A Career in Fleet Management: What Are the First Steps?
A young student or recent graduate is interested in a career in fleet management. What does he or she do to get into the profession? What kind of education, training, or experience is ideal?
At a Glance
Some educational paths that may help lead to or prepare for a career in fleet management include:
- English composition.
- Risk management.
It generally isn’t found in any university course catalogues. Texts on the subject are few and far between. The industry is, realistically, niche, and it isn’t likely that a young professional knows anyone holding the title. But, somehow, in some way, a youth gets exposed to fleet management, is intrigued, and decides to pursue a career as a fleet manager.
How does he or she go about this? What kinds of skills do fleet managers need and where can they get them? It isn’t as difficult or arcane as one might think; fleet managers need specific skills and knowledge that can be obtained in any number of ways. Here are some ideas for the nascent fleet manager candidate:
How Did You Get Into Fleet?
You’ll get a broad array of answers if you ask a fleet manager, “how did you get into the business?” These replies can include, “I saw the job posted, applied, and got it,” “I was in purchasing, and when the fleet manager left, I pursued the opportunity to replace her,” and “I’ve been in the fleet department for a few years, and got promoted when the fleet manager retired.”
These, and other similar responses, state that it was simply coincidental that the fleet manager got the job. But, one answer you’ll seldom, if ever, get is, “I’ve wanted to be a fleet manager since I was a kid, studied it in school, and looked for an opening after graduation.”
Fleet management isn’t a college major; although a few schools, such as Ferris State University, offer a minor in fleet management, and others, such as Ranken Technical College, offer college credits for NAFA’s certified automotive fleet manager (CAFM) program.
The profession can be exciting, rewarding, never boring, and a springboard to more senior responsibilities in a corporate setting. Young professionals should be encouraged to learn about it and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. But, how can this be done? What would a recent college graduate, for example, need to do to qualify for the job?
The Academic Basics
Unlike law, medicine, or accounting, fleet management isn’t a very specific discipline. Fleet managers have a number of responsibilities, not all of them vehicle related, and the profession requires a wide range of skills, knowledge, and experience; a “fleet management” major or academic track isn’t practical.
That said, however, there are course offerings at most colleges that can help students interested in fleet management to prepare for a career:
- English composition: Written communication skills are a critical element of success in fleet management. Fleet managers communicate across a broad spectrum within, and outside of, the company. From drivers, to managers, to senior executives; from suppliers, to auditors, even law enforcement, the job requires the ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and persuasively.
- Accounting: How fleet costs are allocated — both expenses and capital expenditures — is also important. Understanding the impact of fleet vehicle costs on the company’s financial statements helps to clarify for management what is happening in the fleet department.
- Finance: Learning the basics behind the lease vs. buy decision, how money flows in a corporate environment, interest rates, and taxes are all part of the job.
- Risk management: One of the two overall missions of the fleet manager is safety. Fleet managers need to know how to understand and mitigate risk, and recognize risk factors both before hiring as well as during fleet service.
- Law: Certainly, a law degree isn’t necessary; however, basic law courses can help fleet managers understand the impact of local, state, and federal legislation on a fleet operation. Also, human resource and labor laws often come into play, vis-a-vis establishing and enforcing policy.
- Civics/government: Understanding how government works — how it makes decisions, how funds are acquired and allocated, and how it differs from the private sector is important not only for government fleet management, but for commercial fleet managers as well.
- Systems/computers: It isn’t necessary to be a programmer; however, learning the basics of IT systems is crucial, as fleet managers depend upon automated reporting and processes to do the job. Knowing how to use basic office programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is almost a given in any business environment.
Keep in mind these skills can be acquired at the academic level; there are only a few fleet management-specific courses offered at a few universities. They are, however, important in the overall conduct of the job. A good case can be made that fleet managers interact on a regular basis with a more eclectic range of company disciplines than just about any other (save for human resources/benefits). Understanding the basics of each of these disciplines, and being able to communicate clearly and concisely with each one, is a must for any successful fleet manager.