The City of Columbus, Ohio's Division of Fleet Management has enjoyed a high ranking with the nationally recognized "100 Best Fleets" for the past three years. This year, the City of Columbus ranked No. 16. The City has also achieved the coveted status of ASE Blue Seal for 2010, the third year in a row, and continues to be recognized both on a state and national level as a green fleet, driving change within the Midwest.

This would not be possible without the dedication, commitment, training, studying, and development of many dedicated fleet management employees, who are not simply resting on their laurels. The City has demonstrated significant savings in both parts and supplier services to all end-user divisions, even in a climate with fewer dollars available to purchase new light- and heavy-duty vehicles. 

In 2009, Columbus was faced with an aging fleet and little to no acquisition dollars committed to vehicle replacements. Yet, despite these circumstances, the City decreased expenses within the fleet budget, with the majority of savings coming directly from parts and supplier services. So how can it happen with an aging fleet? Answer: Train, train, train, test, test, test, and implement improved processes with a focus on using each employee's expertise within the required tasks on the shop floor. Develop a spirit of cooperation and support between both labor (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union — AFSCME) and management, so that everyone shares the same vision and goals. Stop sending work out the door to a vendor and train staff to keep work in-house. Doing so reduces supplier service expenses, protects jobs, demonstrates competency, and develops strengths within an organization that help people become more than they imagined they could ever be.

Increasing Morale & Credibility

Every time an investment is made in fleet staff, it not only increases their value to the organization, but also increases the employees' commitment to the organization. Employees enjoy the break from the day-to-day grind of working the floor, and appreciate the fact that management believes in their continuing education and feels they are valued employees, so much so that they are willing to invest in them.

This can be equated to a finely tuned marathon runner — the more one trains by running 10K-runs and half and full marathons, the better one gets. Times improve, muscles strengthen, and a finely tuned athlete emerges. This is also the case with city technicians on the floor. The more they train, test, and perform, the more finely tuned they become at their vocation.

Other agencies within the City also recognize this fact: When there are more than 475 ASE certifications and 35 Master ASE certifications on the floor, these individuals command respect — and have earned it — because they have demonstrated competency within their chosen vocations. This is also true and even more prevalent within the circles of EVT-certified technicians, as the City now has 73 EVT certifications and seven Master EVT Certifications on the floor.

Decreasing Parts Expense

Fiscal-year 2009 represented one of the most challenging years for the City of Columbus, as both General Fund and Capital Fund dollars virtually dried up with sinking tax revenue proceeds, joblessness, and an overall dismal economic climate. The City tightened belts, but committed more dollars to training during a time when every other budget in the City was stagnant and ensured that enough wrenches were on the floor to get the work done in-house.

One might guess the City's parts expenses should have increased for the same period, but this was not the case. Columbus' parts expenses dropped by more than $470,000, or 14 percent, from the same period the previous year.

Investing in people through training and testing means increased proficiency on the shop floor, more confidence in a technician's trade, and putting a stop to changing out parts simply for the sake of changing out parts.

Unfortunately, this industry is known for being "parts changers" — parts are arbitrarily replaced until the City eventually or accidentally replaces the actual broken part. This process "of-old" increases come-backs, frustrates end users, and instills a sense of ineptness at every level in the City. Plus, it is a very expensive way to do business.[PAGEBREAK]

Columbus stopped being the "parts changers" of yesterday, becoming better diagnosticians for today and the future. Employees on the floor are happier and more confident in their repairs and diagnostic abilities.

Investing in employees pays off. For every $1 the City invested in training, it saved $13.50 in parts expense. This makes investing in training and testing a win-win for everyone involved, and the taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.

Decreasing Expenses in Supplier Services

Tightening belts and reducing expenses while fleets continue to age and no new units are purchased is an oxymoron in the industry. The only way to effect change is to withdraw internally. In other words, increase training, testing, and in an effort to conserve jobs on the shop floor, reduce and/or discontinue any and all work previously outsourced to outside suppliers.

To do this will require an assessment of an operation's skill sets as well as honest and open dialogue with operations management. Ask questions such as, "What work that is now being sent out can be brought back in-house?" and "How can we control and manage a reduction of expenses in this area and still maintain our performance metrics by delivering quality service to all city agencies?"

While a slight slowdown in "turnaround" metrics may be experienced, the payoff is much bigger than the nominal amount of time it might take to complete the tasks in-house. More importantly, communicate to all employees what is being done as an agency and share the vision in reducing expenses in supplier services and increasing competencies in their vocations, which ultimately creates job security for every technician on the shop floor. Employees must believe the intent is not to pile more work on them, but to help better utilize their time through improved diagnostics and more efficient repairs.

In sharing this vision, employees on the floor will see management has their best interests at heart, their continued employment and ability to provide for their families in rough economic times, plus job preservation in a city where other agencies are ­experiencing layoffs. 

That might be a mouthful, but it works: The results are astounding for the City of Columbus, which experienced a reduction of more than $868,000, or 34 percent, in services in 2009. For every training/testing dollar invested, $24.81 in service expenses were recovered or saved by the City.

Overall, the City saw a decrease of more than 22 percent from 2008-2009 in parts and services expenditures — a combined savings of more than $1.34 million.  With a training budget of $35,000, for every $1 spent on training and testing in 2009, $38.31 was saved in parts and services expenditures — a wise investment in any economy.

Providing Recognition & Ensuring Job Preservation

Everybody loves to save money, and here is the perfect opportunity to tell your story to the director's office. While telling your story, emphasize the importance of budget dollars for training and testing and even consider an increase in your budget request for the following year. Training has been proven to increase fleet success, so a continued investment in staff will build morale, decrease costs both externally and internally, and ultimately preserve jobs on the floor, even in a rough economic climate.

This forces an agency to become an agent of change; it also forces all employees out of their comfort zones by doing jobs that were previously outsourced. It forces process changes that instill controls in fleet systems to ensure reduced expenses by monitoring every approval for outside supplier services.

The City of Columbus Assistant Operations Manager, John King, became the "lightning rod" for virtually every supplier service P.O. cut in the system over a certain dollar amount. He learned that by being actively involved in each supervisor's assessment of whether certain work items could stay in-house, more often than not, they determined the work should remain in-house and fleet would find a way to "get it done."

This paradigm shift in processes was pushed down to every employee and became the vision for each individual on the shop floor.

Building Employee Morale & Enhancing Performance

Building consensus with employees builds morale, enhances employee performance, and instills a sense of pride in the agency's overall work performance - all while saving valuable dollars from the General Fund. Don't forget to thank staff for their hard work by communicating staff member performance and celebrating success with every employee as well as administration. The City of Columbus' savings resulted in recognition both formally and informally.

The Mayor's Economic Advisory Board commended the Division for its cost-saving measures. The Mayor's Office recognized fleet employees on the shop floor with more than $22,000 in bonuses (representing process changes that netted significant savings to the City), deposited directly into the pockets of many of the hardworking employees.

A pat on the back, a warm handshake by the Director, and finally a fat check in the bank account goes a long way in recognizing employees for their dedication, hard work, and enhanced training and testing for their respective vocations.

Train, train, train — test, test, and test some more — all in an effort to build morale, reduce expenses, preserve jobs, and gain recognition for the technicians on the shop floor who are doing the work that makes us all look good.

About the Author
Kelly Reagan is the administrator of the fleet management division for the City of Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at