Podcast Ep. 8 — CAFS & CAFM Certification Programs
Matthew Dziak: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Fleet Code. A podcast brought to you by Fleetio. Where we'll dive into the latest fleet trends, technology, and best practices. Get the inside scoop, as we decode the challenges of fleet management.
Laura Maxwell: [00:00:22] I got my Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist certificate. I took four of the eight courses. I would describe it almost like a college crash course on fleet management. There's an entire module on fuel management. There's an entire module on asset management, maintenance management, and various other areas as well.
Matthew Dziak: [00:00:42] In this episode of the fleet code, we welcome Laura Maxwell, product marketing manager at fleet audio. Laura has been with since 2016 and received her certification as an automotive fleet specialist in 2019. We'll walk through the entire CAFS process, what to expect, how to prepare and the significance of certification.
Laura, thanks for joining us on the show today.
Laura Maxwell: [00:01:03] Thanks for having me Matt.
Matthew Dziak: [00:01:05] So for this episode, we'd love to dive into the world of CAFS, understanding the certification process and all of that. If you could tell us about what CAFM and CAFS is and how it applies to NAFA.
Laura Maxwell: [00:01:16] CIFS stands for Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist. That's the certificate I got. To get that you take four of their eight courses. And then the certified automotive fleet managers certificate is all eight. So you take all of the curriculum. Or you can take any of the courses, like an individual certification and each content area. They don't really have a name. It's just the core. There's a lot of different opportunities to engage with the curriculum. And I think one of the great things about it, it's constantly updated and it's written by fleet management professionals. They either have direct experience managing a fleet or they're educators themselves, or combination of the two, and they write all of the content.I got my Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist certificate. I took four of the eight courses that they offer. And if you go on to do the fall calf I'm or Certified Automotive Fleet Manager, that's all eight courses that they offer. One is just more involved than the other. And so I did the specialist route and they give you, I think it's two years to get the specialist and then three or four to do the full thing. I would describe it almost like a college crash course on fleet management. So it's very much rooted in fleet management theory and you get experience and education, and a lot of the different areas of fleet management. For example, there's an entire module on fuel management. There's an entire module on asset management, maintenance management, and various other areas as well. You really go deep into what it means to manage it. And some of it you'll deal with depending on your industry and some of it you won't, but it's all really great knowledge to have.
Matthew Dziak: [00:02:57] I wanted to talk a little bit about the actual topics. You mentioned that there were a few of them that are sectioned out into what were those topics and which ones really seem to stand out.
Laura Maxwell: [00:03:07] So I took, as I said, four courses and I'll list all of them and then tell you which ones I took. So there's asset management, business management, financial management, fleet information management, which is like choosing a fleet software, maintenance management, exam, risk management, and then fuel management. I think that's the eight. And I chose financial management, which I thought was just really interesting to see how a fleet manager is expected to contribute towards the accounting side and the administrative side of things. And what are the key pieces of data that you'd be involved in as a fleet manager? There was a lot of basic accounting in there, how to read a general ledger and all these things. But , in college, I was a marketing major and I had to take multiple levels of accounting. So I knew that part of things, but just seeing how a fleet manager would contribute to that side of things, I think was important. The fleet information management class was about what you would be looking for in a fleet software, which is incredibly relevant to Fleetio. But also just the types of information management that a fleet has to do and participate in daily and what best practices are there? I thought maybe there were some things I could learn about. Maybe Fleetio could help better in, or just to better speak the language of our customers. There's maintenance management that gets down into the nitty-gritty of both planned and unplanned maintenance. And a lot of the NAFA content, I felt like it was really applicable to government fleets. They have to worry about most things, certainly implications for every type of fleet there. You're not tested on a ton of this, but you do end up learning a lot about engines and not so much down into the nitty gritty of what the mechanic has to know. You do have to know how they work, to be able to help, you know, prioritize maintenance. That's the big thing that they focus on there. And then the final line, which was actually the most interesting to me, it had been updated pretty recently to include electric and hybrid vehicles, but is the fuel management module. That one was actually harder than I thought it was going to be. And probably mostly because there's a lot of regulations in there. I remember getting tripped up on below and above ground fuel tank regulations, which are different in Canada than there are in the U S and you definitely have to know that sort of thing. But what I found really interesting about it was just you get into the idea of electric vehicles and hybrid models and how that's different from fuel management on an ice vehicle. I thought that was a really interesting module as well.
Matthew Dziak: [00:05:38] Yeah, it makes a lot of sense that there would be sections dedicated to both maintenance and fuel management. Since those are two of the largest ongoing expenses of fleet and curves, but you also have the expense side, which would help you with things like determining TCO and when to maybe replace an asset, correct?
