Navigating the ‘Perfect Storm’ in Fleet Management
By Steve Saltzgiver, Fleet Success, Senior Advisor
First, let me start by saying that I can’t believe we’re bringing this topic up once again as it was beaten up pretty well several years ago when we saw this emerging trend surface. But, during this past year, as I’ve attended many fleet management conferences and as I’ve immersed myself heavily into fleet management consulting once again, I’m seeing this phenomenon ever more present among today’s fleet professionals.
In the realm of fleet management, an impending “Perfect Storm” has been brewing over the past decade, with the convergence of two major challenges: the rapid emergence of complex vehicle technologies and the accelerated retirements of the Baby Boomer generation. This perfect storm threatens to create a significant void in fleet management acumen and expertise. Industry leaders such as Paul Lauria and I have recognized this phenomenon, shedding light on its implications. In this article, we will delve into the challenges posed by this perfect storm and explore potential solutions to bridge the growing expertise gap.
What’s the Generational Difference Between Boomers and Today’s Employees?
First, admittedly as a Boomer, today’s employees are much more technologically savvy than most of us from my generation. However, having grown up with too little technology and having to adapt to the ever-increasing amounts of technology changing daily, many of us have had to adapt rather quickly. As I contemplate the difference between today’s employees and Boomers, the primary distinctions are really self-confidence, boldness, competition, and absence of fear. Let me explain.
Us Boomers grew up in an environment where we had to make our own way, following in the footsteps of the greatest generation who emerged from World War II. What we learned from forefathers was anything is possible and using your own ingenuity would lead to success over your competition or enemy. I personally remember my first foray into the fleet shop as a new mechanic like yesterday when the shop foreman threw me the keys to a Backhoe and told me to bring it into the shop for a repair. Having never operated a Backhoe was not a barrier or obstacle entering my mind. I simply jumped in the seat and figured it out. We see most of today’s generation absent of this self-confidence and boldness to try new things and experience potential failure. Likewise, I remember having to pick up a welding rod to weld a truck frame without hesitation even though I never welded anything in my life (couldn’t attest to how safe it was?).
We were (and are) a bold generation who took on all the challenges and obstacles placed before us in life and the workplace. As such, we became avid readers, students, and quick studies to learn everything we needed to help us excel in our jobs as fleet professionals. Today, it’s challenging to get workers to jump into and operate vehicles with manual transmissions and older technology. Even now, we Boomers celebrate this older technology in the form of restoring and operating the muscle cars of the past.
So why did this change over generations? Us Boomers would be remiss if we didn’t shoulder some of the blame associated with these new generational challenges. Now, we need to contemplate how we help the newer generation of workers adopt some of these skills and passions to be a better, more enlightened, and productive employee amidst the perfect storm.
Generational differences between Baby Boomers and today’s workers, often referred to as Millennials and Generation Z, are shaped by a combination of historical events, technological advancements, cultural shifts, and economic conditions. It’s important to note that generational characteristics are generalizations and don’t apply to every individual within a generation. People are influenced by a wide range of factors, including upbringing, personal experiences, and values. That said, here are some key differences between Baby Boomers and today’s younger workers:
Baby Boomers grew up in a world with limited technology compared to today. Many Boomers experienced the advent of personal computers and the internet later in life. In contrast, Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with technology as an integral part of their lives, with access to smartphones, social media, and the internet from a young age. Younger generations tend to be more tech-savvy and comfortable with digital tools and platforms. They often rely on technology for communication, work, entertainment, and information.
Baby Boomers are often associated with a strong work ethic and a commitment to traditional 9-to-5 office jobs. They value job stability and loyalty to a single employer. Younger generations may prioritize work-life balance, flexibility, and purpose-driven work. They are more likely to explore freelancing, remote work, and the gig economy. Career mobility and the pursuit of meaningful experiences in work are often emphasized.
Baby Boomers tend to prefer face-to-face or phone conversations for work-related communication. They value formal written communication and may be less accustomed to informal digital communication. Younger generations heavily rely on digital communication tools such as email, messaging apps, and video conferencing. They are comfortable with informal and rapid exchanges and may prefer written communication through email or text over phone calls.
Baby Boomers often have hierarchical leadership styles and may value seniority and experience when making decisions. Younger generations may prefer more collaborative and inclusive leadership styles. They value diversity and inclusion and may be more open to input from colleagues regardless of their position.
Values and Social Issues
Baby Boomers lived through significant social and political events, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Their values may be influenced by the experiences of that era. Younger generations tend to prioritize issues like sustainability, social justice, and diversity. They are often more politically and socially engaged, using their voices and platforms to advocate for change.
Baby Boomers experienced a more stable job market and had access to employer-sponsored pensions and retirement benefits in many cases. Younger generations have faced economic challenges, including student loan debt and a competitive job market. They may prioritize financial independence and seek alternative retirement savings strategies.
It’s essential we recognize that while these generational differences exist, individuals within each generation vary widely in their beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. Effective communication and collaboration across generations in the workplace require understanding and appreciation of these differences while also recognizing the common goals and values that can unite people of different ages.
The Perfect Storm Unveiled
The first element of this perfect storm is the rapidly advancing technological complexity of fleet vehicles. In today’s automotive landscape, vehicles are equipped with sophisticated systems, including telematics, GPS tracking, autonomous features, and electric powertrains. These technologies require a new level of understanding and expertise that fleet managers must possess to optimize operations, ensure safety, and minimize costs.
The second component is the mass retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, a group that has contributed significantly to the field of fleet management. As these experienced professionals exit the workforce, they take with them decades of industry-specific knowledge and a deep understanding of managing large fleets efficiently.
