I worked for a fleet manager once who believed if anyone else in the organization knew what he knew, he would no longer be needed. When he left the organization and I was chosen as his replacement, I didn’t have a clue what he did or how he did it. I thought I did but hind-sight is 20-20. Because of his unfounded fear, I was doomed to make countless mistakes, costing the agency significant capital, which could have prevented if my former boss had been willing to share his knowledge.

Since taking “the helm” every time we hired a technician, usually from the private sector, within 3-4 months, that person would come to me and express shock by saying: “I never imagined that City mechanics had to know so much about so many different kinds of equipment. I thought this would be an easy job where I could relax a little“. Because of the multiple challenges with all the various equipment in a government fleet, they generally fall in love with the job and stay. My contention is that it takes at least 5-years with hundreds of hours of mentoring and training for a technician from the private sector to achieve technical competency on all the various types of specialty equipment that municipal fleets operate. If you’ve got some “keepers,” do everything in your power to keep them happy and challenged.

I once heard a management trainer admonish the need to have a “continuity plan” and to never be afraid to share your institutional knowledge with your subordinates. There have been numerous Municipal fleet shops which have been privatized due significant numbers of baby boomers retiring and fleet managers was unable to find competent replacements in a timely manner. Do you know the retirement window (62-65) of each of your staff? Ideally, a direct labor staff of ten or more should be sustainable with an average age of 40-45. Let’s say you have an average technician age of 45-50. This means that some may be approaching 62-65 and considering retirement. If it takes 5-years for a new hire to become competent on your fleet, you could comfortably withstand losing one, or two technicians per year? Think about the ramifications to a medium fleet operation losing three or more per year.

Do you have a couple of outstanding technicians? Do they serve a specialized customer like Fire, Police or EMS? What if that person was pirated by another fleet, contracted a serious medical issue, or worse, died. Have you ever tried to replace a Master Certified EVT – Good luck… The time getting a replacement up-to-speed equals two people’s productivity and that’s expensive.

I recommend meeting with each of your technicians and administrative staff, to determine their long-range retirement plans. Then create a Continuity Spreadsheet for the next 10-15 years. Highlight the retirement window (62-65) for each employee then evaluate if there will be years with potential significant loss of vital institutional knowledge. Re-interview staff annually and keep this strategic plan current.

Openly encourage your subordinates to seek training in the certifications and leadership skills needed to be promoted to positions higher than their current one. Specialization is very hard for medium sized and small fleets. Cross-train multiple people on multiple classes of equipment and technologies so that you have some depth of knowledge. Never feel threatened by a subordinate’s knowledge of how the operation is run. The best legacy after you leave the organization is a successful transition and leadership that results in a cost-effective operation which serves the customer’s needs. Most importantly, don’t be surprised by taking the future for granted.

I encourage your comments and/or recommendations.

About the author
Steve Kibler

Steve Kibler

Fleet Manager

Born to rural Iowa, Steve was trained at an early age that nothing was free for the asking. If you wanted something you had to make it a goal and work for it. Even as a toddler, Steve immediately had a talent for taking anything apart.

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