Regardless of how long you have been at your job, keeping current through training is essential. In these days of shrinking budgets, you have to figure out how to get the biggest bang for your buck. Before you do that analysis, consider the many options you have to spend your training dollars on.
In most cases, fleet periodicals are the least expensive option. Periodicals provide a one-way means of communication. They provide information on topics that may be important to you now or provide a research tool for future use. Periodicals provide a concise, portable means for you to keep up with important topics at your leisure.
Internet classes are increasing in popularity because they provide convenience and affordability. Typically, you sit in front of your computer at a pre-determined time while an instructor sits in front of his computer providing class content. Sometimes participants get information in advance of the session, and sometimes it’s presented at the time of the session. There can be as few as four participants or as many as 20. Sometimes these sessions are free, but more often there is a charge.
The downside to Internet classes could be the cost and the time structure. It is convenient to be at your desk to participate in these sessions, but what happens if you have to address an important concern during the session, or if someone needs to ask a question?
Professional associations are another way to interact with professionals with similar concerns. Associations can be national, regional and local. The downside can be annual dues and the cost to attend conferences. The hierarchy of an association and its management philosophy can also be a deterrent.
Ask yourself how many people are employed by the association and if dues are being used to promote the cause of its members, or if there is another agenda.
Fleet conferences are a method of training that provides classes; interaction with industry professionals; networking opportunities with colleagues; and timely information on equipment, services and technology. These are conducted on a local, regional, state or national level. Conferences held on a smaller scale provide attendees with opportunities to discuss more specific topics.
On a larger scale, regional and national conferences provide an opportunity to review topics of a wider nature which may not impact all attendees, but which can provide insight into future areas of interest. Networking with colleagues also takes on a different dimension because the larger conferences expose you to fleet professionals who you may not interact with on a routine basis. These professionals may have innovative approaches to current issues you’re not aware of. Conferences also strengthen your base for future networking opportunities.
What’s the downside? The biggest is probably cost, depending on where the conference is located. In most cases, travel costs include lodging, transportation and per diem costs, not to mention the registration fee. The upside of spending money on conferences is obtaining very timely information in a short time for you to utilize long after you’re back in your office.
Look at what you are spending these registration dollars on. Are you paying for high-price key note speakers who make a great entrance, tell a few jokes and then leave the conference? Do your fees cover expensive meals your budget can’t afford? Are you paying for extravagant activities you couldn’t care less to attend?
Having been involved with organizing fleet conferences for the last 15 years, I can tell you there are ways to minimize costs. As a perspective attendee, be aware of a few things that add to your overall cost for attending a conference. The most expensive indicator is location. Larger cities such as New York, Chicago, Orlando, New Orleans and others in this category are called “tier 1” cities. The hotel rooms are expensive, dining is costly and other amenities can add to your cost of attending the conference. In some cases, hotel rates may be competitive with smaller cities, but to get those lower rates, the organizers have to guarantee a specific amount of dollars spent on food and beverages which just adds to your registration costs.
Conversely, going to smaller cities, called “tier 2” cities, reduces costs and provides friendlier environments for attendees. It is not as easy to fly into a “tier 2” site, but that’s a small inconvenience considering the total travel dollars you will save. Room rates in most cases are less costly, as are airport shuttles and food. Again, look at your registration fee and what you get for it compared to other conferences.
No matter what source of training you are exploring, although costs are a priority, class content takes center stage. It all comes down to what your agency gets the biggest return on and how you can convince your command to attend a specific event.
Please forgive a bit of self promotion, but it is difficult to set myself aside from my role as Chair of the Police Fleet Expo (PFE). In addition to the August 2010 Police Fleet Expo in St. Louis, consider the May 2010 Police Fleet Expo – West in Long Beach, Calif. When PFE started in 2005, the objective was simple—to bring timely, police fleet information to a wide of group of professionals at the lowest cost possible. With more than 450 conference attendees, we have succeeded. But we have continued to tweak the PFE based on attendee and exhibitor feedback.
The PFE – West in Long Beach culminates three years of planning. Why a regional expo on the West Coast? A large base of fleet professionals is on the West Coast that we just weren’t reaching with the national show in the Midwest. Whether it was cost, logistics or class content, attracting 15 percent of our attendees from the west wasn’t good enough. We anticipate the PFE – West will attract participants from the dozen western states.
The PFE – West’s registration fee is just $99. The hotels are at the government rate, and the expo itself is a no-frills approach to providing more than 15 hours of educational sessions and more than 8 hours on the 56,000 square foot exhibit hall. The Expo provides three days of focused activities during the work week, allowing attendees to be home for the weekend. If you want to attend for only one day, the cost is $35. There is no charge if you only want to walk the exhibit hall and are a government employee.
Classes will be presented by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler with insight to their new police vehicles. Other classes will address hybrid and electric vehicles; #1 Government Green Fleet; Fleet Management; Fleet Software; Energy Independence; Environmental Programs & Grants; Police Tire Test Results and Building Specialty Vehicles. Time is set aside for agencies of like sizes to network and share ideas on an informal basis.
The bottom line is, use your scarce training dollars wisely. No single “right” solution exists for everyone. Instead, many training options are available to provide information to facilitate your responsibilities. Limited training dollars may be an issue, but remember, those dollars can ultimately save your agency money! Dennis Tucker is the fleet manager for the Illinois State Police and can be reached at DTucker@hendonpub.com.