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Leizer Coleman, fleet service administrator in Richmond, Va., works on the city's new Career Development Program. Photo: Richmond Department of Public Works

Providing training for mechanics these days—especially for new heavy equipment—can be a challenge, especially for smaller cities and counties. The solution, most fleet managers have found, is to write training into the purchase contracts for the equipment. Then it becomes the vendor's responsibility to supply the training.

Meanwhile, various other training sources abound, if your budget can accommodate them:

  • Privately run schools in technical specialties, such as hydraulics
  • Technical classes at community colleges
  • Instruction offered by outside vendors. Examples include Snap-On Inc. (tools); Interstate Battery System of America; and NAPA (a parts distributor). Their Web sites are www.snapon.com,www.ibsa.com, and www.napaonline.com, respectively.
  • The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) program (www.asecert.org) offers training, testing, and certification for automotive technicians.
  • Trade associations can help. Examples: the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP, www.aemp.org); the National Association of Fleet Administrators (www.nafa.org); or in northern California, the Public Equipment Managers Association (www.pema-ca.org). AEMP includes heavy-equipment training in its programs.
  • “We have a person who arranges all of the training for our mechanics,” said Leizer Coleman, fleet service administrator with the department of public works in Richmond, Va. The city employs nearly 40 mechanics at two shops where more than 2400 pieces of equipment are maintained.

    The training specialist's title is administrative project analyst, and he performs the following functions:

  • Arranges for training through the ASE organization
  • Arranges commercial drivers' license training
  • Coordinates vendor training.
  • “When we purchase new equipment, the vendor offers training for the mechanics,” said Coleman. “That's usually part of the purchase contract, and we make sure it is because equipment technology changes constantly.

    “We just bought 11 new refuse packers,” said Coleman. “The dealer, Virginia Public Works, is providing one day of training for our technicians and one day for the operators.”

    If vendor-provided training isn't enough, Richmond's Fleet Maintenance Division has a $30,000 budget that goes for ASE testing and “any other training that mechanics would like to take, if they get approved for it,” said Coleman. Plus, the city itself will pay for 80% of tuition costs at a one- or two-year technical school.

    “Our city has always pushed training,” said Coleman. She estimates that six technicians have sought training outside the department within the past year. “But we offer so much training from the manufacturers and ASE that most technicians just choose that.”

    And now, Richmond's Fleet Maintenance Division is mapping a new Career Development Program. It will lead technicians to the ability to repair any machine the city has, from a weed-eater to a refuse-packing truck. To work from the beginning through the highest level—Master Technician—will probably take about six years, said Coleman. A series of career steps, each rewarded with an increase in salary, will lead to the Master Technician level. “Most of the training will be done in-house, and technicians will be given the opportunity to go to technical schools,” said Coleman.

    In Salem, Ore., the General Services Department has begun to write training into its heavy-equipment-purchase contracts, said Don Thomson, fleet/warehouse superintendent. The department manages some 640 pieces of rolling stock, including backhoes, dump trucks, street sweepers, sewer-cleaning trucks, and more.

    “The real challenge is to get training for heavy equipment,” said Thomson. “We want to keep our technicians current in the latest electronically controlled engines and transmissions. We don't want our people to feel like their skills are becoming outmoded because they're not working in a dealer's shop.

    “One day of training by the dealer is not enough for the new heavy equipment,” said Thomson. “We're looking for more in-depth training for our technicians so they can troubleshoot the problems and determine whether we can do the work ourselves or if we need to send it to the dealer. Downtime spent in ferrying equipment to dealers is expensive.

    “I would include in purchase contracts that training must be provided within four months after we accept the equipment,” said Thomson. “My shop supervisor worked at Douglas County, Ore., and they did it there.

    “We don't want to demand so much that vendors won't respond to us,” said Thomson. “But if we ask all the vendors for the same thing, then they'll remain competitive with each other.”

    Daniel C. Brown is a freelance writer based in Des Plaines, Ill.