Is it just me or are demographics of public sector fleet managers turning older? Not only are fleet managers older, so too, are most members of their staff. I visit many fleet operations and this observation is reinforced when I walk the floor of a maintenance facility or the corridors of the main fleet office.

I asked Sam Lamerato, fleet manager for the City of Troy, Mich., what he viewed as his greatest challenge after the cost of fuel. "The graying of experienced fleet managers, technicians, and support staff," he said. "Where do we find the replacements?"

It is not uncommon when I speak with fleet managers for them to say that 40-60 percent of their staff will retire in the next decade. "Half of my staff of mechanics is in the twilight of their careers," said Chris Burgeson, fleet manager for the City of Napa, Calif. Not only does the fleet profession face a "retirement tsunami," it also faces a more crippling "brain drain" of lost institutional and legacy knowledge. This is job knowledge only learned from years of experience on the job. "In the next 5 to 7 years, more than 40-percent of my workforce (the baby boomers, of which I am one) will be eligible to retire," said Terry Barton, fleet administrator for the State of Delaware. "The reality will be the loss of large amounts of institutional knowledge and experience."

The "graying" of fleet is a complex issue that also involves diminished job allegiance, as evidenced by a growing amount of job hopping. "Government is becoming as fluid as private industry, with staff members moving from one agency to another," said Martha Kobliska, fleet manager for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "In the past, people joined an agency and stayed with it for the majority of their careers, but no more. I am concerned this will make it more difficult to recruit, train, and keep qualified fleet professionals."

Generational Differences

Job expectations vary by age group, especially between the 50- and 30-something employee segments. "We need to balance the expectations of younger generation employees, who expect quick promotions and frequent movement, against what makes our organization attractive to more mature workers — stability," said Steve Anderson, manager, transportation for Omaha Public Power District in Elkhorn, Neb.

It takes special management skills to balance work demands from these different age groups. "These dynamics demand superior leadership skills," said Vince Olsen, superintendent of internal services for the Village of Algonquin, Ill. "Today’s leaders in fleet and public works must find ways to drive a team who may not share the same philosophy about work ethic, technology, and benefit packages, and get them to understand that fulfilling the ‘fleet mission’ is the only reason we are here."

Compounding this "talent shortage" is that the profession is growing more complex with the introduction of new technologies in day-to-day fleet operations, such as advanced diagnostics, on-board computers, and a growing population of hybrid vehicles. "The industry is undergoing a transformation from conventional vehicles to hybrids, with few technicians to fill this void," said Win Mitchell, fleet manager for King County, Wash.

Identifying the ‘Rising Stars’

Most politicians or managers underestimate and misunderstand the fleet manager position. "If you consider all the responsibilities taken for granted, such as maintenance, fuel, parts cost, equipment replacement, and personnel issues, just these alone would discourage most people from entering this occupation," said Rick Longobart, fleet manager for the City of Inglewood, Calif.

Also, the responsibilities of fleet managers are changing. "The position of fleet manager continues to increase in responsibilities, challenges, and needed skill set, in order to be successful," said John Clements, fleet manager for the County of San Diego.

There is a litany of reasons for the technician manpower shortage. There is a small technician pool from which to recruit, since few schools steer mechanically inclined students to the field. Technicians start at low entry-level wages and are easily swayed to higher-paying private sector jobs. Also, municipalities in high cost-of-living areas or remote locations find it difficult to attract qualified technicians. Where will the new fleet management talent be found?

"One of management’s most important challenges is to identify the ‘rising stars’ and, most importantly, train and prepare them to successfully manage the operation once we are gone," said Clements. "With the rapid changes in technology, regulatory mandates, and environmental issues, managing a fleet operation is not for wimps, and not necessarily for the ‘next person in line.’ "

The best advocates of a fleet management career are fleet managers themselves. "Fleet managers have an obligation to assist the industry in promoting the opportunities of a fleet management career," said Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager for Culver City, Calif. "In my opinion, fleet managers don’t do a good enough job of promoting our industry to people who may consider this field. As a consequence, our industry is suffering."

Let me know what you think.


Mike Antich
Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

View Bio