The fleet management industry has such a diverse range of people and roles, and everyone has a unique story of their journey in our industry.
This month we talk to Peter Armour, Unit Manager Plant and Fleet – Central Coast Council. Peter is also a member of the IPWEA FLEET Council.
FI: How did you get started in fleet and plant, and what was your first job in the industry?
PA: After leaving the Royal Australian Navy in 2001, my main motivator that resulted in me working in Plant and Fleet (funnily enough) was to simply look for a new challenge close to home to avoid the one and a half hour trip each way to where I had been working – like about 30,000 other Central Coast NSW residents who undertake this long daily journey.
My first fleet related role was at Gosford City Council, where I started as the Council’s Truck and Plant Hire Coordinator, forming what is known today as the ‘Plant Pool’ and looking after a team of two allocation staff and 19 truck drivers and plant operators. The department was set up to provide centralised service of internal / external hired short term casual hire of heavy trucks and plant for our works departments which resulted in significant cost savings to Council and far better governance than what we had in place before then.
FI: Tell us about your role and the kind of fleet and plant you manage.
PA: Our team manages approximately 4,500 assets based from five depot locations, ranging from your typical small plant items such as blowers and chainsaws to your typical heavy plant such at landfill compactors and traxcavators. The most interesting piece of kit we manage and operate in my view would have to be a Jetter / Vacuum truck, deployed to Council’s Water and Sewer Department with a purchase price somewhere in the vicinity of $900k. Although a high-ticket item, the service that this item provides in contrast to site use of excavators around critical underground services is second to none and has really paid for itself over and over again with respect to speed and ease of excavation.
Our fleet team is relatively self-sufficient and provides the typical full range of end to end services from procurement to disposal, as well as full life-cycle maintenance to all assets. In general, we are only reliant on external parties where it is appropriate for us to do so. I’d like to think that we are known as the ‘Can Do Department’ and definitely one that adds value and supports the operations of our business the best way we can.
FI: What’s the favourite part of your job?
PA: In 2014, I left Gosford Council for the not-for-profit world where I worked as the National Fleet Manager of Life Without Barriers in Newcastle. In the search for something new, I had overlooked the main reason why I originally sought my job at Gosford City Council (i.e. travel!). After four years, my old role in the newly amalgamated Central Coast Council was advertised and I took the opportunity to get back to not having to travel vast distances (only an hour each way to Newcastle) to and from work again.
The amalgamated Council has provided me with a very different set of challenges and at its heart has offered many opportunities across all of our sections to go back to the drawing board to plan what services we need to provide and to determine (with the assistance of my staff from two former Councils) on how we are going to deliver them. I often say to the team that when you join a well-run, efficiently operating business, you can often overlook how you got to that position. In our case, our team has had to dissect every element of our business to determine if business as it used to be, is what we want to continue to do moving forward. What I enjoy most about this, is that my team and I have been given opportunities that many don’t have in that we are somewhat ‘masters of our own destiny and success’ in shaping the future of the services we provide from the ground up - and this is quite exciting as well as challenging. Admittedly, I’d only like to do this once in my life, but now nearly 14 months into the journey I can say we are making good progress in the right direction!
Outside of this, we are trialling many new initiatives to improve operations and efficiencies across our fleet and I really enjoy being involved in use of new technology and am excited by being able to trial / test these and comparing results to past performances.
FI: What are some of the biggest challenges you see facing fleet professionals this year and beyond?
PA: I would have to say that the biggest ‘elephant in the room’ that needs some degree of attention by all fleet professionals this year and beyond would have to be the strategy and actions we need to deploy to meet environmental, fuel saving and climate change goals of the broader organisation and the challenge of balancing these aspirational environmental saving goals with conditions of employment provisions, such as what most would typically expect when accepting a job in an organisation like ours.
We have set ourselves a ten year timeframe to transition from petrol to hybrid and then hybrid to electric and I feel that although the technology may be there for an earlier transition, particularly in the passenger car offerings space, there is also very much a cultural ‘journey’ (pardon the pun) that an organisation like ours needs to take our staff on to ‘normalise’ use of such futuristic type vehicles and to manage the peripheral things currently not required by use of petrol vehicles.
Clearly, to support the above transition, the roll out of suitable infrastructure and implementation of strategies to offset created carbon from coal generated electricity are some other elements that you typically don’t have to give much thought to when purchasing new petrol or diesel vehicles.
FI: How do you think the fleet department can make sure it has buy-in and support from the rest of the organisation?
PA: Like most things, timely and regular communication with stakeholders and the demonstration of proposed or actual benefits are some of the immediate actions required to get that crucial ‘buy-in’ from staff and others to ensure that you are best set up for success in any of the undertakings you intend on committing to. Failure to consult, or failure to take the time to discuss concerns with those that your proposal is likely to impact, will often result in failure or dis-engagement by all expected to adopt your new technology or system of work. Being a helpful nice guy is also handy and can also pay dividends with people more likely to reciprocate the favour when you need them to!
FI: If you weren’t in the fleet industry, what would you be doing?
PA: I spent 1000’s of hours from a small child either sailing or fishing and back then, always had visions of doing some form of work on the water - hence my 14 years served in the Navy from the age of 15. If I gave up fleet tomorrow (or if fleet gave up me!), then by all means I would try to secure some form of employment near, on, or under the water - whether that be in managing a marina, sailing / operating luxury yachts or building boats, or some other similar related type of work!
I love my current role however and look forward to the next 5-10 years to see what amazing technologies are made readily available to the likes of myself to deploy within our fleets and all the exciting challenges that goes along with that!