There are three ways to handle a problem. Ignore it and hope it will go away. Ignore it and wait for someone else to solve it. Dive in and fix it yourself.
When faced with the same mechanic shortage stymieing fleets of all types, the Palm Beach County fleet management division tackled the issue head-on and came up with an innovative solution that will serve its operation-and potentially the industry — very well.
Not surprising, either, considering that the PBC fleet division contends the best way to manage a government fleet is to run it like a business.
According to Douglas Weichman, director-fleet management division of Florida's Palm Beach County, the department he heads is responsible for the specifying, maintenance, fueling and disposal of some 4300 vehicles as well as the fueling of another 2200 units.
It's a truly vast and various motor pool. There are some 3,400 “on-road heavy trucks,” 2400 light- and medium-duty utility trucks plus everything from SUVs and pickups to airport service vehicles to ATVs and, yes, swamp buggies.
While driver churn is not at issue here, PBC must field an ample force of trained technicians capable of taking care of this sundry equipment properly.
And, like fleets of all types in all locales, PBC is finding that recruiting new techs is getting harder and harder. There are plenty of other opportunities knocking for the technically oriented youths of Florida's Gold Coast, be it working with computers or on yachts for that matter.
Thinking the problem through led to establishing a formal internship program with the Palm Beach County School Board that Weichman hopes will “bring us at least two new techs each year to help stop the bleeding that's our older guys going out” to retirement.
“The idea is to recruit four seniors each semester from Palm Beach County's vo-tech schools as interns,” he explains. “They'll attend school in the morning and work in one of our shops from 1 to 5 pm, for which they'll be paid $10 an hour. We'll roll them through so they can see what we do with the hope that when they graduate, they will apply for an entry-level slot here.”
Weichman says the program offers plenty of value to youngsters planning to stay put in Palm Beach County, a pricey place in which to get started in any career.
“We will draw students in who are still living at home and not planning to head off to college,” he points out. “On the other hand, once these techs become PBC employees, they can take advantage of a tuition-reimbursement program if they like.
“They can also get on a supervisory track here or view it as a steppingstone to being a tech elsewhere,” he continues. “If they remain a tech here, they will enjoy steady increases — the range runs from $16 an hour to start up to the current maximum of $30. And they will receive benefits from the County that private repair shops just don't offer.”
Weichman points out that the program will also help the industry in general. “Everyone says they won't hire a tech unless he has six months of experience,” he relates. “Those we don't hire after graduation will have that distinction of hands-on experience” and can help fill the ranks elsewhere.
Once onboard, those new techs will get to experience the very business-like approach to fleet management that's practiced at PBC by Weichman and his staff of 70 who match up with a dozen job descriptions ranging from tech to environmental specialist.