Although fleet management is a relatively new career segment, changes are percolating that threaten to transform it from a career path to a corporate stepping stone. The confluence of three fleet megatrends will be the catalyst fueling this transition:
- The evolution of fleet management to a more technology-oriented profession that will expand the skillset and core competencies required to be a fleet manager.
- Widespread retirement of baby boomers, the largest fleet manager demographics, succeeded by millennials, who, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as job-hoppers.
- The growing participation of fleet managers in consensus decision-making with internal cross-functional groups.
Traditionally, fleet management focused on understanding the economics of fleet and asset lifecycle management. But as data analytics becomes more pervasive in the fleet work environment, it will necessitate additional skillsets and core competencies. The data rich fleet environment will appeal to tech-oriented, analytical individuals who will self-gravitate to fill open fleet positions. These new fleet managers will not only be analytical, but must also possess the ability to effectively communicate these data-driven recommendations to senior management.
Increasingly, this next generation of fleet managers will be asked to implement new technologies to enhance the driver experience as an employee retention tool and to facilitate improved compliance to fleet policy. As younger, entry-level employees are assigned their first fleet vehicles, there will be an emphasis to appeal to this group through the use of mobile apps and other driver-enabled technologies. From a career perspective, the shortage of qualified tech employees will make these new fleet managers prime targets for recruitment poaching, both internally and externally. Also, these technically adept fleet managers will want to work in a dynamic tech environment and may chaff at working in a fleet setting where the technology utilized remains stagnant.
When you consider the average age of fleet managers today, we are starting to glimpse the emerging tidal wave of retirements. These newly vacant positions, for the most part, will be filled by millennials, if they are filled at all. According to a study by Gallup, millennials – those born between 1980 and 1996 – typically only stay in their positions, on average, for three to five years and then move on to a new challenge. The concern is that the fleet industry will see a diminishing number of professionals devoting 10 to 20-plus years developing fleet management expertise. This will present a challenge for many organizations, such as on the supplier side, which will struggle to develop relationships with a revolving door of fleet managers. Another challenge will be experienced by industry associations, such as AFLA and NAFA, where there may be a leadership skills deficit since the bulk of its membership may be comprised of relatively new fleet managers with too few years “in the saddle,” recognizing that it takes years to develop fleet management expertise. The fear is that fewer fleet managers will remain within the industry for the extended period needed to develop fleet acumen.
A Gallup report, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” found that 21% of millennials had switched jobs in the last year, which is three times higher than non-millennials who report doing the same. Six out of 10 millennials say they are open to different job opportunities, which is also the highest percentage among all generations in the workplace. Not all, but many millennials view their current job as a stepping stone and a growth opportunity.
Since fleet management requires working with cross-functional groups, managing millions of dollars of corporate assets, collaborating in complex technology initiatives, and is a key influencer of employee productivity, it is crucial to have a strong in-house fleet manager to coordinate and manage these activities. The fleet manager of tomorrow will be very much integrated with these corporate cross-functional groups.
In this work environment, fleet will appeal to younger employees because of this exposure to these cross-functional groups. The fleet manager position will give them an opportunity to interact with a variety of internal cross-functional groups, such as procurement, risk management, operations, and sales. Ambitious up-and-coming managers will be attracted to fleet because it is a high visibility position that puts them in spotlight with senior level managers with the potential to leverage these relationships into higher-level positions elsewhere in the corporation.
Fleet management employs strategies to operate a business at the lowest possible cost, which is crucial especially when a fleet is a revenue-generating unit. In the final analysis, the fleet manager position must not devolve into a revolving door as it will diminish this efficacy. As fleet complexity grows, it will become even more critical to have an in-house subject-matter expert managing the strategic direction of the fleet. In addition, multinational organizations operating in a global market require in-house subject-matter-expertise to provide consultation with regional and global partners on variety of fleet initiatives, ranging from technology, global safety programs, to working on global purchasing agreements.
Fleet management is a valuable corporate competency whose effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) has a direct impact on the corporate bottom line. A strong, career-focused, in-house fleet manager is not just reporting numbers, he or she is driving those numbers.
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