By Bob Johnson
NTEA Director of Fleet Relations
When faced with a limited budget, most managers immediately look for discretionary line items that can be cut without impacting operations. Education and training are usually at the top of this list. Granted, most training and education can be eliminated for a short period of time, but at some point, continually changing regulations and technologies will necessitate further professional development.
Due to the lasting economic downturn, many fleets have gone at least two years without attending any formal training programs. During that time, many new truck chassis and equipment technologies were introduced, and new government regulations have taken effect (with more pending). At the same time, the pressure to reduce expenditures (i.e., fuel costs, etc.) has grown. Many recently released technologies can help you reduce costs and increase efficiency — but only if you are aware of them and understand how they should be deployed.
Most fleet managers try to stay up-to-date on technology offerings by reviewing print and electronic media and by talking to chassis and equipment sales personnel. However, you will eventually reach the point where you need to see the iron, talk to the engineers and participate in some formal training programs. Unfortunately, many fleet managers are still working under blanket restrictions on the travel needed to participate in these programs. As such, it’s important to formulate a plan for justifying your participation and then sell it to your boss.
How Can I Do That?
Even if you are successful in convincing your boss of the need for participating in some form of training program, you will likely still be faced with a limited amount of funds to pursue your goals. This means that you need to maximize the value of the money you do spend. So, where can you meet with many of your suppliers, gather information on new technologies, network with peers and obtain structured training for the lowest possible cost? In many cases, the answer to this question is industry-related trade shows. Over the past few years, many of these trade shows have significantly expanded both the quantity and quality of their training courses, making them an even better bargain for fleet managers.
For the cost of an airplane ticket, lodging for a couple of nights and perhaps a registration fee, you can talk to literally hundreds of current and potential suppliers; attend industry-related training programs; and catch up on the latest in vehicle and equipment technologies. Even if you are not purchasing any new trucks during the coming year, you will eventually, and that is not the time to be playing catch-up.
The Problem With Trade Shows
Unfortunately, many upper-level managers view trade shows as an excuse to get away and have a good time. To overcome this point of view, you will have to sell them on the benefits of your participation in one or more shows during the year. To accomplish this, identify which will be the most valuable to you and then develop a plan as to how you can utilize your time at the selected show(s) to both your and your employer’s greatest advantage.
You may want to start by listing all of the goals you hope to achieve in conjunction with attending a show. A typical list may include:
- Address unresolved vendor/supplier issues
- Find solutions to operational problems
- Learn technical training
- Address fleet management training issues
In most cases, you may have to sell your participation in a trade show prior to the publication of the event’s exhibitor list and schedule of training seminars. As such, you may have to utilize information from previous shows to build your case. Assuming you are successful in obtaining at least tentative authorization to participate, follow up as soon as possible with detailed information as to who you will actually be meeting with and which seminars you will be attending. Keeping the boss informed will show your professionalism and hopefully make it easier to obtain future travel authorizations.
Picking a Show
In any given year, there are dozens of trade shows you may consider attending. However, when it comes to convincing your boss, go for one or two shows that offer the widest range of opportunities for vendor contact, education and networking as they relate to your previously identified goals. Fleet-oriented shows generally fall into four categories.
- Industry-specific shows such as ICUEE and CONEXPO
- Targeted, topical events such as CALSTART’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF)
- Fleet management events such as NAFA’s Institute and Expo (I&E)
- Broad-spectrum truck equipment events such as the NTEA’s Work Truck Show
The Work Truck Show 2012 will feature more than 550 chassis and truck equipment exhibitors and more than 60 educational sessions. Many of these seminars are targeted specifically toward fleet managers and address topics such as truck equipment and chassis design and specifications; truck payload and weight distribution analysis; understanding federal excise tax; and the use of life-cycle cost analysis to evaluate investment alternatives. In addition, you will have the opportunity to participate in the Green Truck Ride-and-Drive, an event which exclusively showcases low-emission/high-efficiency vocational trucks and small buses in an on-the-street environment.
Other opportunities associated with The Work Truck Show 2012 include the Green Truck Summit; an intensive day-and-a-half fleet management symposium presented by Kelly Walker, president of Kelly Walker Associates; and a truck fleet manager training seminar featuring a presentation by Steve Saltzgiver, group director of fleet operations for Coca Cola Refreshments, Inc. Fleet Operations.
Be Sure To Follow Up
Remember, it’s not enough to just attend an event. As soon as you return, be sure to provide your boss with a written summary of what you learned and achieved while attending. Briefly describe how your participation will benefit your organization and how you plan to proceed. As you move through the following year, let the boss know how your participation has actually benefitted the organization and while you are at it, provide a list of your objectives for the coming year. Positive follow-up will make it that much easier for you to get future approvals.
Contact Bob Johnson, NTEA director of fleet relations, at email@example.com if you have suggestions for future Fleet Affiliation topics or for more information on how the NTEA can benefit your company.