Six tips for balancing daily work loads on tight labor budgets

We all know the struggles of having to manage workload with a limited number of employees due to budget constraints. In the fleet maintenance environment, this can also arise due to the current technician shortages we are seeing across the nation.

We all know the struggles of having to manage workload with a limited number of employees due to budget constraints. In the fleet maintenance environment, this can also arise due to the current technician shortages we are seeing across the nation. So here are six ways to create better efficiency within your shop operations and help resolve some of the production shortfalls you may encounter when you are faced with a similar situation. 

1. Auditing direct and indirect labor times

Monitoring direct labor times should be at the top of the priority list when it comes to creating efficiency within your shop. We all know that technicians should be able to meet standard times when performing work, but you should also consider that techs completing jobs too quickly can be a quality concern and can create more work, in turn negatively impacting efficiency. If you notice that certain techs are always beating the standard times, you may want to check behind them and be sure that the work is being performed in a quality manner. You may find that the tech is performing quality repairs, but you must confirm proper repair procedures when this occurs frequently. If the tech is performing less than acceptable repairs, this will open a host of other issues including safety concerns, increased unscheduled maintenance, increased downtime, customer service issues etc. Monitoring indirect labor is also a crucial step when creating efficiency. You want your techs to be as productive as possible and if they are overly performing indirect jobs, then you may not be getting the production that you deserve out of that tech. Every shop operation is different, but 80% direct and 20% indirect productivity is a good starting point. If your techs work a 10-hour shift this gives them eight hours for direct labor, one hour for lunch and one hour for cleaning (which is essential), both of which are indirect accounts. 

2. Get operations onboard with scheduled maintenance

One of the biggest issues I have seen in my experience with fleet maintenance is when operations doesn’t provide the equipment when needed for scheduled maintenance. When a unit comes up for a PM, operations should do everything in their power to get this equipment to the shop and allow the process to take place. You may have heard the old saying, “schedule time for your maintenance before your maintenance schedules time for you.” This is imperative to having a healthy fleet with low unscheduled maintenance costs. When you frequently put off the PM until tomorrow, it is just a matter of time before your unscheduled costs start racking up due to improper preventative maintenance planning. Perform the PMs when they are due; this way, you can make sure the necessary preventative maintenance repairs happen in-house versus having to risk a breakdown. Shop managers should be audited regularly on PM compliance percentage and held accountable. 

3. Organization = efficiency

Allocating time for your techs to be able to clean and reset is something that is often overlooked. In the fast-paced trucking environment, it’s easy for shop managers to skip the reset process and move right into another work order. There are several reasons this is a bad idea and shouldn’t be normal practice. Safety begins to be affected due to chemical residues being on the floor, cluttered tables and walls, tight workspaces etc. It is also more efficient and quicker when tools, parts and materials are easy to find without having to shuffle other items out of the way to find things. You should be able to go right to what you are looking for. Every item in your shop should have a designated storage location and be communicated well with technicians. 

You can run into OSHA problems if you are not practicing cleanliness and organization in your operation. Fire extinguishers can get blocked, contaminated rags get left out, aerosol cans don’t get stored properly in flammable cabinets, etc. A good manager strives for a clean and well-organized shop environment. As a manger, you should have processes in place to keep things organized and, in turn, more efficient. 

4. Know when to outsource

Let’s face it, we all run into problems that we need outside help to resolve. Knowing when to outsource is key to keeping equipment up and running. If you are having a lot of maintenance issues at certain locations, it may be better to have an outside vendor help get things back under control. Outsourcing may be more expensive in the beginning, but if you are having numerous unscheduled maintenance occurrences, bringing in a provider who can help get your scheduled maintenance in check will save you a lot of money in the long run. Finding the right vendor to help with your needs is imperative. One of the biggest issues most companies face with outsourcing is response time. A good maintenance provider knows how important response time is and will take it very seriously when called upon. If you are having multiple situations where equipment is going back to the shop for the same issue, then your vendor may not be providing the quality that you deserve. 

If you are having issues with recruiting maintenance help, this can also be a sign that it may be better for your situation to outsource. In many cases an outside maintenance provider has better resources and training for recruiting and developing technicians. During peak times, hiring a provider to help ease the workload will allow your operation to continue with less interference. However, keeping equipment on the down line waiting for in-house repairs to save money up front can cost more if freight appointments are missed and production is affected. Outsource during these times and get your equipment back on the road where it belongs. 

5. Finding the strengths and weaknesses of your team

Every person has their strengths and weaknesses, and as a manager it is your job to figure these out with your employees. Knowing your team well will allow you to move your techs around and put them in positions to be successful. If you are having a tech do tasks that he/she may not be that familiar with, it will affect your operational efficiency and may be unsafe depending on the task. 

Always monitor your techs’ production and take advantage of each person’s strengths. If you have a weakness overall in an area, then you need to consider training or hiring the right person to complete the tasks. Looking at how techs perform against standard times per VMRS code can help in finding strengths and weaknesses on your team. If you have a tech that is always going over the times on certain VMRS inputs, then you should consider making a move or getting proper training. 

6. Recruiting and development

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of diesel service technicians and mechanics was expected to grow by 12% between 2014 and 2024. The agency also said that 67,000 technicians will be needed to replace retired workers and 75,000 new techs must be added to meet additional demand by 2022. With these kinds of numbers, the industry must adapt practices to recruit new techs and get the proper training and development to create our future workforce. If you are in any way involved in fleet maintenance operations, whether you’re a fleet or a service provider, you will need to have a strong process for developing talent to fill the positions moving into the future. If you don’t adapt this as a standard and rely only on hiring fully experienced techs, you will eventually be left behind. The industry needs new talent and the equipment is only getting more sophisticated. Some of the best mechanics I have worked with were people who didn’t have any clear career path but were trained and developed at the shop.

Travis Wynes is chief executive officer for Mobile Transportation Service, an onsite fleet maintenance provider that strives to reduce downtime and overall maintenance costs to the fleet.