Time for a mentoring scheme?

Published:  10 July, 2019

Is mentoring the answer to the growing problem of skills shortages in public sector fleet management? Phil Clifford thinks so, and he is calling on the industry to establish a system of mentoring to preserve vitals skills and experience for future generations.

I was struck recently by the realisation that the overall number of public sector fleet managers is steadily decreasing. There are a whole host of reasons for this – decades of outsourcing has certainly contributed – but the main reason appears to be consolidation. There have been several phases of councils disappearing as they are swallowed by new, larger unitary councils and, more recently, cases of councils joining together to achieve benefits of scale. Both scenarios have resulted in an overall reduction of fleet managers in the sector.

I am not against such actions per se. Indeed, I have often talked up the benefits of establishing economies of scale through mergers and reorganisations. But what has inevitably happened as a result is that these new ‘super’ councils have also rationalised their fleet teams, resulting in a smaller pool of dedicated fleet experts. The remaining expertise is also ageing (as my aching bones all too often testify) and I regularly hear of established fleet experts retiring for a well-earned rest.

Some of the perceived benefits of reducing the size of fleet teams have turned out to be short-term, and some councils are now reversing the trend to outsource by taking fleet and operational teams back in house. But this, in turn, has resulted in a drastic shortage of experienced fleet engineers, fleet administrators, fleet managers, and mechanics.

When I was a young, aspiring fleet administrator with grand ambitions of becoming a fleet manager, I discovered that there was not much help available by way of advice and training in the municipal arena, a sector which is significantly different to other transport organisations. There was once an Institute of Municipal Transport and its intent was to support those involved in the industry but, sadly, that institute failed to gain sufficient members to survive the swingeing cuts of the 1980s.

I have, throughout my career, promoted the concept of networking and sharing of information with my peers, a task made so much easier through the growth of the internet and social media. There is a Public Authority Transport Network (PATN), which exists to offer mutual support. This network does require members to be employed by an organisation which, in turn, is a member of the Freight Transport Association (FTA). Sadly, for a whole host of reasons akin to those mentioned above, the actual membership of the PATN has also dropped in recent years.

Now, I don’t want to spread despair among those of you still working hard in fleet management, but I do want to engage with you as much as I can. I would urge that everyone who qualifies to do so joins the PATN and that those of you who do not qualify at least connect with me through LinkedIn or via a direct email message. There is still a tremendous amount of expertise out there and I will work tirelessly to try to harness that experience for the benefit of the up-and-coming generation we all want joining our industry.

To that end, I would respectfully like to suggest that we collectively consider establishing a system of mentoring for the benefit of new entrants to the public sector fleet arena. Mentoring is used more and more these days to pass on skills and knowledge, and I am appealing to any established public sector fleet professional to consider joining with me in offering to act as a mentor to assist the new generation of fleet managers.

At this stage, I have not developed this beyond first thoughts. However, if through the pages of LAPV I can generate enough altruistic support for the concept, then I am sure there is a way to develop and implement a beneficial scheme to ensure that the unique skillset required by public sector fleet can be maintained and developed for all who wish to learn and progress.

If anyone wishes to join the PATN, email bwilson@fta.co.uk. Alternatively, contact me at philip.clifford4@btinternet.com.

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LAPV (Local Authority Plant and Vehicles) is the only UK information source purely dedicated to local authority vehicles and affiliated plant equipment. Appearing four times a year, it offers well-researched technical articles on the latest equipment/technology as well as in-depth interviews with key industry professionals. More...

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