By Jasmine Glasheen
This is the first of a series of NAFA interviews with the next generation of fleet professionals from various fleet sectors.
Fleet industry demographics are rapidly evolving. While the industry has traditionally been dominated by males 51-60 years old, more than half (54 percent)
of new trucking hires will be needed to replace retirees, and even more new roles will be created as the industry continues to grow. Despite its strong career growth potential and competitive salaries, the fleet industry has historically struggled to recruit fresh talent.
Rather than preparing for a career in fleet through a single educational track, most professionals enter the fleet industry after working in another field. Only once they’ve begun working in fleet do they realize how much they still have to learn through essential training like NAFA’s CAFM certification and other fleet-specific courses.
I recently spoke with two young leaders in the Product and Service sector to hear about their experiences transitioning to the fleet business and how to get their perspectives on the ways their generation will help propel the industry to new heights.
Factors Shaping the Fleet Leaders of Tomorrow
The transportation field is evolving as the fleet industry takes form as a distinctive career path, and more young professionals begin their education with the intention of working in fleet. Technologies such as telematics and autonomous vehicles may soon make fleet, while not specifically a youth-driven industry, at least one that is driven by Silicon Valley-led innovations such as telematics, autonomous vehicles, GPS, and as-of yet still nascent technologies.
Nicholas Pieroni, Strategic Account Manager at EMKAY Inc.
got into the fleet industry quickly after graduating from the University of Kentucky. He studied communications with a focus on broadcast journalism and says that the skills he learned while at the University of Kentucky have proven to be “invaluable,” as he’s now comfortable speaking with C-Suite executives and delivering the message of the EMKAY brand.
“My generation is very unique,” Pieroni says. “We grew up during a time where technology was at its infancy compared to where it is today. As we grew, technology also grew. We learned how things were done ‘in the good ole’ days,’ but have also adapted to the changing times and trends.”
Pieroni, like many others of this generation, has been greatly impacted by both technology and the state of the world at large. He says, “The firsthand experience of being a part of the world when such vast changes were happening will become one of this generation’s biggest assets.”
While Pieroni agrees that the future of fleet is rooted in technology, he says it also hinges on “the collaboration between future fleet leaders and senior leadership.”
“From reporting to analytics to driver behavior trends,” Pieroni continues, “technology will be the driving force to optimizing a company’s fleet, but collaborative efforts will be key to implementation.”
Russell Werra, Transportation Analyst, Viking Group Inc.
, says that, like so many young people who find themselves working in fleet, he was “forced into learning the fleet side of the business with little to no training.”
Werra had experience in Logistics Coordinating which helped him with time management. “However, I had and still have a lot to learn on the fleet side as it is much more complex than just booking truckloads and ensuring the product is done before the time of pick up.”
Werra agrees that technology is one the biggest factors that is shaping the fleet leaders of tomorrow.
“Fleet leaders will rely on technology to take away many of the cumbersome tasks and simplify them,” Werra says. “With the advancement of Automated Intelligence, I believe that many of the tasks fleet leaders had to deal with in the past will be eliminated, as we will be able to rely on technology to do those tedious tasks.”
It won’t be long before technologies that are currently seen as not cost-effective, or too novel to achieve assessable ROI become par for the course in the transportation industry. In the meantime, tradeshows and conferences, many of which have transitioned from face-to-face to virtual, can give fleet leaders firsthand experience with the innovations transforming the field.
Education Expectations for Fleet Leader Evolve
Fleet managers have, on average, twenty years of hands-on experience. Pieroni’s experience at EMKAY taught him that what is needed in fleet today cannot be learned solely from books. While he agrees that traditional education creates a great foundation of knowledge, he says that “application and real-life experience is where you are able to apply your knowledge and help clients build their fleet.”
He says, “I feel in business today, you must be hands-on and willing to get into the trenches for your clients and the organization. It’s here where you will advance what you know and how to use this knowledge to benefit all.”
NAFA is constantly working to create educational opportunities that teach young fleet leaders real world lessons that would otherwise be imparted by “test and learn” methods, with often disastrous consequences to their respective businesses. Up-and-coming fleet leaders may be unaware of specific regulations and, without formal education in the field, may be unable to adhere to directives they’ve never learned.
Werra agrees that expectations for fleet leader education are evolving “due to the fact that many of the regulations are forever changing and you need to be able to learn on the fly.”
He adds that education can help young talent as they struggle to learn in the trenches, and “abide by the forever-changing rules and regulations” to “have your fleet stay compliant so that your company is able to stay up and running legally.”
Inspiration for the Next Generation
The next generation of fleet leaders will be more diverse than ever before. Because of this, the ability to attract woman and minority candidates to fleet roles will prove critical to the industry’s ability to endure.
However, fleet is nothing if not dynamic in nature. Despite pandemic-related shutdowns, fleet agencies quickly evolved to service critical industries. Werra, for one, was motivated to begin a career in the fleet industry by the “number of opportunities that come with the knowledge you get from the fleet.”
“Knowledge stays with you forever,” Werra says. “The diversity of fleet management tasks provide you knowledge you will be able to carry over to the next job.”
He adds, “I am still learning new things day in and day out when it comes to Fleet Management.”
Pieroni once saw a career in fleet as a great start. “It was an industry I was not familiar with but saw potential. As my knowledge grew, my ambitions and passion also grew. To future generations, I recommend you never stop asking questions. Had I not pushed to continue learning, I may not have stayed in the industry.”
“What I realized was the fleet industry generally remains the same, but the details are always changing,” he concluded. “One client’s needs can be completely different from the next and no two companies require the same solution. The critical thinking aspect of the job is what I love.”
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