Is the South African road freight industry ready and able to show the
world they are potential champions in the logistics stakes? The 2010
Soccer World Cup, scheduled for a June kick off, shines like a beacon of
hope for a broad spectrum of local business. These range from hotels,
restaurants, taxis, airlines and, of course, the transport industry which
will be tasked with transporting the massive amount of goods required to
service the needs of fans, administrators, the teams and their respective
entourages. The logistics involved in carrying out these tasks is
enormous, easily comparable to a military operation and requiring the same
sense of urgency and attention to detail. Local road freight operators are
fortunate to have access to the most modern technology and equipment
available to assist them to provide world-class logistics services. There
are, however, some grey areas that, from time-to-time, may require
revision and a fresh approach that can add a competitive edge to existing
practices. With this in mind,
Is the South African road freight industry ready and able to show the world they are potential champions in the logistics stakes? The 2010 Soccer World Cup, scheduled for a June kick off, shines like a beacon of hope for a broad spectrum of local business. These range from hotels, restaurants, taxis, airlines and, of course, the transport industry which will be tasked with transporting the massive amount of goods required to service the needs of fans, administrators, the teams and their respective entourages. The logistics involved in carrying out these tasks is enormous, easily comparable to a military operation and requiring the same sense of urgency and attention to detail. Local road freight operators are fortunate to have access to the most modern technology and equipment available to assist them to provide world-class logistics services. There are, however, some grey areas that, from time-to-time, may require revision and a fresh approach that can add a competitive edge to existing practices. With this in mind,FleetWatch is running a series of articles under the collective banner of “Trucking - Getting ready for 2010.” We are not just looking at 2010 or the Soccer World Cup but at providing insights from leading freight operators that can be utilised and carried into the future. We kicked off in our November/December edition with an article titled ‘Showcasing your Business’. This month we are discussing driver fitness. By this we mean is your driver fit enough and capable enough to represent your company both out on the road and face-to-face with your customers? Is he or she fit to be called a professional and perhaps more importantly, does management recognise him as such? Andrew Parker looks at the issues.
The humble truck driver is coming of age in South Africa. While there is no argument that drivers are the linchpin of any transport organisation, they have not enjoyed the recognition for the strategic role they play in keeping the wheels of the industry turning.
But this seems to be changing. FleetWatch asked a number of leading transport operators some pertinent questions on how they perceive their drivers, what they expect from them and what are they doing to instil a sense of professionalism in them.
We did this so as to provide all operators with some food for thought around placing increased accent on their drivers as key players in showcasing this industry during – and indeed after – the 2010 World Cup. We are pleased to report that all respondents recognise the driver as one of the most vital components of the entire logistics chain.
As a start the respondent companies say they are going the extra mile to ensure drivers are properly trained to extract optimum performance from the vehicles they are using. Incentives are in place to encourage safe and cost efficient driving, reduce fuel consumption, downtime and improve overall performance and efficiency in all aspects of their jobs. Heartening news indeed.
Asked what it is that makes a truck driver fit to be called a professional, Garth Bolton, joint CEO of Cargo Carriers, comments: “A positive attitude is the dominant attribute that we strive to cultivate. This enhances defensive driving, a co-operative approach to other road users and influences all other driving skills.”
Bolton adds that all Cargo Carriers drivers are put through a formal qualification program to qualify as professional drivers.
Commodity manager for Parmalat SA, Rassie Erasmus, believes a combination of driving skills, attitude and communication skills are pre-requisites for a driver to be considered a true professional.
He notes that good drivers are difficult to find and are nearly extinct in this country. “Comprehensive training is vital as most available drivers are seriously compromised when it come to possessing the necessary skills to perform at their peak.”
Reiterating Erasmus’ view, Dawn Wing CEO, Mike Fanucchi, says it is important that driver training includes an understanding of the culture of the company and the needs of the clients.
Fanucchi says Dawn Wing is fortunate in that they have a small staff turnover and retain drivers for long periods. “This enables them to build positive relationships with the clients and improve customer service. If they are going to be late, they phone the client and tell him about the delay.”
On the subject of vehicles, Fanucchi says it is important that drivers are given a sense of ownership over the vehicles they drive. “A few years ago, the drivers would randomly pick a vehicle from the fleet to carry out their daily duties. This proved to be problematical when it came to reporting faults, tracing accident damage and even keeping the trucks clean. Drivers are currently issued with a dedicated vehicle and are given incentives to keep it in good condition.”
Incentives indeed. When it comes to Dawn Wing, the driver who has proved himself to be at the top of the ladder gets more than a cash bonus and T-shirt. At the end of the year he gets one of the company’s de-fleeted vehicles to take home. Now that is an incentive worth writing home about.
Fanucchi says while the process may appear to be straight forward, it is not easy to manage and has to be monitored and driven on an ongoing basis.
“In terms of professionalism you will always get someone who is having a bad day. While you have to accept this, you cannot gloss over it. Drivers must realise that management will take the appropriate action even if this means asking a client to attend a disciplinary hearing.”
Fanucchi says this “big brother” approach has paid off for Dawn Wing and the company receives ongoing compliments from satisfied clients.
Improving the status of the driver is a critical component at UPS. Johannesburg small package and CSD manager, Duncan Murray, says a driver in the UPS world is known as a “service provider” or SP.
“SPs are given uniforms to indicate they work for a well-known, branded company,” he explains. “A pre-communication meeting is held with the SPs each morning before departure on their rounds. Among other relevant information, a daily safety and driving tip is communicated to them.”
More to this, UPS vehicles are fitted with air-conditioning to promote comfort and reduce fatigue while driving. Murray says UPS has deployed a quality branded fleet of custom designed delivery vehicles that are renowned for their safety features. “The design of the load bay takes best practices into account for efficient and productive delivery and collection of packages as well as ease of loading and unloading packages.”