Laura Maxwell: [00:05:54] See, I think that was what was really interesting about the financial management course. You take that fuel data and the maintenance data, and you marry that with all your expenses and they actually give you a framework to think about TCO with. And so when you're thinking about total cost of ownership and vehicle cycling decisions, They make it really easy to start with, have a common general framework and apply it to your fleet and how you categorize expenses. It was kind of inspiring just to almost see it. So tangibly written out there was clearly a lot of thought put into that and something that I'm sure many of you. Think about, and don't know where to start. So something that makes that course especially valuable is the content there. You don't have to get a certification to access the content. You can just purchase it. So if you want to just brush up on your knowledge in one of these areas, you can certainly purchase the course. You don't have to pursue the actual certificate and become certified. You can just have it as a reference. And so that would be especially valuable. I think, in this case,
Matthew Dziak: [00:06:55] Yeah, absolutely. If you're someone, maybe who's managing a fleet, you have your systems in place, but maybe there's more emphasis on the expense side now. And perhaps if you have a platform or a software solution that you're utilizing or you're testing out even to see if that's something that you want to utilize across your operation, that expense side of this process, in terms of getting certified, seems to be a focal point that you should definitely consider. And when you think about preparing for something, you talk about it being like a crash course, similar to preparing for university or anything like that. How did you go about preparing for the certification process?
Laura Maxwell:[00:07:33] I was like, I could probably finish this in a few months, right? Oh, they give you a couple of years, but definitely wasn't the case. It was a lot more involved, I think, than I anticipated. And definitely not insurmountable by any means, but working full-time here at Fleetio, and then it's almost like night class. You can only devote so much time to doing that. I did a lot of trial and error in the beginning. I did the hardest one or which I felt was one of the hardest ones. First they give you materials. So there's usually like some kind of digital textbook and study guides and all sorts of things to help you prepare, but maintenance management. I think the book itself was over 500 pages and it was pretty involved. That was the first one that I kind of cut my teeth on and it was definitely a lot of trial and error, but I think what I learned that I would share with others is just, all right, how do I break this out and study for it, knowing that I'm going to do four different courses. And I originally thought. Um, well, I'll just study all the content and then take all the tests at once because you actually pay a sitting fee for every test that you take. The test itself is a flat fee, but for example, you'd save money on the sitting costs if you took them out all at once. And so I said, Oh, well, obviously that makes a ton of sense. So I'll just do it all at once. And then when I got into the maintenance management course, and I was really a 500 page book, I was like, I don't think that's a reasonable thing. So again, I recalibrated my actions, citations. I decided to take one course at a time. I thought if I got to some courses that had less content that maybe I could do them both at once. I still ended up being more successful with the one test at a time approach. I recommend that to everybody. It helps keep it manageable, less overwhelming, and you get a lot of great positive reinforcement when you pass that first one. And that second one to keep going, instead of just feeling like it's this one big mountain with one big payoff at the end. So take all the time you need, because if you've got anything else going on in your life, it's actually a lot.
Matthew Dziak: [00:09:29] Now, if we wanted to talk a little bit about just fleet management in general and some of the issues that fleet managers face and how that could apply to getting certified in your opinion, what do you think is one of the biggest issues that fleet managers face?
Laura Maxwell: [00:09:43] Gosh, there are so many, I would say that one of the things I see most often, and this is probably just due to my perspective in the industry is really finding the time to do it all. There are so many things that you're responsible for as a fleet manager and that you have to know. There's a reason that educational opportunity and certification opportunity exists because it helps just to have a baseline and know what the framework looks like. Now that doesn't mean that your individual situation and your individual organization won't be different. But it's just helpful to have that knowledge as a baseline when you're constantly being interrupted all day with little fires everywhere. How do you prioritize the most important things to make sure that the fleet is running as efficiently as possible? Just having that background is really key and then having the right tools in place to help you be more efficient. If I had the ideal setup, what would it look like to me? And how would it help me on a daily basis?
Matthew Dziak: [00:10:39] Yeah, fleet managers have no choice, but to be organized, right. And make sure that they have a way to communicate and collaborate effectively in order to avoid compounding issues that could hinder their operation right.
Laura Maxwell: [00:10:51] Yeah. And I think when you're bringing in knowledge from outside your purview and looking outside of your own organization for inspiration to bring in fleet managers are responsible for that. It's almost like an entrepreneurial mentality to find ways to improve, nothing is ever going to be the same. There's always going to be ways that you can sort of optimize. Not just your daily operations, but how things work cross-departmentally and elsewhere at your organization and how the fleet drives your organization no pun intended. But NAFA is really the gold standard. In terms of certifications like these, I thought it was really valuable to see one, what are they teaching? How can that help me in my situation to understand the key issues that fleet managers are facing. Something that we hear a lot of is just that it's almost harder to find the solution than it is to just go on in your existence, like the way that you're doing it. And so it can feel like a really big mountain to climb when it comes to being that thought leader and being more and more efficient. The best advice I would have would be to just start. Something that we hear in sales calls a lot. People are like, well, I just, it's so hard. I just feel like we do it on paper now and it works fine. And like, yeah, I could try to move to this system, but it'll probably be like, I don't know, really hard, or, you know, I won't be able to get anybody to adopt it. And so, trying to tie that back to the certification and the best thing you can do is just start. Just like anything starting any project adopting new software, adopting new processes, it's just getting started. We'll get you going on the right path.
