges.
Fortunately, Polk County Fleet Management has been able to fill its vacancies about as quick as its hiring process allows it to. In addition to applicants who come directly from the tech schools, it also attracts local technicians who are looking for more secure employment.
“Our pool of candidates has had enough well-qualified technicians, so we have been able to hire the right technician, not a technician ‘right now.’ We avoid that issue of having to weed somebody out after you've hired them and they end up not working out,” he said.
When students apply, Biller can receive feedback from applicants’ instructors, making it easier to learn how they performed in class and interacted with their classmates. This way, he has a better idea of who is coming through the door before the candidate is invited for an interview.
“Like all fleet operations, the number of technician positions we have always seem to be less than what we need. When we're able to fill out these positions quickly, the impact of having that vacancy is much less. We're able to fill gaps fast with the good applicants waiting in the wings,” he explained.
Biller’s advice to other fleet managers looking to get involved is look for ways you can assist at local trade schools.
“Get out there and be responsible for helping develop programs, provide feedback, and give them information on what you're looking for in a technician. Don’t be afraid of taking in new talent straight out of school and helping to mentor and mold them. That may take some time and money, but the investment will pay off,” he said.
He also suggests creating a temporary part-time position for an intern or an on-the-job training program to give the person a chance to experience a shop environment. This will provide fleet operations with an opportunity to evaluate potential new employees. Polk County has done this and calls the position “mobile technician,” because the intern will move from place to place to get experience in different areas.
“You might have a great technician, but if they can't get along with the guys in the shop or follow the rules, it's counterproductive,” he said.
As for other enticing benefits for full-time employees, Polk County provides insurance, PTO, and holidays. Technicians can increase their hourly rate by getting paid an incentive based on the number of certifications they earn. This allows them to make up to an additional $4.20 an hour. The Polk County Fleet Department also has a four day, 10-hour workweek, making every weekend a three-day weekend.
Will the Emergence of EVs Slow the Shortage?
For the next few years, Biller believes the number of retiring technicians will outnumber new technicians entering the workforce. As electric vehicles become more prevalent, there will be fewer technicians needed to maintain each vehicle and do mechanical repairs, which may help ease shortage pains.
“Repair facilities will probably end up being cleaner since there's no waste oil or coolant. That’ll be more appealing to younger technicians that are more suited for computer and electronic diagnosis and repair. The dirtiest thing on a car will probably be a brake job,” he mentioned.
Lean Into Associations
Biller noted he has learned quite a bit about hiring and developing new technicians by being a member of FLAGFA. He recommends anyone running a fleet to join whatever associations are in their area and invest in training management and administrative staff, as well as technicians.
“It keeps fleet managers from becoming stagnant. Being involved in local fleet organizations is key,” he said.
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