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What do you want to be when you grow up?

An affinity for automobiles drives some people to fleet management, others arrive when presented with opportunities for advancement .


September 13, 2011
by Kara Kuryllowicz

Fleet Management: July-August 2011 Print Edition

Ask people that question and the replies will vary as widely as the individuals. However it’s highly unlikely anyone will announce, “I want to be a fleet manager.”

Why? Although most fleet managers love what they do, they simply didn’t realize there was a demand for people who could apply expertise in finance, law, risk assessment, taxation, information management, service and maintenance, human resources, training and education to vehicles and their drivers.

For example, although Andrea Hamm, client service representative at Foss National Leasing, Thornhill, Ontario, grew up in a car-crazy family and did everything from from Quarter-Midget racing to physically changing the gear ratio to suit weather and track conditions, she came to fleet management only after earning an honours BA in international relations and history.

“Had I known that fleet management could be a career, I might have focused more on relevant business courses at university,” says Hamm, who connected with Foss through a friend who rightly figured she’d be a good fit. “Fortunately, I’ve learned on the job at Foss, while also taking business and fleet-specific courses, including the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association’s (CFLA) program.”
The three-year-old, entry-level CFLA program, Canadian Lease Education On-Demand (CLEO), offers 11 pre-taped, two-hour webcasts, designed to provide a general understanding of the asset-based financing, equipment and vehicle leasing business in Canada. It takes individuals through the life of a lease from marketing and pricing to collections and lease company management to legal, insurance and accounting issues.

Although the CLEO program does not lead to an official designation, participants can obtain a certificate of completion by taking all 11 sessions. The cost is $125 for each of the webcasts for members and $225 non-members. They are at www.cfla-acfl.ca.

While an affinity for automobiles drives some people to fleet management, others arrive when presented with opportunities for advancement via their organizations’ service/maintenance, asset or risk management, finance, legal and human resources departments.

While in procurement, Brent Williston, manager, central services, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, transitioned to fleet in order to move ahead. He acquired the necessary skills through total on-the-job immersion, working closely with other fleet managers and through the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager/ Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist (CAFM/CAFS) program.

“NAFA’s massive membership lets you interact with other professionals by email and phone to tap into the industry’s best practices and brainstorm ideas and solutions to common and more unique challenges,” says Williston, CAFM, who manages 250 vehicles, including cars, fire trucks and lawnmowers.

Starting in 2009, NAFA launched its two-tier fleet certification and the new Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist (CAFS) program, which serves as a stepping stone to full CAFM status, while making it easier for fleet specialists who weren’t at the senior management level to enhance their skills and professionalism.

The CAFM covers eight disciplines, while its subset, the CAFS, includes one pre-approved set of four disciplines. In Canada, college credits can be obtained from Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. Fees range from US$349 to US$1,149, depending on the tier, whether or not the two exams are included and membership status.

To enroll in either online program, applicants must have at least one year of experience as a fleet manager, assistant fleet manager, fleet service provider or be enrolled in a college or university program in a fleet-related discipline. Candidates typically appreciate the flexibility inherent in the online delivery, as well as the fact NAFA regularly offers extra sessions and seminars.

“Because I’m on the road so much, being able to access it anywhere, any time allowed me to earn my designation,” says Eric Adriaans, director of community support services, Canadian Red Cross, London, Ontario Zone, who manages 125 vehicles (wheelchair business, mini-vans, sedans) and 700 salaried and volunteer drivers. “Classroom sessions would have been impossible because I would have missed 60 percent of them.”

NAFA suggests candidates will spend at least 60 to 100 hours preparing for the eight CAFM exams. However, depending on one’s experience, skill set and natural aptitude, the three Canadian CAFMs interviewed for this story say it will take 30 to 50 hours to complete each of these components: fleet information management, maintenance management, professional development, vehicle fuel management, asset management, business management, financial management and risk management.

“The course is demanding and detailed,” says Adriaans, who completed the courses and passed the exam in a little more than one year. “I really absorbed it because I was using everything I learned immediately. I expect that many years from now, I’ll still be using it.”

Although Adriaans had a truck license, which gave him credibility around training and driver issues, he knew he needed fleet-specific expertise, particularly around the legislative changes pertaining to accessibility, to enhance his 20 years of non-profit experience.

“The credibility is tied less to the letters after your name than to the knowledge acquired through the CAFM program,” says Adriaans, whose community support services include Meals on Wheels, senior and accessible transportation and the health equipment loan program.

“What I know certainly enhances my credibility, whether I’m connecting with people internally or externally and I know it’s given Canadian Red Cross a competitive edge in its RFPs.”
While there are currently about 28 CAFMs in Canada and 270 in the US, the CAFM and CAFS programs continue to gain recognition in North America. Although the industry remains less than broadly familiar, the fact there are so few in Canada can work to a designated fleet manager’s advantage.

“I have to tell people what it is, but once they hear NAFA, they recognize it,” says Williston.  “It can set you apart from your peers as a subject matter expert or when competing for a job.”

“NAFA has been spreading the word to boost awareness, so the fleet industry is becoming more familiar with the two-tier designations,” adds Monty Perham, supervisor of life cycle cost management with the Fleet Management Agency, City of Winnipeg–a special operating agency started in 2003 to provide the city’s departments with 1,700 vehicles and equipment (cars, trucks, snow blowers, fire trucks etc.) and provide maintenance and repairs, manufacturing services, fuel distribution and other fleet-related services.

That certain Canadian organizations, including the City of Winnipeg, the Government of Canada (RCMP, National Defence) and the City of Edmonton have more than one CAFM on staff indicates the managers and peers of graduates recognize its value and have even made it a part of succession planning.

In fact, several colleagues took the course at the same time as Perham. Originally hired as the new agency’s financial analyst, Perham let his supervisor know that he wanted to progress into different roles. “Because I found the various aspects of fleet management and the changes occurring within the city so interesting, I wanted to do more, but to do more, I needed to know more,” he says. He graduated within eight months of his enrolment and frequently studied with a colleague who was also enrolled in and completed the CAFM.

While NAFA Fleet Association and CFLA’s education programs may still be the fleet industry’s best-kept secret aside from the inherent career opportunities, they do offer a fleet education that can help individuals maximize their performance and progress through the ranks.  “I’m still using what I learned through the CAFM and it’s still valuable,” says Adriaans.