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HomePartner UpdatesHow the Experts Handle Technician Shortages

How the Experts Handle Technician Shortages

Ask the Expert: Todd Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Maintenance, First Student, First Transit and First Vehicle Services

Maintenance shops across the country are struggling to overcome the industry-wide technician shortage and to keep their shops and vehicles running smoothly. Maintenance expert Todd Hawkins provides insight on how you can maximize your resources and likely save some money, too.

QUESTION: I am struggling to hire maintenance technicians. What can I do to help mitigate my staffing shortages?

ANSWER: One of the simplest ways school districts can ease the burden of the technician shortage is by partnering with a maintenance provider. A maintenance partnership can support a district’s maintenance operation in three impactful ways: providing access to a network of skilled workers, offering greater flexibility in services, and ultimately providing cost savings.

1. Access to Professionally Trained and Skilled Workers

Most outsourcing relationships for maintenance are supported by a preexisting staff of skilled technicians. Companies that specialize in providing fleet maintenance retain a large staff and offer structured personal development opportunities. First Transportation Solutions (FTS) has recruiters dedicated specifically to hiring technicians, creating access to a larger pool of workers with specialized qualifications.

2. Flexibility and Guaranteed Labor

Outsourcing maintenance also gives districts more flexibility for changing service levels. If your needs increase or decrease, a maintenance partnership can easily support staffing changes. Companies providing maintenance services can also offer techs more reliable hours and retention options through the summer months, making them a preferred employer for technicians looking for a shop.

3. Cost-Savings

Districts that outsource fleet maintenance receive specialized services from trained experts and pay significantly less than what they would for an in-house team. Staffing costs are offset by the maintenance provider’s ability to purchase parts at a lower price, provide training programs implemented at a larger scale, and offer employee benefit programs that reach a much larger group.

QUESTION: Are there other benefits of a maintenance partnership?

ANSWER: The benefits of a maintenance partnership extend far beyond shop staffing. Partnership allows for simplified problem solving for complex repairs, higher safety standards for vehicles, and an overall more efficient and better-prepared program. Some maintenance partnership benefits include:

1. Network of Skilled Problem Solvers

When you partner with a large maintenance provider, your shop gains access to its network of experienced technicians. For example, FTS provides our technicians with access to our Technician Assistance Center (TAC) Helpdesk. The TAC Help Desk allows our techs to video chat live with our most experienced team members across the country, and Help Desk staff can draw on-screen to circle specific wires, nozzles, or problem areas when assisting to solve a complex vehicle repair.

2. Efficient Practices

Most maintenance providers have refined their shop layouts and practices to run like a well-oiled machine. For example, FTS uses Lean practices to raise the performance level and efficiency of our shops. These practices help reduce supplementary outside repairs, parts supply waste, unscheduled work, and maintenance overtime, while developing a high-performance culture, proper organization of tools and parts, and clear goals and performance measurements.

Wide implementation of these guidelines has earned 99% of our shops a Lean classification.

3. Proper Shop Management & Training

A well-organized shop is only as efficient as the technicians and managers that support it. A fleet maintenance partnership allows your shop to leverage the comprehensive training and development programs of organizations with much broader resources dedicated to maintenance.

FTS provides managers and technicians with ongoing training and development opportunities, and we encourage our staff to pursue additional training through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Once a percentage of technicians reach ASE certification, ASE recognizes their shop with the accredited “Blue Seal of Excellence.”

We currently have 100 Blue Seal Certified shops, which is more than any ground transportation company in the US and more than all other student transportation providers combined.

QUESTION: What can I expect from a maintenance partnership with First Transportation Solutions?

ANSWER: When partnering with First Transportation Solutions for fleet maintenance, we’ll begin by performing an overall fleet assessment and developing a fleet plan based on your district’s unique needs. The assessment includes a detailed evaluation of your fleet, workforce, and facility.

Based on our analysis, we’ll build a training program for your existing maintenance technicians to build their skill set and help them earn ASE certifications, hire additional staff as needed, streamline your shop, and develop a fleet improvement plan designed around our proven preventative maintenance program.

Finally, we will present a written fleet plan to your district team, complete with performance and compliance KPIs we will deliver on while providing ongoing fleet maintenance.

1. Initial Program Assessment

First, we’ll conduct a detailed assessment of your district’s fleet, workforce and facilities. This assessment will allow us to develop a fleet plan designed to transform your shop to operate efficiently using Lean practices, provide your technicians with training to earn ASE Certification and ultimately enables our team to develop a fleet maintenance program that best fits your unique needs.

2. Implementation of Advanced Technology

We’ll implement our industry-leading technology, like our digital asset management program for data quality control, team communication, and efficiency, our live technician assistance tool for solving complex vehicle repairs, and our best in class predictive analytics program that helps keep maintenance costs, downtime, and road failures to a minimum.

3. Shop Optimization and Technician Training

After evaluation, we’ll implement Lean shop practices in your vehicle maintenance facility. Lean shop practices increase efficiency and reduce parts supply waste, unscheduled downtime, and risk of injury. Additionally, we’ll provide your staff with advanced training programs and opportunities to earn ASE certifications to improve their skill set.

4. Ongoing Fleet Maintenance and Reporting

Once we’ve established a fleet plan that optimizes your facility, advances the skillsets of your technicians, and improves the performance of your vehicles, we’ll provide your team with a copy of our detailed plan including performance and compliance KPIs we’ll deliver on throughout our partnership. You can expect to receive weekly and monthly reports on KPIs and meetings with our management team for status updates and performance reviews.

Interested in learning more about how First Transportation Solutions can take your maintenance operations to the next level? Email the FTS team at FirstTransportationSolutions@firstgroup.com.


About Todd Hawkins

Todd Hawkins oversees management of First Student, First Transit and First Vehicle Services’ maintenance programs.

Todd is responsible for maintenance activities for their collective 100,000 vehicles, which include school buses, transit contracting systems operating fixed-route, paratransit, trolley, shuttle, and over-the-road vehicles. Todd’s focus is on managing First Student, First Transit and First Vehicle Services’ maintenance quality assurance programs and implementing innovative methods to improve efficiency and bring accountability to clients.

Todd has held leadership positions at Ryder Truck Rental including Mechanic, Assistant Supervisor and Maintenance Manager. He earned his degree in diesel technology from Atlanta Area Technical College.

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