As part of its mission, the NAFA Fleet Management Association (NAFA) is committed to promoting the highest levels of professional fleet management. One way it accomplishes this goal is through education. Now, through the NAFA Student Advisory Task Force, this education is extended not only to existing fleet managers, but to their protégés as well.

The NAFA Student Advisory Task Force is charged with increasing student involvement in NAFA activities and helping develop young leaders in fleet. Evidenced by the relationship NAFA's Michigan chapter has with Ferris State University (FSU) in Big Rapids, Mich., college students are now getting a head start on their future careers as fleet managers.

Encouraging Student Involvement

Steven "Peds" Pederson, NAFA Student Advisory Task Force chair, and vice president, fleet & risk management for VPSI, became involved in student activities while serving as NAFA's Michigan Chapter Chair.

Learning NAFA had a relationship with FSU, which offers a fleet management minor, he held a chapter meeting at the University in September 2009. The meeting highlighted the course offerings that lead to a fleet management minor and internship programs, and included testimonials from a former student and a current employer of FSU graduates.

"My interest was promulgated by the fact that as a student, I didn't have the networking and educational opportunities NAFA can provide today's students," Pederson said. "I didn't want these students to sell themselves short. I wanted them to get a taste of a much bigger fleet world than they might see early in their curriculum."

The morning of the Michigan chapter meeting at FSU, Pederson and Christy Coyte, global fleet manager for Johnson Controls and AF's 2010 Fleet Manager of the Year, were asked to speak to the students. "We tried to impart upon the students the importance of education to becoming a fleet management professional," Pederson said.

At the end of the meeting, Coyte and Pederson challenged students to join NAFA and form their own FSU Fleet Student Organization. If successful, they promised students the Michigan Chapter would seek sponsors to fund their attendance at the NAFA Institute & Expo (I&E) in April 2010 in Detroit - a challenge the students accepted and accomplished. As a result, 14 students attended the NAFA I&E, an activity that, because of its success and obvious benefits to members and students, is likely to promote further student activity in NAFA.

Valuable Lessons for Future Careers

While attending the NAFA I&E, students were tasked with developing, designing, and manning their own booth space. They also attended educational sessions, worked with the NAFA staff as class monitors, and worked closely with their individual mentors and sponsors on the Expo floor. These activities yielded a number of important lessons these students will carry forward into their careers.

"They learned a lot about the importance of teamwork, communication, and establishing priorities to meet all of the demands placed on them from so many different sources," Pederson said. "During the event hours and after hours, too, the students earned an 'A+' in networking. This was a very valuable lesson for them to gain confidence in their own abilities and develop the networking skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives."

Stanley Littlejohn, transportation operations specialist, General Service Administration, and former vice president of the Ferris State Fleet Student Organization agreed with Pederson: His attendance at the Expo, and the networking opportunities it provided, were both valuable experiences.

At the conference, Littlejohn and other students built relationships with their sponsors and other NAFA members. Littlejohn said this enhanced their knowledge of fleet managers, manufacturers, and suppliers and allowed students to interact with professionals in roles and positions they will seek after graduation. "Students are the next generation of fleet managers," Littlejohn said. "Giving students an opportunity to build long-term relationships before they enter the workforce allows them to ease into the fleet world more efficiently."

Gary Maike, associate professor at Ferris State and advisor to the Ferris State Fleet Student Organization, underscored how involvement in professional organizations and activities such as the Expo are invaluable for students.

"It is important to get students involved in professional organizations early in their careers," Maike said. "The opportunities presented to them can be very beneficial to their careers as well as the industry they choose to enter. The networking and support they get helps accelerate their advancement, and in turn they reach levels of responsibility in which they can give back to an organization like NAFA."


Sponsors Give & Get Back in Return

Students aren't the only ones who benefit from their involvement - NAFA and sponsoring businesses do as well. Pederson believes student participation in the Expo helped demonstrate the value of student involvement - and hopes to see it continuing in the future.

"I believe showcasing the talents these students already have will help prove to our membership that students can have an immediate positive impact within their organization, and what better way to find out than offering a part-time school year or full-time summer internship position to one of our student members," Pederson said. "I think students can play a leadership role in NAFA. Take a look around the Institute and Expo and you see a lot of gray hair or, if you are 'follically' challenged like me, no hair at all. We need young leaders. The communication channels are changing, and we as an organization have a lot to learn from them."

Maike agreed that both students and companies gain from their partnership - and that student involvement is critical for succession planning.

"The support of NAFA student members by NAFA is critical to success for both. The recognition of the value-added skills and potential that students can bring into a company is necessary," Maike said. "As we go forward through the next few decades, there will be a significant amount of turnover in the ranks of all companies. Any of these companies that recognize this early and prepare by bringing young, trained, and interested talent will gain competitive advantages. Think about your own retirement. How many years did it take to reach your current position? Do you think you will be able to hire your replacement the month before you retire? Would bringing a recently graduated NAFA student on board and mentoring them be a better strategy?"

The Future of Student Involvement

In the future, Pederson is hopeful that active student involvement in NAFA will continue. He foresees students playing a leadership role in local chapters and forming their own organizations, much like the Ferris State Fleet Student Organization.

"Student involvement breathes life into any organization," Pederson said. "They don't need to start a NAFA chapter. Fleet-minded students can start their own registered student services organization on campus just like they would for other purposes. Individually, students can join NAFA for the low membership fee of $50 per year. They get the best of both worlds: their own on-campus association and all of the benefits afforded NAFA members."

Moving forward, Maike sees student interest in these activities gaining ground. "I can foresee NAFA student member participation growing significantly in the future. This will be through students sharing their experiences with other students and fostering word-of-mouth advertising for the benefits. As other educational institutions see the successes at Ferris State University, they will seek to participate with NAFA as educational partners," Maike said.

Pederson hopes to offer more opportunities for students, including funding and structure for academic scholarships provided by NAFA members and affiliates to fleet-minded students, formalized I&E mentoring programs, and formalized full-time summer internships. "I think we owe it to the students to give them a taste of this wonderful career path early on in their education," he said. "In return, we will develop, and get the privilege of working with, tomorrow's educated, motivated, and successful fleet professionals."