As a police car races toward a crime scene, it’s easy to recognize who the hero is in the situation. But there are unsung heroes behind the scenes, too: the technicians who put that cruiser on the road. Without them, the officer is left without his most critical tool — his vehicle.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Blue Seal of Excellence recognition program recognizes the competence and credibility of the auto repair shop technicians who help people keep their cars on the road every day. And in the case of government fleets, it honors the hard work technicians put into making sure police officers, firefighters, public works employees, and more are able to serve their communities.
In order to earn the ASE Blue Seal recognition, a minimum of 75% of the shop’s technicians must be ASE certified. Among those certified technicians, the shop must cover all ASE certifications that correspond to every area of service the shop offers.
Tony Molla, vice president of communications, ASE, said government and commercial fleet operations represent almost one quarter of all ASE Blue Seal-recognized businesses. In fact, fleets are one of the fastest-growing areas of the Blue Seal family.
“The most common reason fleet operations incorporate ASE certification into their business model is a commitment to offering the best to their customers and employees,” he said. “Studies have also shown a strong correlation between ASE certification and increases in productivity, first-fix accuracy, compensation, and job tenure, just to name a few.”
Three fleets share how they earned the distinction for their shops — and shed light on how other fleets can do so, too.
Town of Jonesborough — Changing the Shop’s Perception
The Town of Jonesborough, Tenn., provides services ranging from parks and recreation to police and fire and from solid waste services to public water distribution. That means the three technicians in the fleet service a wide variety of equipment, from compact cars to Class 8 trucks, and from air-cooled concrete saws to full-sized truck equipment. In total, the town has 192 assets, about half of which are off-road equipment.
Fleet Manager Gary Lykins said the Town’s path toward the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence began in 2006, when it became apparent that the perception of the “city garage” needed to change. As vehicles and equipment relied more on internal computers, repairing them got more and more complicated. As such, more highly trained technicians were required to handle the town’s daily workload.
“Most of us within the industry who went through this transition are still painfully aware of the growing pains, but to the outside observer, nothing had changed. Cars still had four wheels, equipment was still painted yellow, and big trucks had big tires,” Lykins said. “So, the modern repair facilities of the new millennium had this challenge before them: Change the culture.”
As the town’s fleet department worked to transform the perception of its shop from an old-school city garage to a repair shop staffed with top-notch technicians, it struggled to convince management of its value. Even so, staff members worked to get funding for their first ASE certification tests and over time, the value became apparent.
“The administration and elected officials were seeing some good results as individual technician certifications came pouring in. We were able to budget a little more and a little more until by 2010 our certification program became fully funded,” Lykins said.
In 2010, all three of the Town’s technicians were certified, and two of the three were Master Certified. “It was important that we have an outward, visible decoration of our achievement,” Lykins explained. “The attitudes had changed toward the fleet management department and so had the attitude of professionalism of the technicians themselves. We wear our ASE patches with pride and keep our Blue Seal of Excellence awards at the write-up desk. This not only lets the customers know that there is a high standard of excellence here, but it lets us all know that we hold ourselves to a high standard of excellence.”
Town of Castle Rock — Getting Better Every Day
Like the Town of Jonesborough, the Town of Castle Rock, Colo., services and repairs a wide variety of vehicles and equipment, from police interceptors to plow trucks and heavy equipment such as front end loaders and a motor grader. Fleet technicians also maintain many light units such as mowers and trailers. Four fleet technicians service 395 total units: 267 light vehicles, 68 construction units, and 60 pieces of smaller equipment and trailers.
When the Town of Castle Rock first decided to go after the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence, its technicians had already completed some of the ASE testing, so it was a natural fit to continue toward certification.
Although the Blue Seal requires 75% of technicians be ASE certified, the town didn’t stop there — it wanted 100% of its repairs to be completed by certified technicians. So fleet management provided technicians with the necessary training and offered to pay for the tests.
Paul Colell, CPFP, fleet service manager, said the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence honors the team’s hard work and technical knowledge. “The Blue Seal of Excellence shows that a government shop is not just satisfied with doing our job but that we are trying to get better at what we do every day,” he said. “It has also brought recognition and awards for our fleet shop, which sometimes gets unnoticed for all its hard work.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office — Building on a Base of Certification
As one of the largest counties in Florida, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is tasked with patrolling a lot of diverse terrain. That means the technicians in their repair shop, which is a separate entity from the regular county fleet facility, handles the maintenance and repair of specialized vehicles as well as police sedans and larger incident response vehicles.
The fleet’s journey toward ASE Blue Seal recognition began when a member of upper management shared an article about another government fleet that had applied for and received the Blue Seal. “After reading the article and making comparisons to our fleet, I discovered that we had many — if not more —of the requirements needed for this award,” said Alan Lane, fleet unit manager.
Today, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office shop’s certification percentage is 90% — 19 of 21 employees are ASE certified in at least one area, and five of them are Master Technician certified.
Lane said the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence resonates with the customers his shop serves. “The most important thing I can do with my shop is promote the combined years of experience collectively between my staff members to our deputies and instill a level of confidence about the quality of maintenance and repairs they are receiving on their vehicles.”
