Everything costs too much. No one can do anything right. Nothing lasts as long as it should. Customer care is the oxymoron of the age, and guarantees are not worth the paper they are printed on. Unless, however, they are educational degrees or certifications that serve as proof of the holder’s competence. In that case, the paper can be far more valuable than the cost of obtaining it.
Recognizing the value of continuing education and proof of professionalism, organizations — such as the Kansas City, Mo.-based American Public Works Association (APWA), the Silver Springs, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and The Rocky Mountain Fleet Manager’s Association (RMFMA) — have developed programs to certify individuals’ abilities in public works fields. From fleet management to landfill operation, city and county public works professionals are adopting certification and training programs to keep up to date and as opportunities to prove that they are masters of their crafts.
RMFMA, an association of 1,000 public-sector fleet managers, offers Professional, Advanced and Master’s Degree certification designed to further the education and qualifications of fleet maintenance employees and improve their chances for advancement. For 18 years, RMFMA has offered four certifications in fleet management: one entry level, two advanced and one master’s. The latter involves as many as 28 textbooks on 2,200 different topics, says RMFMA Certifications Manager Kelly Walker, and is designed for the fleet employee looking to become a director of fleet operations. “[The entire program] is designed to take an entry-level person to middle management and ultimately to director,” he says.
A large part of RMFMA’s curriculum teaches fleet employees how to save money in their departments. “Other certifications are administrative-oriented and don’t focus on how to cut costs,” Walker says. “This program is management-oriented and directed at getting costs of the non-core function in line with the rest of city/county operation.”
The curriculum for the entry-level and advanced exams includes a two-day seminar and a 150- to 500-question test. Graduates of the Master’s Degree program are required to read a set of textbooks and must prepare a thesis. Currently, 500 members are enrolled in the Master’s Degree program. “When these guys come back [from certification at RMFMA], the employer can expect change and cost-cutting,” Walker says.
John Stockham, fleet manager for Clackamus County, Ore., earned RMFMA’s public sector professional certification in fleet management in 2005. He used what he learned to create a fleet management operation in Clackamus County, which, just one year ago, did not have a fleet management division.
Certified and bonafide
Certificate holders agree that much of the benefit of the programs comes from rubbing elbows and swapping solutions with peers, much like at an industry convention. “There are 50 to 70 participants per class who all bring their own stories to the classroom or water cooler,” says John Boss, a retired principal engineer for Camp Hill, Pa.-based Gannett Fleming and a teacher for SWANA’s voluntary certification program. Often, he says, participants discuss among themselves ways they have found to accomplish certain goals and solve problems.
Boss, a SWANA member since 1979, found the organization’s program in seven solid waste disciplines so helpful that he began to teach the classes. The organization offers three-day courses and half-day field exercises with three-hour exams in the fields of bioreactor landfills, collection systems, composting systems, construction and demolition debris, municipal solid waste management, landfill operation, recycling systems and transfer systems.
Certificates issued by SWANA are valid for three years and must be renewed by earning 30 continuing education units from conferences or courses over the initial three-year period or by re-taking the test every three years. SWANA has awarded approximately 7,500 certificates since the program began in 1987. Holding certification, Boss says, has not only helped people become eligible for positions to operate a landfill, but also helps them keep up with current knowledge of landfill operations. “The certificate, for either public or privately owned facilities presents the fact that owners or agencies are very interested in keeping their employees up to date on all the latest operations [and] technologies,” he says.
SWANA Executive Director John Skinner sees certification benefiting both the employer and individual, with the end result being professional competence and better performance. And, as a result Skinner says, “with certification, an individual is much more marketable.”
William Merry, executive director of the Monterey, Calif., Solid Waste Authority earned SWANA certification as manager of landfill operations in 1989. “I believe in certification in our industry,” Merry says. “I feel it helps to keep us as informed as we can be in our professional, day-to-day, year-to-year operation and puts us all on the same page in terms of information we’re dealing with and communicating with each other.”