Murray adds that SPs have elected representatives who meet with management every two weeks to discuss concerns and problems encountered by both parties and possible solutions to these. Bolton says Cargo Carriers continuously conducts on route assessments in which they review the route drivers travel to see whether the truck stops are of a suitable standard, and that theft and hijacking is not an issue. “We are part of the Road Freight Bargaining Council and we also participate in the NBC Wellness programs in order to address our drivers health needs in an holistic manner,” Bolton adds.
Taking all the above into consideration, it is obvious there is a great need for a modern approach to training and educating drivers. In many instances, it appears management are aware of this and have adapted on-the-job training to do just this.
Much use is made of analysing reports from tracking systems and any negative or poor driving results are immediately acted upon. Bolton reports that Cargo Carriers has competency systems in place to measure all aspects from lead-time to wear and tear, fuel management systems as well as satellite tracking systems all to aid driver management. “Having systems in places greatly adds value to performance management, recognition and better utilisation of our fleet,” he says.
The driver is debriefed at the end of his shift and counselled to bring him back up to standard. Poor driving habits can be costly to the company and Parmalat's supervisors and management is dedicated to ensuring that all drivers adhere to the company policies.
At UPS, monthly reviews are held with each driver. According to Murray, this entails a review of the past month’s performance in which they are complemented for measures where they have done well and are encouraged to improve in areas that require attention.
Like many other road freight companies, UPS has put a series of incentives in place to encourage optimum performance from its drivers. These include a scheme that rewards drivers for personal appearance, vehicle care and work performance. The incentive carries awards on a monthly basis with additional recognition for the driver of the quarter. There is also a prize for the driver of the year.
Leading transport customers are all keenly aware of the need for drivers to undergo specific training to deal with customer service and relationship building. Fanucchi says: “It is not just about driving; it is about understanding the nature of our business and the needs of the customers.” He reiterates that drivers at Dawn Wing undergo intensive training, which includes customer service before they are allowed out on the road.
UPS provides regular on the job supervision and training to improve and maintain high levels of customer service. UPS management and sales staff often accompany SPs on delivery routes providing hints and advice on dealing with customers. They are also taught how to be observant and enquire about additional business.
For well over a decade, the duties and responsibilities of the modern truck driver have irrevocably changed. The use of modern technology is increasingly being used to improve fleet and driver productivity, reduce total operating costs and enhance service levels as well as to gain a competitive edge in the market place.
Drivers are now being called on to manage and operate a variety of communications and management tools producing invoices, POD, returns, status reports and so on.
Depending on the type of operation, drivers may undertake relatively simple exercises such as sending text and data transmissions to pre-programmed numbers via cell phones or radio trunking networks updating the depot of their status and whereabouts.
Express freight and courier companies go some way further than this. Dawn Wing, for example, uses a sophisticated communications system that has the ability to download delivery and collection instructions to a driver's hand-held mobile device before he leaves the branch.
The driver scans the parcels onto his vehicle ensuring the entire consignment is loaded. This ensures parcels are not misrouted or left behind. On delivery, the device delivers an electronic POD. Deliveries are automatically debriefed on the main system and PODs are electronically available to all stakeholders.
The same applies when the driver receives a collection request. Quite importantly, these modern management systems allow supervisors based at the depot to check the status of all collections and deliveries without having to contact the driver.
Murray reports that UPS also makes use of these new systems. They are known as DIADs (delivery information acquisition devices) he says and quite simply they facilitate electronic communication between the SP and the facility and enables UPS to offer its customers real time tracking information and electronic POD’s. “The system also facilitates the tracking the delivery trail of the SP to ensure that deliveries are made according to a pre-determined route schedule.”
Murray says every vehicle in the fleet is fitted with satellite tracking that enables the company to monitor each driver’s movements and any road transgressions such as speeding and any route violations. The tracking is linked to a vendor who contacts UPS directly in the event of an alarm being triggered. Certain staff members can also track the vehicles from their computer. The tracking system also has panic- and accident alarm facilities.
An all-important link in the logistics chain are the driver trainers as they perform a critical role in raising the performance of the drivers.
Bolton again: “Our performance management system has greatly come to our aid as human error has almost been totally eliminated due to our driver-trainers being constantly on the road, in the provinces and across border travel when the need arises.”
Bolton says as specialists in the transportation of steel, fuel, powders and chemicals, the compliance with accepted procedures and practices is a non-negotiable requirement.
“Quality accreditation and continuous improvement of these procedures and practices is likewise a vital cog in the machine of Cargo Carriers’ business,” he says. “In recent years the company has embarked on a concerted Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) initiative and has made industry-leading strides in becoming accredited on various SHEQ fronts.”
Further to this Bolton says the entire company consistently undergoes extensive audits by the local and German based DEKRA-ITS certification services, and has received both ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001:2004 accreditation across all branches.
“We are also affiliated to the Chemical and Allied Industries (CAIA) and are signatories to Safety and Quality Assessment (SQAS) and Responsible Care. The Sasolburg and Durban branches have been rated as a “preferred haulier” in terms of the Chemical and Allied Industries Association (CAIA) criteria.
Is the South African road freight industry ready and able to show the world they are potential champions in the logistics stakes?
It is reassuring to see that drivers are increasingly being recognised for the valuable role they play in the logistics chain and a concerted effort is being made to improve their skills not just behind the wheel but in other vital areas such as customer service, communications and even in looking for opportunities for new business.
Judging by what the respondents to our survey had to say, if we are not road champions yet, we are certainly ready to be counted among the leading contenders on the African continent and many of our local road freight companies should be able to show their counterparts in the developed world a thing or two during the World Cup.
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