Leaders are born, perhaps. But managers are made — and largely self-made at that.
Look at it this way. It doesn't take much expertise, let alone schooling, to lead the willing over the proverbial cliff or to go out in a clichéd blaze of glory like so many so-called leaders wind up doing.
Managers, to put the necessary fine point on it, are leaders who know where they are going. They have to because they must answer for their leadership, especially to those they manage.
Experience — also known as a diploma from the school of hard knocks — is not hard to acquire. It tends to stick all on its own. But getting any degree of formal education in management skills and techniques to make the most of that experience is often a matter of self-motivation.
That's because unless they work for a particularly savvy organization, managers usually have to seek out opportunities for management education on their own.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources that can be tapped — even by the individual — to gain an education that will make a management career in trucking both feasible and successful.
These resources run the gamut from bare-bones seminars put on in hotel conference rooms or presented online by sundry private firms to MBAs awarded by universities. In between are academic courses offered at community colleges and certificate and degree programs given at four-year colleges.
And that's just the general stuff. For trucking-specific material, look no further than the various associations serving the industry, which offer tons of programs for educating fleet managers — everything from the basics online to rigorous professional certification programs.
Offering some perspective on the importance of management education to the fleet manager is Kelly Walker, president of Kelly Walker Assoc., a Dallas-based management consulting and training firm.
Walker, who holds an MBA and has an extensive background in the off-road equipment and utility/municipal fleet markets, says times are changing fast for fleet managers and extra education is what many will need to continue getting ahead.
“Every time a family-owned fleet gets rolled up into a bigger firm, or when the younger generation takes the reins with a business-school degree, the incumbent shop or equipment manager must learn how to manage as a business-school grad or Fortune 500 executive would,” he explains. “Otherwise, they are not going to advance further.”
Walker likens the challenge for managers to how mechanics have had to become technicians adept with electronics or risk becoming dinosaurs of the shop.
“You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
— Will Rogers
“Many fleet managers who are not versed in the modern ways of business are still working as the WWII generation did,” he continues. “That is, they are most comfortable conducting business with an excess capacity of equipment and manpower to ensure their operations are always self-sufficient.
“But the new generation of top management doesn't want that ‘sandbox’ mentality,” Walker continues. “They want to see specific operational and financial returns from what the fleet is doing.”
Walker's assessment may seem harsh but it is just honest. The modern “corporate” fleet, private or for-hire, is increasingly judged as a profit, not a cost, center. Managers who can't cut it in this new environment will at worst find themselves replaced, at best passed over for promotion.
Using some salary benchmarks from the heavy-equipment arena to make his point, Walker says the “average off-highway guy makes $60,000 to $80,000 as an equipment manager while about 10% or so make over $100,000. And that gap from $80,000 to $100,000 represents a huge gap in business skills. The guy making the six figures knows how to manage the fleet as a business.”
Walker advises manager to “not get landlocked” in that $60,000 to $80,000 bracket by just getting more technical training. “By the time they reach this level,” he asserts, “they need business training to learn how to manage an operation — not to fix more things.”
As for anyone for whom money may not be an issue, but who does want to run things, Walker has another persuasive argument. “If you don't have adequate business training,” he says directly, “only a fool will give you 100% control of a department. Without the proper skills, shop and equipment managers will be limited in their decision-making power by owners or senior-level managers.”
Walker's particular solution to the management-skills gap is the training program he has developed called the “Master's Degree in Advanced Equipment, Fleet and Shop Management.”
It consists of attending a two-day seminar that outlines the program, home study of a set of Walker-produced manuals, passing a written test and completing a thesis to demonstrate mastery of the material.
Walker says his Master's program has been endorsed by the Equipment Maintenance Council (EMC) and is in the process of being accredited by the council. EMC primarily serves managers of mobile heavy equipment operations, many of which also run trucks.
Glenwood Springs, CO-based EMC already offers its Certified Equipment Manager (CEM) program. According to EMC, its program is the only national testing program administered by a certifying board consisting of equipment fleet managers, educators and heavy-equipment manufacturers.
The CEM exam tests applicants in 16 areas of competency to demonstrate they have the “qualifications and ability to manage any size equipment fleet.” These run the gamut from preventive maintenance to risk, safety, shop and financial management, as well as employee training, negotiations and benchmarking.
EMC offers the exam each year at its annual conference (winter) and technical conference (fall). The council presents study courses at its meetings, as well as reference materials for purchase.
The exam is open to all who meet certain minimum qualifications, including five years' fleet management experience (military experience accepted) and high-school (or GED) diploma as well as having achieved a degree of career accomplishments.
