Dakota County, Minn., has proven its expertise in the world of fleet staffing.
Since a merger in 2007, which resulted in all of the county’s vehicle and equipment maintenance and management efforts falling under one unit, the department has ranked No. 6 on the “100 Best Fleets in North America” list, as one of the top 50 “Leading Fleets in North America” by Government Fleet Magazine and was awarded the “2014 Outstanding Achievement in Public Fleet Management” honor by NAFA Fleet Management Association. These are just a few of dozens of recognitions the department has received.
Led by Fleet Manager Kevin L. Schlangen CPFP, CAFM, CEM, the department services more than $25 million worth of equipment for Dakota County, ranging in size from chainsaws and snowblowers to patrol cars and salt trucks.
“A lot of people think that fleet management is just oil changes and basic maintenance, but there’s a lot more to today’s vehicles and equipment,” Schlangen said. “Even in the last 10 years, technology has moved along. Nowadays, if you do fleet staffing the way you should, you need a skilled team to be able to not only perform maintenance and repairs, but to analyze and track your data.”
In the 35 years Schlangen has been in the world of fleet management, he said the shift in the industry is apparent and must be taken seriously.
“Just to keep up with the amount of new regulations we see every day requires a totally different skill set than we needed 20 years ago. Fleet staffing requires you to have a broader range of knowledge and skill sets of individuals in your organization, especially since things are so technology-driven these days,” he said.
Noting the advent of hybrid and electric cars, new technology in equipment and the overall need to adapt quickly, Schlangen said it’s crucial to attract young talent to the fleet management industry.
In the last decade, Schlangen’s department has seen a turnover of 70 percent of his staff, largely because baby boomer-era employees are beginning to retire; however, finding their replacements hasn’t been an easy task.
“It’s been a struggle to find young talent who want to go into this industry,” he said. “We need to create an environment where we hire young, innovative people from trade schools and show them that this isn’t just a job, it can be a smart career option for them.”
Schlangen has pioneered a mentorship program within the department, where local trade school students can come in under an apprenticeship and work with senior technicians to learn the industry. Additionally, he ensures his department has a presence at local career fairs and maintains relationships with specialty and technical colleges in the state.
“If we bring students in while they’re still learning and offer them an attractive career with upward mobility, it betters our chances of being able to fill those empty full-time spots when we have them,” he said. “The younger generation offers a unique skill set. They’re not afraid of computers and technology, and they bring us to the next level.”
Schlangen cited some of the perks his department offers as a strong influencer to younger employees. Employees are provided all tools they’ll need for their position as well as uniforms, safety jackets and outerwear for jobs. This, he said, is often an additional cost for employees, especially when working in a private sector fleet management position.
Additionally, Dakota County Fleet Management pays for all employees to receive their Automotive Service Excellence Certification and sends technicians to expos and trainings as a way to keep them connected to the industry at large and reward them for a job well done.
“In the municipal market, we might not be able to offer the most competitive salary, but we can offer additional perks that make it attractive to work with us,” Schlangen said. “By investing in our employees through the purchase of their tools, uniforms and certifications, we bring our commitment full circle. We’ll invest in you if you invest in us.”
Another perk, Schlangen said, of working in a municipal market is the wide range of projects a technician could see in a day. In Dakota County, no individual entity owns any of its equipment — it all belongs to the county, which means it’s all serviced by fleet management. This means a technician could see a wide variety of equipment in a single day, as opposed to a private sector fleet position where they might only work on one type of machine.
“In the same day, you can work on a wide range of projects,” Schlangen said. “From ag tractors to cars, chainsaws or plows, we never know what’s coming through our door. The chance to learn a new piece of machinery every day is something you don’t see other places.”
The majority of Schlangen’s staff is in their early 20’s and 30’s, which he said has pushed him to create better programs where employees have the ability to advance and learn; to connect with local colleges; and to bring in interns who have potential to join the team full time.
Mostly, though, it’s about bringing people into the industry who aren’t just talented technicians, but good team players.
“We, as an industry, have to keep reaching out to the next generation,” Schlangen said. “If we’re not going to reach out to those who are still in school, we’re going to miss out on talent and unique abilities. We need to show the next generation that this isn’t just a job — it can be a profession, and it is fulfilling.”