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Hands On

These days, a certificate seems to be required for most professions, but a president of a trucking company would be wise to first look at what type of "hands-on" experience an individual has and allow...


These days, a certificate seems to be required for most professions, but a president of a trucking company would be wise to first look at what type of “hands-on” experience an individual has and allow him to work his way up the ladder, says Jim Riddle, who has spent the last 27 of his 43 working years in the truck and trailer business.

The certification can come later for credibility purposes, the popular and outspoken Riddle told delegates attending the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars session entitled, Today’s and Tomorrow’s Director of Maintenance.

Riddle is the director of maintenance for William Day Construction, a group of companies that provide a variety of services ranging from waste collection and dump site logistics to line-haul and general trucking. He is responsible for the maintenance of about 700 units and two maintenance facilities.

“Many companies like ourselves require individuals with hands-on knowledge of a particular unit or operation,” said Riddle.

Anyone can be trained as to how much time it takes to do a brake job and how much it should cost, Riddle said, but it is the abilities to recognize whether the job is done properly, to accurately forecast the cost of a repair, and to decide if the expense is warranted that is particularly valuable.

Riddle added that while planning is central to effectively managing the maintenance of the William Day Construction fleet, he must also have the capability to react to crucial situations such as “a unit down, no replacement, find parts, fix it, get it back on the road.” Again, something that is not necessarily learned behind a desk.

Perhaps Riddle’s late father explained it best after he toured a repair shop his son was managing: “I don’t know where you learned all this, but it certainly was not in school.”

Other key ingredients in Riddle’s recipe for success in the maintenance shop included:

The ongoing training of licensed technicians and the education of apprentices. His maintenance operation employs many apprentices and encourages training in truck and coach, welding, heavy equipment and bodyman trades. It has also supported its community college (Cambrian) by donating two operating highway tractors, a trailer chassis and some componentry as teaching tools. And Riddle

was also involved with the college’s curriculum advisory committee.

Educating management about what constitutes maintenance and what makes for neglect and abuse. He told delegates he created a “show and tell” for the executive team as part of the education process.

“I bring failed components to the boardroom and demonstrate the how, why and why not,” Riddle said, adding that drivers are also impressed when you can demonstrate to them how their actions affect equipment and that goes a long way towards preventing abuse or misuse.

Encouraging staff for input on cost effectiveness. For example, one simple action taken by their AC specialist is saving the fleet fuel and labour costs. When AC systems are checked, a green vinyl dot is placed on the vent window, indicating correct operation. This allows the maintenance folks to recognize whether a unit is working, simply by viewing the dot. And if the unit is not working, the driver just removes the dot.

A second life program to optimize the life of equipment. In the William Day Construction fleet, heavy-duty units are used in their designed occupation for several years and then are refurbished inhouse and placed into a lighter duty for their second life. “This is essential to the day-to-day operations because a diversified company like ours is expected to provide a variety of services at a moment’s notice,” Riddle said, adding he’s had to build units to fit customer needs and have them available to work “at the drop of a hat.”

Knowledge of insurance is also important. Riddle’s maintenance team tends to fix its own units within its complete body shop. It often prepares estimates for adjusters so maintenance staff must understand how things work, determine if the units are repairable and whether a claim should be filed.

Finally, human resource experience is a prerequisite for a manager. “Handling of people has got to be one of the biggest challenges out there. Everyone has a different personality and we, as supervisors, are held responsible for the decisions we make,” Riddle said. He advised operating the maintenance department on a personable level, interacting with employees and keeping things light. “This creates a familiar operation but a level of respect and loyalty that shows up well in pride and workmanship, levels of cooperation and dedication from the people working on the floor,” he said. “My staff know that I am not afraid to use my authority but that I am totally approachable.”


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