Walter Burnett, CAFM, has received many accolades during his long career in fleet management. He was a 2006 finalist for Government Fleet Magazine’s Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year Award and in 2007 received NAFA’s Excellence in Education Award. After retiring from his position as public works director for Macomb, Ill., he now works as a project consultant for the Jones Corporation.
What is your experience in fleet management?
I’ve been involved in fleet management and public works for over 38 years. I worked for a variety of cities, including Knoxville, Tenn.; Schaumburg, Ill.; Beverly Hills, Calif.; and Macomb, Ill. I found that when you are a fleet manager, you are often given other job responsibilities, such as taking care of facilities and other public works projects. I was always eager to learn something new so I never really minded. I developed skills to become a public works director, which was my last position before retirement.
How has the profession changed over the years?
The profession itself has been much more recognized by the business community and the public sector as an important part of an organization. Fleet management is more integrated into the decision-making process and viewed as a key part of operations.
How has technology affected fleet management over the years?
Vehicles are a lot more effective and efficient today than they were 30 years ago. Information technology gives us the ability to manage data in meaningful ways. When I first started, the typewriter was considered technology.
Thirty years ago, choices were limited when picking the right equipment for the job. Everything is more specialized now. Today, you have customized vehicles or equipment for a specific job. So you have more choices to make and have to know more about all the options available. You have to be able to give a worker that right tool to allow them to be better at their job.
What are the greatest challenges in fleet management?
Because technology changes so fast, one challenge is to stay up-to-date with the constant changes. Networking has been key for me. I have a saying that whatever problem is out there, someone else has already figured out how to solve it.
Professional organizations are a great resource. The public sector is more open to helping each other out because there is not the competition you find in the private sector. Talking to other managers is often helpful.
Another challenge involves budget constraints. You have to be more effective and efficient with the money available. One job is to keep the replacement cycle on a reasonable basis. While the budget creates restraints and pressure on management, the better technology we are seeing can extend life cycles of equipment if it is properly maintained which helps. The evolution of the technology has come about partly because of budgets. Everything needs to be more efficient now.
What skills are required for fleet management?
Fleet requires a certain degree of analytical, mechanical and technical skills. You have to be able to interact professionally with drivers and upper management. You have to be able to give a good presentation. Ultimately, you have to be a generalist and know a little bit about a lot of things and a whole lot about a few things.
I’ve found that people in fleet management come from many different backgrounds. There’s not a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all model. That’s one reason it’s great to network. You meet people with different backgrounds who bring a wealth of different experiences and knowledge to share.
What educational training is available for fleet management?
The National Association of Fleet Administration is the go to place for fleet management. Their certification program helps people develop the skills set needed and is the best recognized program. I’ve taken classes and helped develop some of them. It’s widely recognized by employers.
What is the future of fleet management?
I believe fleet management will continue to be an increasingly important part of local government operations. Educational programs are continuing to develop and more degree and certification programs will probably become available.
What is your advice to anyone interested in a fleet management career?
I think it’s an exciting profession that I never regretted choosing. I met fabulous and intelligent people along the way. Much of my success was due to these people that I met and networked with. I encourage people to reach out and meet like-minded people. Fleet management seems like a reliable profession where there are jobs available to those qualified.
For more information about fleet management, visit www.nafa.org