Benefits of Blue Seal Status
All three fleets agree that a multitude of benefits come along with Blue Seal status.
Colell said at the forefront of those benefits is the benefit to the shop itself. “Our staff is very proud of the Blue Seal shop designation and it does boost overall shop morale,” he said. “We recently hosted a town manager’s monthly meeting here in our shop, and the Seal was one of our highlights that we presented. We had many comments about how well-qualified our shop is and how confident they were in our ability to keep Castle Rock on the move.”
Lykins agreed that having the Seal boosts morale and added that the benefits extend to the community as well. “There is a tremendous pride that comes with the Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition,” he said. “The community we serve benefits by having one of the most qualified teams in the area to maintain their equipment, which certainly saves tax dollars.”
For Lane, the Seal also helps his maintenance facility promote its image in the community. “We use the Seal as a self-marketing tool to our peers and our taxpayers,” he said. “We want our taxpayers to know that in order to serve them better, we need to keep the deputies on the road, and showing that we employ skilled people sends a message of professionalism to the public.”
Molla from ASE said the benefits don’t end there. “Having an independent, third-party certification allows repair facilities to verify the knowledge of their technical staff, while providing a mechanism to track improvements in that knowledge, evaluate the effectiveness of a training program by using a known yardstick, and giving the public and other industry professionals a symbol to look for when seeking the best in automotive service and repair,” he said.
Lykins said the most overlooked benefit of having a Blue Seal shop is in the event of litigation. “Having a Blue Seal of Excellence team maintain our equipment means that the Town of Jonesborough’s lawyers can go to court with the confidence that due diligence and beyond was performed in the care and upkeep of the asset involved,” he said.
But Molla said technicians are perhaps the individuals who benefit the most. “The most rewarding part is the feeling of satisfaction and confidence that comes from stepping up to show the knowledge and experience you’ve gained as an automotive professional, and having professional credentials to prove it,” he said.
Steps Toward the Seal
To kick off your fleet’s journey toward the Blue Seal of Excellence, take the following steps:
Evaluate your program. “Evaluate your current operation to examine what are the most common types of service provided, what skill and certification levels are necessary in your business model based on the level and depth of service/diagnostic/repair work you typically see, and what level of knowledge and experience each technician has reached,” Molla said.
Colell also recommended considering the current strengths of existing staff when devising a certification plan. “Do an inventory of all your shop operations and map out who does what best. Then, have them start doing the training to complete the testing.”
Encourage your staff. “Sell it to your staff first. Don’t make it seem like a mandate. Make it a goal,” Lykins said. “Keep in mind most of the folks, including myself, became technicians because we were better with our hands than we were at taking tests. Within my staff, ASE certifications have tended to feed the desire for more certifications. This synergy has created both healthy competition and cooperation.”
Prepare properly. “Taking the time to use the preparation tools on the ASE website, combined with a little help in studying from some of the aftermarket training providers, should give you everything you need to pass the tests,” Molla recommended.
Cover the costs of certification. “I suggest fleets consider covering the cost of the certification as an employee benefit,” Molla said. “It’s not expensive, and the return on investment can be significant.”
Celebrate the achievement. “Part of your plan should include what rewards you bestow on your team for reaching this significant milestone, and all the smaller milestones along the way,” Molla said.
Make the Seal visible. “Don’t just get the Seal and sit on it; use it to actively promote your shop to supervisors, Town Council, and whoever you can,” Colell said. “Letting the general public and your customers know that you are holding your employees to a higher standard sets a level of trust and confidence with the people you offer service to.”
Although the Blue Seal of Excellence has helped the Town of Jonesborough promote the quality of its technicians, Lykins said the most important part of having ASE certification is helping the shop carry out its mission. “Some of our community’s most important machines, such as fire trucks or police cruisers, come through our door, and we will be the last ones who touched them before they are put out on a shift,” he said. “The police car is the officer’s most valuable tool, and anything less than 100% is simply not enough. It is an awesome responsibility that requires well-trained technicians. The certifications are just an outward sign of that training.”
Motivating Technicians to Get Certified
The hard work of obtaining the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence falls on the shoulders of the technicians who must study for and pass ASE certification tests. Gary Lykins, fleet manager for the Town of Jonesborough; Alan Lane, fleet unit manager, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.; and Paul Colell, CPFP, fleet service manager, Town of Castle Rock, Colo., offered these recommendations for keeping staff motivated:
- Establish a culture of professionalism
- Emphasize the ways in which certification can benefit a technician’s career
- Tie certification to pay raises
- Include positive comments about certification on technician evaluations
- Attend vendor-provided training classes to boost confidence in testing skills
- Cover the costs of certification.
|At a glance|
Obtaining the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence may be a difficult hurdle, but the benefits are numerous:
- Paul Colell, CPFP, fleet service manager, Town of Castle Rock, Colo.
- Alan Lane, fleet unit manager, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.
- Gary Lykins, fleet manager, Town of Jonesborough, Tenn.
- Tony Molla, vice president of communications, ASE