The Miami-Dade County (Fla.) fleet has a new program to help it overcome its heavy equipment technician recruitment and retention problems. Its newly launched Heavy Equipment Technician Trainee program, which had its first trainees start in December 2016, allows new graduates and those with just one year of experience to apply for a trainee position, in the hopes program graduates will then become heavy equipment technicians (HETs), said Alex Alfonso, director of Miami-Dade County’s fleet management division.
Alfonso worked with Facilities Supervisor Juan Erbella, Internal Services Department (ISD) Manager Olga Diaz, and Heavy Fleet Service Manager Pete Moolah, as well as union representatives, on the project, modeling it after the Police Department’s officer training program. Alfonso, a former law enforcement officer, previously ran the fleet for the Miami-Dade Police Department before joining the county’s ISD in 2015.
The program curriculum consists of five different targeted skills: preventive maintenance; brake maintenance; suspension, steering, and drive line maintenance; engine and drivetrain maintenance; and hydraulic maintenance. Trainees are tested upon completion of each skill session with a written best based on National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) study guides and a performance skills test.
In the past few years, an increasing number of technician retirements at the county coupled with a nationwide truck technician shortage have led to a lower number of qualified applicants for heavy equipment job postings.
“One of the disadvantages under the heavy equipment tech position is a person must have two years of heavy equipment experience. That makes it hard to get people to come in,” Alfonso said.
Under the trainee program, candidates who have one year of experience in heavy automotive equipment or have graduated from a heavy-duty truck program from an accredited vocational school can apply. Trainees are placed in the Step 98 pay grade, which is one pay step below, or about 5% pay less than, Step 1 of the HET classification pay range. Trainees undergo one year of formal job training before becoming HETs.
There’s a compensation incentive for trainers — that 5% saved by placing trainees on the Step 98 pay grade goes to the trainer for the time he works with the trainee.
Alfonso said trainers are long-time technicians at the fleet who are interviewed and chosen based on their experience, ASE certifications, and communication skills. The fleet has chosen three trainers and two trainees that began working in December, out of 139 applicants for the trainee program. Alfonso expects to stagger the program to have two trainees start in December and two in June.
“Depending on the success of the program and how our normal hiring goes, we’ll [determine] how much further we expand it,” Alfonso said.
The Miami-Dade fleet consists of approximately 6,000 light-duty and 6,000 heavy-duty units. It consists of 19 maintenance facilities, seven of which specialize in heavy-duty work.