On the move
About three years ago, an APWA study of its members revealed an interest in certification, and last September the organization launched a program for fleet managers. The first group of 22 certificate recipients has just been qualified.
Requirements were determined based on industry-wide acceptance of a “norm” against which a standard degree of proficiency could be tested and recorded, says Becky Stein, APWA certification manager. No class attendance or course completion is required to take the program’s examination, although APWA offers a reading list of study material.
Eligibility is determined by a combination of work experience and the applicant’s education. A high school graduate, for instance, is required to have worked nine of the preceding 11 years in the field to qualify for eligibility, while those with master’s degrees must be employed three of the preceding five years in the industry to satisfy eligibility requirements.
Once eligible, applicants have two-years to pass the examination and earn a Certified Public Fleet Professional (CPFP) Certification, which is presented at an awards ceremony. Re-certification is necessary at five-year intervals thereafter and requires 80 to 100 hours of continuing education.
Samuel Lamerato, fleet maintenance superintendent for Troy, Mich., helped develop the APWA certification program and is among the first to earn one. “Today,” Lamerato says, “a fleet manager has to know more than just how a vehicle performs and how to keep it on the road.” From parts availability and maintenance schedules to a myriad of other issues, the job has become far more complex, he says, and holding the certificate and adding the “CPFP” designation on his business card will identify a credentialed level of expertise.
Sharon Subadan, director of the Hillsborough County, Fla., Fleet Management Department, is among APWA’s first graduates who will receive their certificates next month at the APWA Annual Congress in San Antonio, Texas. Subadan oversees a fleet of 4,500 vehicles and other equipment. She decided to become certified because she wants to stay on top of the changes in the automotive and truck industry.
To the benefit of a landfill operator or the inspector looking over his shoulder, Merry says, certification is a bar which says that you have earned a specific level competence to perform your job. All those holding certification agree that the teaching materials become useful in future job performance. Lamerato has referred to APWA’s study guides often since receiving certification, and he highly recommends them when preparing for re-education. “It gives me a reference library I can turn to for solving future problems,” he says.
Ruby Putterlik is a Jacksonville, Fla.-based freelance writer.
What do APWA Certified Public Fleet Professionals know? For starters, they must pass a test that includes the following topics:
a. Maintenance of vehicle, equipment, facilities and fixed equipment
c. Fuel and lubricants management
d. Repair policies and strategies
General management and business
a. Strategic planning, business planning and marketing
b. Customer service and collaboration
a. Needs determination of vehicle, equipment and fixed equipment
b. Research acquisition of vehicle, equipment and fixed equipment
c. Use of vehicle, equipment and fixed equipment
d. Replacement of vehicle, equipment and fixed equipment
e. Disposal of vehicle, equipment and parts
b. Cost recovery
c. Fleet operating purchasing
d. Vehicle replacement funding
e. Record keeping
Human resource management
b. Work environment
c. Employee training
d. Policies and procedures
a. Workplace safety management
b. Vehicle damage
c. Contract compliance
d. Regulatory compliance
a. Shop best practices
b. Regulatory compliance
Information management and technology systems
Grounds management certification now available
The Baltimore-based Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) has developed a Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) program that is officially endorsed by the Kansas City, Mo.-based American Public Works Association (APWA). To become a CGM, candidates must display specific levels of expertise in technical aspects, such as turf and ornamentals, as well as management of personnel, budgeting and resources. Candidates must have at least eight years of experience in the grounds maintenance field, with at least four years as a supervisor, and they must pass open- and closed-book tests and a peer review of their grounds. (Educational degrees may substitute for some experience.)
PGMS is offering a $50 discount for those interested in pursuing certification during the group’s 2007 School of Grounds Management & GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 24-27, 2007. It also is offering a reduced $100 testing fee for those who are pre-qualified for the CGM exam by Oct. 1 and registered for the PGMS School of Grounds Management. For more information, visit www.pgms.org/cgmcertification.htm.