How Many Maintenance Technicians Do I Need?
According to Bill DeRousse, the fleet superintendent for the City of Everett and Everett Transit in Everett, WA, the best way to ensure job security is to tell as many people as possible what exactly it is that your shop does. When it comes time for budget cuts—which many agencies are enduring right now—maintenance technicians are often on the list of people to get pink slips. Part of the reason is because fleet managers don’t have solid numbers or data to back up why they need as many technicians as they do in order to keep the fleet running smoothly and safely.
Besides defending your staff at council meetings, DeRousse also explained that is important to figure out how many maintenance techs are needed for your specific fleet to make sure that you are not overstaffed or understaffed. In order to figure this out, there are several factors that will determine how many staff members you need. What are your service intervals for preventative maintenance? How much of the work do you outsource? What region are you in? How many vehicles do you have? How old are the vehicles? And how many billable hours of work per year are needed to maintain each vehicle?
To figure out this last one, DeRousse suggested grouping like vehicles in your fleet. Your new sedans are going to require a lot fewer maintenance hours than, say, your dump trucks or buses. Keep records through a software program, and figure out how much time on average each type of vehicle is using.
Try to push out your PM intervals as far as you can while still maintaining the vehicles safely. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If they don’t work, you can always go back to your old routine.
DeRousse’s techs are expected to average 1,650 billable hours a year. Some techs are more productive than others, but his goal is that they are busy all the time. He came up with an hourly shop rate ($87/hour), which he charges all of his “customers.”
He keeps it high enough to run the shop but low enough to remain competitive so no private company can say to his bosses, “We can do that for less.” He figures into that cost things like 15-minute breaks for his techs, a fuel surcharge, mark-ups for HazMat and spec writing, etc. However, the jobs his mechanics don’t do efficiently or often, he outsources to make sure all his techs are using their time in the best manner.
If you find yourself overstaffed once you figure out how many maintenance technicians your shop should be using, don’t fire anyone. Just get more work! And if it turns out that you are understaffed, you have the numbers to back it up, and you can take those numbers to your governing body. Then you can say, “If you want to cut our budget, you are going to have to cut vehicles.” You’d be surprised how well this tactic works, DeRousse said. Sourcing Fleet Services and Support By Michael Blackmer
Greg Braniff, NISH director of Commercial Programs led this session. NISH is a national nonprofit agency that works with a nationwide network of nonprofit agencies providing support services to business, either private or public sector. It offers qualified personnel with various disabilities who can complete the simpler tasks, allowing the higher paid technicians and mechanics to remain on task. Examples include transporting vehicles to and from a customer’s shop, chasing parts and tools, fueling vehicles, and washing and cleaning vehicles.
Outsourcing of support services is helpful in this period of very tight budgets when we need to find ways to operate more efficiently. Hiring freezes and labor costs are major motivators, as is the difficulty in finding quality workers in a tight labor market. Wages are usually minimum wage, which, of course, is much cheaper than the cost or a technician or mechanic to do the same job. The nonprofit agencies conduct background checks and drug screening.
The disabled population is an untapped resource. By 2012, it is estimated the there will be a 12-million person shortfall in blue collar workers due to retirement of baby boomers.
According to the 2000 census, 51.2 million people in the U.S. have some kind of disability; 11.8 million of those (about 6% of the population) claim that their disability impacts their employment. Included in this is an estimated 500,000 homeless veterans. If your state has a state-use program already set up with a nonprofit group, the easiest way to access this resource is to use the state set aside with the nonprofit group. Detailed information on nonprofit groups within your state can be found at www.guidestar.com
. Managed Competition By John Bellah
Bill DeRousse has more than 40 years of experience in dealing with fleet issues. Since 1991, DeRousse has been fleet manager for the City of Everett, WA. He is responsible for the city’s 650 vehicles, which include just over 100 police vehicles and a budget of $7 million.
DeRousse’s operation is a stand-alone, zero-profit business, which works for the city. He has a staff of 27 people, which include 10 technicians, five of which are dedicated to working on the bus fleet. All of these technicians are ASE Certified, and three of his technicians hold Master ASE Certificates. Additionally, there is a specification writer, warranty coordinator, office staff and other support workers, including two supervisors, one for the day shift and the other to supervise the night shift.
Everything that his operation does gets billed back to the appropriate department at $87.72 per hour for mechanical work, regardless if it is an automobile or a transit bus. The radio shop, again operated as a separate stand-alone business, charges at the rate of $90 per hour. As a comparison, the dealer rate for mechanical work on the outside averages out at $101 per hour within his city.
DeRousse maintains a 32% mark-up on parts and also marks up 7 cents per gallon of fuel, be it gasoline or diesel. Warranty work is done in house, and if warranty work exceeds $100,000 per year, it is cost effective to hire a warranty specialist to coordinate warranty work.
Additionally, there is an added 10% fee included to cover administrative paperwork and hazardous waste disposal. This mark-up and price scheduling keeps this operation operating at an efficient level, pays for rent and utilities on his shop areas, helps to fund replacement vehicles, and any additional capital expenses that may be needed, such as replacing a vehicle hoist or outdated equipment. City departments are billed on a monthly basis.
