It took two official ceremonies to award this year’s Volvo Trucks Canada 2009 Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year, but he finally collected on all his prizes.
Don Coldwell, district service manager with Volvo Trucks Canada, announced the name of the recipient, Ben Vandespyker, maintenance manager for Active Transport, at the 46th Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar (CFMS) on May 28. Vandespyker, a father of two, was called out of the country unexpectedly at the time, and his daughter Lisa accepted a plaque on his behalf.
So Volvo Trucks Canada, and our WebTV show Transportation Matters, followed up with Vandespyker on June 18 as he was awarded with a commemorative ring at Active Transport’s Milton, Ont. facilities.
Presenting the ring, Coldwell noted that mentorship, which he said helped him in his own career, was a prominent theme in Vandespyker’s nomination.
“He is described as a caring, generous, reliable, fair mediator with a good ability to listen,” Coldwell said of Vandespyker.
Volvo Trucks Canada sponsored the award, but did not participate in the selection process. An independent judging committee composed of trade journalists and past recipients of the award conducted this task.
“Well, it’s an honour, especially at my age, to get it. Finally it was my turn so I was quite happy. I didn’t expect it,” said Vandespyker.
When asked for the most important trait of a good maintenance manager, Vandespyker stressed that it’s the human relationship aspect.
“How to deal with people is the most important job of any manager. You can tell people what to do and make them do it. But you can ask people to do it and it has [a better] result than telling them to.”
To qualify for the award, the nominee’s fleet must be located in Canada, must own and operate a minimum of 25 Class 8 vehicles, and must perform a minimum 80% of repairs and maintenance at the fleet’s facilities. The nominee, meanwhile, must be a Canadian resident with a minimum of five years’ fleet maintenance experience, three of which must be as a full-time maintenance manager, superintendent, or director.
Vandespyker, a long-time member of the Automotive Transportation Service Superintendents’ Association, currently oversees a fleet of 175 tractors and over 400 trailers across three different Active Transport facilities, in Milton, Mississauga and Buffalo, with the bulk of the work at the Milton facility.
He came to Canada in 1957, and has been working in maintenance since 1949, beginning as a mechanic. He has been at Active Transport since 1999 and prior to that role worked in various maintenance and operations roles at D&W Forwarders and TNT, among other companies.
Active Transport specializes in long loads and heavy hauls, which means that spec’ing trailers for these loads is an important part of Vandespyker’s job.
“We do over-dimensional loads, we haul lots of bridge beams, on trailers that are 48-80 ft. long. Spec’ing is one of the main issues in maintenance. First of all, we make sure that they can do the load, (with regard to the) amount of axles, longevity of the equipment, proper brake systems, and weight distribution. We recently spent a whole day at the scales spec’ing the proper angling for double T’s that had to be legal both in Michigan and Ontario,” he told Motortruck Fleet Executive.
“We also rebuild our trailers in our own shop -we paint them on a five to seven year cycle.”
He said that running double trailers means double the price. So longevity is important.
“We still have trailers from ’79. We also rebuild the crossmembers and repaint, and they’re good for another 10 years. We switched most of our trailer axles to grease seals, and we use new tires and recaps on all the trailers,” noted Vandespyker.
He also oversees the company’s training programs, and is currently working with seven apprentices, who start out as greasers/oil changers at the facility and move on to comprehensive apprenticeship training.
“We have been very successful; most of the kids are staying here and you can teach them the way you want to teach them,” said Vandespyker, noting that the company works on an ongoing basis with government apprenticeship programs.
He stressed that “all of the people are part of a good maintenance facility” and that it’s really a team effort.
“It’s probably the same in coaching. If I’m not here, it still goes on, but if they’re not here, nothing happens,” said Vandespyker of his maintenance staff.
Quite often, Active Transport will put on courses on a Saturday morning, keeping staff abreast of new developments and issues.
“At the dealerships they get schooling, but in a fleet you have to develop your own training, so we call in the truck people and they give a little bit of a course. It really helps us,” said Vandespyker.
He said that training for mechanics is now so complex compared to the “old days,” when you could fix a truck with a hammer and a chisel. This complexity means that not all maintenance is done in the shops anymore. Yet at the same time, examinations for apprentices require them to have widespread knowledge, and to obtain 70% scores for questions and issues they may never have come across.
“Most of the kids have to go in three to four times. They get questions that they can’t answer because the shops can’t train them in all the items they encounter. It’s very hard to train in everything because it’s become so specialized. Some shops do nothing but hydraulics. Even in the school, courses may not be deep enough to cover what is now required,” he noted.