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How to Maintain a Fleet During the Coronavirus Shutdown


 



By Jasmine Glasheen

 


The government is calling for the shutdown of “non-essential” fleets in response to the widespread Coronavirus epidemic. However, for fleets that do deliver products that are considered “essential,” such as food, medication and pet supplies, demand is skyrocketing. Suddenly eCommerce companies like Amazon are being called on to deliver essentials to a country in quarantine. 
 
Michael Woronka, Chief Executive OfficerAction Ambulance Service Inc., reports, “The importance of moving product and people by land, sea, air, and rail cannot be underestimated and will be the cornerstone of the foundation of working our way back to ‘normal’ as this pandemic subsides, and it will.”
 
Fleet managers are responding quickly to the outbreak: Airlines have put workers on furlough. Navy bases have had to quarantine fleet staffers in response to two workers testing positive for coronavirus. Yet amid this massive restructuring, there has never been a stronger focus on the supply chain. While auto manufacturing plants such as Toyota, VW, Honda, Volkswagen are suspending operations, vehicle rentals are experiencing an uptick as rental demand from courier and delivery companies increases. 
 
Here’s how to prepare for the impact of COVID-19 on the fleet industry, from the mouths of three esteemed fleet professionals who are excelling during this chaotic time.  
 
Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
 
Mario F. Guzman, CAFM, MPA, Director of Support Services, West Palm Beach Support Services Department says that the two most significant things that Fleet Managers can do are to educate drivers on how the virus spreads and to provide sanitizing services. “With so much information out there from various sites, it is imperative that we provide concise and accurate information from your county Health Department and the CDC.”
 
While a fleet professional can ensure his or her staff is educated and prepared to mitigate the impact of the virus, the onus will fall on each individual driver to monitor their  symptoms and exposure. Michael Woronka says that drivers must inform their employer of  potential exposure and, if necessary, get tested. “There will be more opportunity for testing as the health care system continues their scale-up of testing capabilities and perfect medical associated protocols,” he reports. “We are all in this together and our personal decisions can have a negative impact on numerous individuals.”
 
Brianne Hayes, CEM Fleet Operations Manager for the Fleet Management Division of the County of Sarasotasays her organization is taking extra steps and precautions during these times. “We have included sanitation wipes and Clorox spray in our shared vehicles, and we ask that upon exiting a shared asset that the unit be sprayed/wiped down.”
 
“If a driver begins feeling ill,” she adds, “we ask that they notify us, and we will quarantine that asset unit until we can spray it down with disinfectant  to eliminate the passing of the virus. In addition, we have asked that we practice safe social distancing when coming in contact with the public or other county employees.”
 

Layoff Fears in Light of Travel Suspensions
 
During any major national crisis, health or otherwise, people are concerned about their livelihood in light of the Coronavirus endemic. Mario Guzman believes some segments of the fleet industry will be impacted by layoffs, as many sectors manage global fleets. “Additionally,” he says, “some businesses may not be able to meet with their clients for trade shows, training, and other functions. The ripple effect is significant as hospitality, food and services industries manage these cancelations.”
 
“Nonetheless,” Guzman continues, “one segment that is starting to get an increased demand is logistics as it relates to the supply chain. As more consumers are opting for deliveries to avoid in person acquisition of goods, drivers are needed now more than ever. From a macro perspective, the increased demand for goods has created a great demand from the trucking industry. These demands will subsequently fuel administration, specialist, drivers, and technicians that support the supply chain.”
 
Brianne Hayes believes there’s a chance that every industry will be vulnerable to layoffs, “However,” she adds, “based on my previous experience, the municipalities tend to see less layoff than the private sector due to the overall need to keep the County/City up and running for the taxpayers. These services such as sewer, EMS, lift stations, etc., all rely on critical assets to maintain these functions. Without the service and maintenance completed by fleet, these assets become null and void.”
 

Labor Shortages May Expedite Training Initiatives 
 
Michael Woronka says that labor shortages will be tied to the type of industries being impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. While certain industries, such as food delivery will see a boom, others, such as companies delivering non-essentials, will see a slow-down. “With this in mind, the labor pool will most likely shift to industries where employees feel safe and stable. Employees are people and we all want safety and stability in our lives.  If managers recognize, follow and understand the emotional decision-making process then they will be able to address these concerns before it is too late.”   
 
Mario Guzman agrees. “The demand for trade work is there and will continue to increase,” he says. “However, the issue is to get the existing labor force trained. As far as drivers, we are seeing the demand growing daily.” 
 
Considering  massive company shutdowns and layoffs, Brianne Hayes expects to see an increase in applicants for government fleet positions. “Although even Governments experience cutbacks and employee layoffs similar to other companies and organizations, a County or a City municipality is still expecting to operate to serve the needs of the tax-paying citizens.”
 
“We typically find that during any type of recession a lot of qualified technicians who had to leave the private industry begin looking for work in Government organization to maintain a steady job,” she adds. “Once they are on board, we have a high retention rate for these employees.”
 

Fleet Retention in the Age of COVID-19 
 
In light of the reallocation of global fleets into sectors that deliver essentials, the largest challenge for fleet managers in the COVID-19 age may become training new employees or existing employees quickly to function in new verticals. Hayes maintains that during government shutdowns, the County government does not stop turning wrenches. She says, “The day-to-day operations may slow as a result of available funding, however the need for technicians to maintain critical assets does not cease.”
 
Mario Guzman has some interesting ideas about how fleet managers can retain employees without actively paying them for time on furlough. “Some of the things we can do to assist our people do not have any capital outlay,” he says. “For example, telecommuting, ‘bring a child to work’ days, or allowing for a flexible schedule. Regarding communication, I like to provide social services that the non-profits or the government may be providing. These resources may be able to help the employee, their spouse, or their family.”
 
Hayes says that while her company is currently utilizing Microsoft teams for all forms of communication, certain individuals are allowed stipends in critical roles where they deal with outside vendors/contractors. “Those positions have already been approved a stipend based on their job description,” she adds. “When a position that has not been previously granted a stipend is authorized e-work, we utilize MS Teams for all calls, meetings, and communication back and forth between County and team staff to remain operationally efficient.”
 
In addition to rapid-fire training initiatives, fleet leaders can strive to retain a feeling of community among employees in the months that follow. Guzman says that we are all in this fight together. “There are difficulties that we cannot control,” he says, “however, we have 100 percent control of our reaction to these difficulties. Now more than ever is when our leadership will be tested. As leaders in our industry, we must be as supportive as possible to our people and their families. It is critical to keep a calm demeanor (even though we may be freaking out inside) in this battle against COVID-19.”
 

Bullet Points to Prepare Your Fleet for COVID-19
 
We covered a lot of strategies in this article. Here is a quick breakdown of the tips provided by the fleet leaders we interviewed.

 
  • Provide accurate information from your county health department and the CDC.
  • Educate drivers on sanitization protocols and provide wipes and disinfectants in each vehicle.
  • Ask drivers to notify you if they begin to feel sick and quarantine the vehicle of any driver who falls ill.
  • Focus on providing fast and adequate training, as you may need to quickly train new drivers to fulfill openings in certain verticals. 
  • Provide a list of social services for employees who are out of work.
  • Allow for a flexible work schedule to accommodate employees’ childcare needs.  
  • Don’t penalize employees for calling in sick during this time.
  • Stay calm and make it clear that you are there to listen to drivers’ questions and concerns. 

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