Matthew Dziak: [00:12:30] Well, maybe we could segue a little bit into some of the words of advice that you would give someone. So we talked a little bit about how you can prepare and you can set aside which sections you want to go through first and prioritizing that. If there was some advice, you'd give someone who's preparing right now to maybe start taking the test or certification soon, what would it be?
Laura Maxwell: [00:12:51] I would say definitely leverage all of the resources that they give you in terms of practice tests and study guides. The thing that seemed to work for me the best was I would read the textbook that they would give you and just read it on sound. And then I would go back and read it again. With the study guide and answer all the questions, then I would go take the practice test. I think I budgeted an hour a day and probably about four to six weeks for each module, depending on how long it was. The maintenance management took a little bit longer than that. That was more like eight weeks. I didn't do it on weekends. I just did it five days a week. I would dedicate one hour a day and that seemed to help me just bite it off and sizeable chunks. Continue learning the content and then take the test before I forget everything. I found that if it went longer than eight weeks, I'd forget everything that happened in the beginning. So that would be my biggest tip is just stay focused. And that's why I wanted a time where they worked for me because it allowed me to just stay focused on that one module, get through it, take the test and then move on. So, and then I would take a few weeks off between each.
Matthew Dziak: [00:13:57] I really liked that point that you made about completing a section and getting that instant gratification that you passed it, and it really builds that momentum to allow you to, you know, push through, to finish the rest of it. I also wanted to talk a little bit about how you were able to complete this completely remote, correct?
Laura Maxwell: [00:14:12] Yeah. The way that they do it, and they have since really up to their virtual test taking game, I used to have to go somewhere physically. So it's sort of like a certified test center. Yeah. You go in and you have a time scheduled and all the other people in there are taking the same test as you. It's like a NAFA test block, if you will. But then there's also licensed testing centers and these exist everywhere around the country at different universities. Have these companies. They call it remote test taking, you still have to go somewhere. So I went to community college of Denver and they have a testing center there where they have basically a computerized system that they trust. And then they have proctors who oversee you taking the test. They just make sure that you only bring in your number two pencil and you only have one piece of paper and a calculator and you're not cheating and things like. So there's a lot of options, but when I was completing my fourth course, they actually released a completely remote option. And you have to have all these requirements. Like you have to be in a brightly lit place with a wall behind you. They watch your eyes and see where your eyes are going while you're taking the test. I could be taking the test like on zoom right now, for example. So they would make sure that I'm not like reading books. Which it's timed. If you didn't study it, you're probably not going to get through the test and would like to find all the answers anyway. So that was actually a huge benefit. Once I got to the end they had that option. So I live in a really remote area. And so I was having to drive two and a half hours each time I wanted to go take a test. That's one way, it was just a huge benefit to have that as my last one, you know, I just went to the library in town. It was much easier, a lot less money.
Matthew Dziak: [00:15:52] Yeah, gas and time back for your day. And that's a great thing for people who, like you said, might be remote living in a city that's a little bit smaller and disconnected. There's also the people who are working remotely or aren't traveling to an office. And that would allow them the opportunity to finish that all from home. So that's a great feature that they've added. So I know one of the big trends that everybody's really excited about is just the adoption of electric vehicles across their fleet. And we're seeing more and more of the OEM starting to release and just come out with more information on their upcoming EV vehicles. Would love to get your thoughts on that.
Laura Maxwell: [00:16:25] I'll try to keep it really high level, cause I could probably talk about this for hours. I think it's probably going to be one of the biggest topics in fleet management in the next 10, 20 years. It is going to be electrification. Probably the biggest challenge that I think that fleets are facing is how in the world would I even adopt this? There are a lot of companies out there working on the vehicle solution and the technology solution. And then there's the infrastructure solution. There's a lot that has to come together here. And if I could snap my fingers and make that all work beautifully for everybody. That would be my dream. How do I charge my vehicles? How do I get vehicles with the proper range for my fleet operations? How does it impact other areas of my business? Where do I even purchase these and what are the best vehicles to purchase? And there's so much there. If I could solve the adoption challenges and help make it really easy for you. To have the infrastructure in place to adopt this and acquire the vehicles, just have the knowledge be at your fingertips. So you feel like you can make a great decision. That would be sort of my dream. And there's a lot of big potential here. Not only for cost savings, but meeting those other goals, your organization might have, whether they're environmental or uptime and customer service. So, but it's coming. There's a lot of people working on it. It's a really exciting time to be in fleet management.
Matthew Dziak: [00:17:48] Yeah, the electrification of fleets is obviously a big trend that everybody wants to stay on top of. But Laura, we really thank you for joining us today. Uh, I learned a lot about this whole process and how important certifications can be for fleet managers.
Laura Maxwell: [00:18:01] Yeah, thanks for having me. I would love to hear what other people think about their experience as well. And it was great to share mine. Thanks
Matthew Dziak: [00:22:14] Thanks for listening to the Fleet Code. If you're looking for a modern software solution to effectively manage your fleet, be sure to check out Fleetio.com/podcast to learn more. Join our monthly newsletter to stay up to date on all things, Fleetio. And don't forget to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by following at Fleetio.