To sit for the exam, the applicant must be awarded at least 15 points by EMC's certification board based on experience and accomplishments stated on their application. Examinees must pass all sections of the exam to be certified, although they have 36 months to do so and retakes are allowed.
“We can always learn from each other.”
— George S. Patton, Jr. to a junior officer
To date, 28 fleet managers representing a mix of construction, government and utility fleets have attained the designation of CEM.
Another similar program with its roots directly in trucking is the Certified Transportation Professional (CTP) program offered by the Alexandria, VA-based Institute for Truck Transportation Management (ITTM), the educational affiliate of the National Private Truck Council (NPTC).
“The CTP designation signifies experience, achievement and commitment to the truck transportation profession,” says ITTM manager Judy Werner.
According to Werner, ITTM offers various options for fleet managers who want to attain CTP certification or pursue continuing education independently.
She calls ITTM's 600-pg. Transportation Professional's Handbook a “day-to-day reference and required reading for CTP candidates.” It details principles of fleet operation management, including benchmarking, safety, compliance, finance and budgets.
ITTM offers four fleet-management home study courses through an arrangement with Pennsylvania State University: Fleet Finance 101, Maximizing Fleet Operations, Fleet Productivity & Compliance, and Equipment & Maintenance Efficiency. Candidates have 16 weeks to complete assignments and a final exam for each course. Those who complete a course receive a certificate and three continuing-education units (credits) from Penn State.
Since its rollout in 1993, the CTP designation has been earned by nearly 400 private fleet managers. According to Werner, having those initials after his name indicates a manager has the “knowledge and ability to understand complex operational and regulatory issues, identify and evaluate potential costs and savings, and develop systems and practices that best meet his company's transportation objectives and needs.”
CTP candidates must first compile at least 600 certification points earned through such avenues as fleet management/supplier experience, formal education, active participation in the fleet/transportation community, and continued pursuit of education.
However, a minimum of 500 points must be earned through professional fleet management/supplier experience. Each year of fleet/transportation management or supplier experience garners 100 points.
Thirty-five points are awarded for each of the aforementioned ITTM/Penn State home-study courses completed successfully within the previous 18 months. Having a Bachelor's degree is worth 100 points; a Master's, 200.
Becoming a CTP requires passing a two-part examination. The first part consists of 100 multiple-choice questions focusing on the core areas of fleet management.
The second part presents a case study and asks the examinee to submit a written analysis of the problem and their recommendations for solving it.
To receive CTP designation, both parts must be passed and both parts are weighed equally. A retake is allowed only for the case-study analysis portion of the exam.
The CTP exam is offered annually in 15 regional locations on the second Saturday in February with each proctored by a CTP. The next test will be held on February 9, '02.
Besides the CTP program, ITTM offers other forms of management education. The comprehensive Fleet/Transportation Management Institute held each year presents over 40 hours of classroom instruction over a six-day program that also includes tours of fleet operations and supplier presentations.
The ITTM staff also produces customized educational programs that are presented at a fleet's own location. They are designed to benefit experienced fleet managers as well as those moving up into a supervisory role and others in an organization wanting an education in fleet management.
While his association offers its manufacturer/dealer members various forms of professional training, Russ Doré, Ed.D., director of education, training & human resources of the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA), says a management education can be drawn from many other sources, too.
“People who reach the top of the tree are only those who haven't got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom.”
— Peter Ustinov
“There is a lot of general training on management available online today,” Doré points out. “Local community colleges that offer not only degree programs but certificates in management and human resources are another good, general source. Four-year colleges often have certificate programs as well, taught by the regular full-time faculty. It's also becoming easier to get an MBA entirely through night classes.”
Doré also draws a valid distinction between how management and technical training is often perceived in the trucking industry. “When someone doesn't know their way around a technical area, it's pretty obvious,” says Doré. “And they will seek out the information or experience they need.
“But when it comes to a management position,” he continues, “people often feel they can ‘get by’ without specialized training or education. When someone with technical skills is promoted to management without teaching them the necessary skills for that role,” Doré adds, “you can end up losing your best mechanic — only to gain your worst supervisor.”
Training expert Charlie Gillette, president of Knowledge Anywhere, which produced the online version of NTEA's “Truck College 101” course, says online and other forms of “distance learning” are most appropriate for topics that “don't have to be touched or felt — those need to be addressed in person.”
He also recommends that no matter the source, professional education should be ongoing.
“From line workers to executives,” says Gillette, “training should be a long-term commitment. Employees appreciate that commitment. And if the employer doesn't provide those opportunities, employees will find them elsewhere.”
Chances are, those are the employees who most want to get ahead. And the ones smart organizations will most want to keep and presumably reward for their efforts.
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