DeRousse maintains that anything can be kept on the road indefinitely, as long as an adequate amount of replacement parts and money are available. In his experience, it takes about 20 hours of a technician’s time to keep a police sedan on the road for a year. The preventative maintenance schedule for the police sedans is at 4,500 mile intervals. They experimented with 6,000 mile intervals but quickly learned that officers were not checking engine oil levels, and by that mileage, some of the cruisers were actually running out of oil.
Far better vehicles are made than in the past and have longer lifecycles, so DeRousse has targeted the lifecycle of a police sedan at 100,000 miles. The 100,000-mile mark is not a firm figure. Variables can occur, such as collision damage or major mechanical work, such as an engine or transmission replacement. DeRousse explained that keeping a police car longer than 100,000 miles will cause maintenance costs to rise, which overall, would cost more money in the long run. A stripped out Crown Victoria with 100,000 miles on it will bring on the average of $2,500 in resale value. All of his wrecked Ford CVPIs are purchased by taxi companies.
DeRousse also strongly advocates in meticulous record keeping. This system tracks operating cost history, budget projections, income received from equipment disposal, accident costs per mile, vehicle usage, fuel consumption, the productivity levels of the mechanic / technicians, warranty income, accident recovery, hazardous waste disposal and overall fleet condition to name a few. DeRousse compiles all of these figures into an annual report distributed at the end of the year, so there is no question as to how the fleet dollar is spent.
Additionally, whenever a new member of city government is appointed, DeRousse, armed with the above figures, will conduct a walk-through of his facilities with the new member to avoid any misunderstandings about how he manages the city’s vehicles; any reduction in budget will translate into a reduction of the size of the fleet. ASE Certification By Michael Blackmer
Chuck Roberts, executive director, Industry Relations with ASE led this session. The ASE
(Automotive Service Excellence) was established in 1972 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive technicians.
It was founded as an alternative to mandatory technician licensing. The NADA (North American Dealers Association) and MVMA (Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association) were the “founding fathers.”
Today, it remains a voluntary program, but one that technicians and mechanics find almost mandatory to obtain and maintain employment in the industry. Since its inception, it has been supported and endorsed by OE manufacturers and the aftermarket in its mission. Financially, it has always been self-sustaining from test fees, so there is no direct influence or dependence from any company.
Some definitions may help. Licensure is mandated by law, administered by government, intended to protect the public, restricts a practice and a title, and is intended to rule out unsafe or unqualified practitioners. Examples are licensed physicians and licensed psychologists. Registration is also mandated by law, administered by the government, usually restricts the use of a title only, usually involves an application, and there is often no exam. It is used when public protection is less critical. Examples are registered nurses or registered dietitians.
Certification is voluntary, not mandated by law. It is administered by a professional association, not the government, and it is intended to demonstrate advanced standing or specialty knowledge. Examples are certified public accountant (CPA) or an ASE certified technician.
In 36 years, the ASE has grown from offering four tests in 163 test centers in one vocation to an organization offering 50 tests in 750 test centers in 11 vocations. Testing vocations offered today include Automobile, Medium / Heavy Truck, Collision Repair / Refinishing and Estimating, Engine Machinists, Parts Specialists, Alternate Fuels, School Bus, Truck Equipment, Specialty Series, Service Consultant, and Transit Bus.
Certification is defined as having a passing score on the written exam, two years of work experience, and is good for five years. Retesting is required for certification renewal.
The tests are developed and updated every two to three years by a panel of 15 to 20 subject matter experts (SMEs). About 40% of the SMEs are working practitioners within that vocation and are facilitated by the ASE technical staff. Questions address diagnosis and repair, are not product specific, and do not involve theory.
ASE certification is important within the industry. It is a challenging goal for the applicant and a great source of pride upon earning it. It is often career enhancing and usually results in a higher pay rate. Customers see it as a badge of quality. Although not intended, certification is often viewed as proof of intent to maintain a qualified work force in legal actions.
Recent validation studies show positive correlations between the number of ASE certifications held by a technician and quality indicators of accuracy (diagnosing correctly), productivity (repair quickly), and high performance (fix it right the first time). Florida Light and Power found that “…vehicle maintenance costs have dropped 32% while fleet quality has improved by 40% on chassis audit scores and 11% on equipment scores…At the same time, breakdowns have decreased from an average of two per truck, per year, to one every four years.”
The Montgomery County, MD Department of Public Works reported, “We are able to attract better caliber technicians, resulting in fewer comebacks. Our ASE program is a morale builder for technicians. Our fleet size has increased by one-third over the last 10 years, without any increase in staff size.” When the Arizona Department of Transportation began offering a $130 to $700 monthly stipend for ASE certifications, they determined that personnel turnover decreased from 35% per year to less than 5% per year. The comeback rate on vehicles repaired dropped from 65% to less than 1%, and overtime was reduced by 35%.