- Knowledge Void: The retirement of experienced fleet managers leaves a substantial knowledge void. Newer professionals lack the seasoned insights and problem-solving skills that come with years of hands-on experience.
- Technological Gap: The rapid evolution of vehicle technologies presents a steep learning curve for fleet managers. Keeping pace with these advancements is challenging, and without proper guidance, it can lead to inefficiencies and increased maintenance costs.
- Risk Management: Inadequate expertise can result in higher risks associated with fleet management, including safety and compliance issues, suboptimal asset utilization, and increased operational costs.
Solutions to Plug the Gaps
- Mentorship Programs: Establishing mentorship programs that pair experienced (and already retired) fleet managers with newcomers can help transfer critical knowledge and expertise. Industry veterans can guide younger professionals through complex decision-making processes. Patience and encouragement by experienced professionals can go a long way to effectively teach and guide the younger generation into becoming bolder and more confident in their abilities and skills as fleet experts.
- Continuous Training and Education: Encouraging ongoing training and education in fleet management is crucial. Fleet professionals should regularly update their skills and knowledge to adapt to changing technologies and industry regulations.
- Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Fleet management organizations and associations should promote collaboration and knowledge sharing among their members. This can be achieved through conferences, webinars, and online forums where professionals can exchange insights and best practices. RTA published a book, “The Fleet Success Playbook” outlining the four Pillars of Fleet Success managers could employ to overcome the challenges of the perfect storm bearing down on the fleet management industry.
- Employ Veteran Consultation Firms: In the face of the perfect storm, a practical solution is to actively engage veteran fleet consultants. These experienced professionals (preferably Boomers and Generation “X”ers, et. al.) bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to navigate the intricate landscape of modern vehicle technologies, compliance regulations, and operational challenges. By leveraging the insights and guidance of seasoned fleet consultants, organizations can better adapt to these evolving industry dynamics, streamline their operations, and ensure a smooth transition into the future of fleet management.
- Digital Tools and Software: Embrace fleet management software and digital tools that streamline operations and provide real-time insights. These tools can help bridge the technological gap and enhance efficiency.
Perfect Storm in Fleet Management Example: An Alarming Trend
During the past several client engagements we have noticed fleets not employing the best practice use of Preventive Maintenance (PM) Inspection checklists, either digitally or paper-based. When confronted, clients state their mechanics are trained to spot defects as they circle the assets. This practice is unacceptable for many reasons. Using a PM checklist shown in Figure 1 to inspect vehicles is crucial for several reasons:
- Safety: Regular maintenance inspections help identify potential safety hazards, such as worn-out brakes, tires, or faulty lights. Preventing accidents and ensuring the safety of both drivers and passengers is a top priority.
- Reliability: Regular maintenance ensures that vehicles remain reliable. This is especially important for commercial vehicles and fleets where downtime can result in lost revenue and productivity.
- Optimization: Having a physical list of items each mechanic must follow ensures critical components are not skipped or omitted during the inspection process. Additionally, using a regimented step-by-step checklist can quickly reveal process inefficiencies where operational excellence tools can be deployed to streamline and eliminate wasted efforts.
- Documentation and Compliance: Many regulatory agencies require documented and auditable proof showing vehicles undergo regular inspections and maintenance to ensure they meet safety and environmental standards. Non-compliance can lead to expensive fines and potential litigation issues.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing your vehicles are in good working condition provides peace of mind for both individual drivers and business owners. PM checklists reduce the stress and uncertainty that come with vehicle reliability concerns.
Simply, a PM checklist is a proactive approach to vehicle care that helps ensure safety, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. It’s an essential practice for both personal and business vehicles to minimize risks, optimize vehicle performance, and extend their lifespan.
The convergence of rapidly evolving vehicle technologies and the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation has created a “Perfect Storm” in fleet management. To navigate these challenges, the industry must embrace mentorship, continuous education, collaboration, and digital tools. Along with a greater degree of patience and tolerance to instill the boldness and self-confidence necessary to tutor a new generation of fleet professionals. By doing so, fleet management professionals can better weather the storm and ensure that the expertise gap is covered, allowing for continued excellence in this critical industry sector.
To help bridge the gap at your fleet operation, let our experienced RTA fleet consultants help. Contact us to schedule a consultation!
To gain further insights into this “Perfect Storm” in fleet management, consider the following references:
- Paul Lauria’s article, “A Perfect Storm is Bearing Down on Fleet,” published in Fleet Management Weekly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JP3K6i5FFec
- Paul Lauria’s article, “What’s the Real Cost of Total Cost of Ownership?” https://stnonline.com/special-reports/whats-the-real-cost/
- Steve Saltzgiver’s research paper, “Seasoned Mentors for Fleet Managers,” available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2IJS6rzSOs
- Steve Saltzgiver’s article, “Urgent Reasons for Government Fleets to Outsource Routine Maintenance” at https://www.fleetmanagementweekly.com/saltzgiver-urgent-reasons-government-fleets-outsource-routine-maintenance-part-two-two/
- Steve Saltzgiver’s video, “The Four Pillars of Fleet Success”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQnk8Gp3wDg
- Mercury Associates Inc. “A Fleets Professional’s Guide for Navigating Through the Perfect Storm by Mercury Associates, Inc.” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hIsko0XaeU
- Steve Saltzgiver’s LinkedIn article, “The Fleet Success Playbook”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/fleet-success-playbook-bsbm-maom-cafs-vmrs-lean/
- Government Fleet Expo, https://www.governmentfleetexpo.com/sessions/2022-gfx-sessions/34798/rta-fleet-presents-creating-a-fleet-success-playbook
- Fleet Success Summit, https://www.fleetsuccesssummit.com/
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