Routinely, fleet operations have to retrain new (and even veteran) technicians to service and repair fire and police vehicles, off-road heavy equipment, mowers, and other specialized equipment. Another problem is the shortage of technicians able to work on alt-fuel vehicles and hybrid powertrains. In a tight job market, the first line of defense is to retain staff, ideally by offering competitive wages and benefits. However, the reality is that government wages are deeply structured, difficult to adjust, and not competitive with the private sector. Many fleet operations have created multi-pay grade levels to increase the recruitment and hiring of new technicians. In a typical setup, the mechanic helper classification is the entry-level position with progressive job classifications such as mechanic I, II, III, lead mechanic, and supervisor. The successively higher pay scales give technicians the motivation to stay and move up through the ranks. Another successful employee retention tool has been wage incentive plans for certification, which give employees the power to determine their salaries while improving skill levels. These programs often involve certification through the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). By passing at least one ASE exam and providing proof of two years of relevant work experience, a technician becomes ASE-certified. ASE Certification Increases Productivity
If a mechanic takes longer than anticipated to complete a repair or charges more than the end user expects, the fleet’s customer service reputation deteriorates. Likewise, if a component failure is misdiagnosed, then the reputation of the fleet operation is tarnished in the eyes of the user department.

The fleet operations for Chesterfield County, Va., adopted a certification incentive pay plan and has seen its rank of ASE-trained technicians grow. This has resulted in faster vehicle turnaround time for repairs and one-day service for preventive maintenance and oil changes. At Chesterfield County, eligible employees take one or more of the ASE examinations and the EPA Section 605 air conditioning certification. The county’s incentive program allows successful technicians to earn an additional 15-percent professional incentive pay increase in their annual salary. However, those employees can earn only one professional incentive increase within a two-year period. How Much Should You Pay?
There are no industry standards for certification incentive pay, often negotiated as part of a union agreement. However, there are ranges. Many government fleet operations pay master-level ASE mechanics an additional $1-$2 per hour. This can be structured in a variety of ways. One example is the payment of 40-45 cents per hour for passing four ASE tests in either the automotive or the medium/heavy truck series and the addition of 10-15 cents per hour for each additional test passed. If a mechanic completes all eight exams, many fleets will add an additional 20 cents per hour to their salary, bringing the total incentive from $1 to $2 per hour for a master tech certificate. One reason for the pay variation is that job tenure often influences the amount of increase. ASE credentials must be recertified every five years. Typically, technicians must renew prior to the expiration date to maintain the incentive pay. It is a good idea to require technicians to bring in the original ASE certificate(s) so the payroll department can verify certification and keep a copy in its files. Some fleet operations, but not all, reimburse mechanics for the expense of ASE certification. The Town of Greenwich, Conn., offers another variation of a certification incentive program. In the 2005-FY budget, Fleet Director Betty Linck C.F.M started a program called Project Blue Seal. Under the program, if the shift foreman obtained a Master ASE certification, a new level would be created, one pay grade up to a shift supervisor, eliminating the shift foreman position. The shift supervisors would have to maintain their ASE Master certifications and recertify as a job requirement. HD mechanics who obtain four ASE certifications, from courses selected by Linck, would move up a pay grade to HD vehicle technician status. Technicians who do not recertify drop back a grade. Technicians pay for the ASE testing and study and take the test on their own time. As a union shop, those who did not want to certify could remain at the lower pay rate and grade. New hires to the Town of Greenwich had to commit to take the ASE certifications to become a HD technician. The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, some fleet operations have been stymied in their effort to institute incentive pay programs by either the mechanics’ union, the HR department, or both. These fleets lose out because by incentivizing technicians to achieve ASE certification improves vehicle/equipment knowledge, elevates skill levels, and keep them up-to-date with changing automotive and diagnostic technologies. These incentive pay plans are money well spent. Let me know what you think.