Attracting, recruiting and retaining technicians

Sharon Subadan
Fleet Management Division Chief
Department of Public Works and Transportation
Montgomery County, Maryland
Member, APWA Fleet Services Committee

The face of the workplace has changed dramatically in the last few years. Generation X has made it to the workforce. Values are different (not better, not worse—just different). Loyalty is often to self and family first. Compensation and job satisfaction are highly important. Work environment is important—employer expectations are high. The ability to grow in the work environment and have promotional opportunities is highly important. These changes are not going away—"Generation Next" is up and coming!

As fleet managers, how should we respond to these changes? We can continue to do things the same old way, or we can create a workplace environment that is employee supportive, friendly and productive. A workplace where accountability is high and leadership qualities are among our goals. A workplace where management encourages employees and maintains an environment of innovation and creativity. I believe in sharing my personal leadership philosophy and vision with every employee. My vision is one of professionalism, people, planning, and priorities. As a manager, leading by example is important to me; be prepared to be real and set an example.

Employees need opportunities and a reason to aspire. Creating a career ladder that allows progression into the mechanic series and opportunities to transition from a Technician Trainee to Senior Technician, and increasing the employees' responsibilities, salary ranges and providing promotional opportunities are key elements to our program. When promoting and hiring, support selecting the most qualified candidate. Encourage internal promotions by training employees to become "promotable." Our training goal is 80 hours minimum of training per employee per year. Management must advance the goal even if it is not always attained.

In recent years we developed a morale building strategy. The strategy is built on the TEAM FLEET concept and employees receive special recognition for "extraordinary" efforts that benefit the team. A TEAM FLEET logo (our branding) was created. This logo is emblazoned on specially marked apparel and personal effects. The recognition is viewed as more than tokens of appreciation by our employees. The awards are proudly worn and displayed. Some employees have attempted to purchase this apparel but the items are not for sale. Employees are nominated by anyone who observes their contribution to TEAM FLEET. They receive one of the prizes/gifts with the TEAM FLEET logo.

Where possible, it is essential to hire at competitive salaries. Targeted recruiting and offering salaries commensurate with experience and education are major contributions to our success. Give credit for related experience and related education. Provide incentives for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications. Montgomery County offers $100 per certification and $1,000 for ASE Master certification up to $4,000 maximum.

It has often been said that a person joins an organization but leaves a boss. Midway through the probationary period an employee is asked to fill out a "New Employee Checkup" survey. The purpose is to evaluate our ability to meet the needs of the new employee. It also helps us retain qualified, motivated, and productive personnel by assessing how well the employees are integrating into the organizational system and culture. Feedback is used to improve how new employees are trained and mentored into the workplace improving the possibility of long-term retention.

Calvin Jones (left) and representatives of Cummins Power Systems, discussing repairs on buses

Prior experience indicates that the best referrals have often been word of mouth from existing employees. A referral bonus award program was established to improve the applicant pool of qualified mechanics that have a greater potential of remaining in the long term. The referring employee receives $500 for each mechanic candidate referred and subsequently hired. An additional $500 is paid once the referred candidate successfully completes the probationary period. This has an added benefit as employees take an active interest in new hires and screen the applicants for long-term success. The recommending mechanic often becomes a mentor. These tools assist us in educating our staff on ways to make the organization more effective.

Recently, a 10-minute recruitment video was developed to target vocational schools, community colleges, military installations and career fairs, and is sent out as a marketing tool. So far the response has been positive.

I believe in treating people the way that I would like to be treated and take every opportunity to employ the human touch. As a manager, I personally acknowledge birthdays, recognize milestones such as new babies, weddings, retirements, etc. I send out personalized holiday greeting cards. I always relate my appreciation to something the employee has done and mail it to the employee's home. My message demonstrates to employees that I care about them and recognize their value and contribution to the organization.

How successful have we been? Currently, 22 percent of our workforce (17 mechanics) has less than 2.5 years of seniority. Most of these employees have replaced those who have retired or been promoted. In the past 12 months only one mechanic has left the Division for another employment opportunity.

Bob Linthicum, performing minor repairs to a truck

One may ask, how can a fleet organization afford to do these things? I ask, how can you afford not to? We are in a very competitive environment. I know through regular contact with my employees that they enjoy not being treated as a number. The personal touch is appreciated.

There is a cost to providing a work environment that is creative, innovative, harmonious and productive. It is important to research and calculate the cost associated with high employee turnover and excessive vacancies in the mechanic classification. A fleet manager needs to know the costs associated with overtime; lost productivity; contracting out; equipment downtime; lower quality work; comebacks; repeat repairs; customer dissatisfaction, etc. Once fully researched and documented it is important to be prepared to make the case to the decision makers for financial incentives.

Sharon Subadan is responsible for a mixed fleet of more than 3,000 pieces and a staff of 153. She can be reached at (240) 777-5767 or at sharon.subadan@co.mo.md.us. Sharon will host an APWA workshop in Montgomery County, Maryland, March 31-April 2, 2004, entitled "Fleet Equipment and Shop Management for Government Agencies." The workshop will be held at the Montgomery County Fleet Management Services Division, and will include a shop and equipment tour. For more information contact the Education Department at (800) 848-APWA.