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October 12, 2011

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Transport and logistics – Train to gain

During a time of economic downturn, employers can be tempted to reduce the level of training they provide as a way of cutting costs. But doing the opposite can also save money, says Sean Cusack, who explains how one transport and logistics provider increased its level of training delivery over the past two years to improve warehouse and driver standards.

In 2007, Lord Cameron of Dillington, the first head of the Countryside Agency, coined the phrase ‘nine meals from anarchy’. His idea was that law and order would start to break down and British streets would descend into chaos after just three full days without food on supermarket shelves. While this may sound far-fetched, it is exactly what happened in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck. People started to loot their neighbours and communities in order to feed themselves and their families in the days following the disaster.

To avoid this scenario, manufacturers, farmers, processors and retailers are supported by an immense distribution infrastructure that keeps Britain moving – and fed. Nearly 1.5 million people in the UK are employed in the transport and storage industry.1 Of these, it is estimated that roughly 414,000 are directly involved in warehousing and road-freight transport.2 

This massive undertaking employs people from all walks of life, nationalities and skill-sets. As with all industries, this does not come without risk; each year, the sector records an average of 10,000 reportable injuries, including 12 fatal accidents.3 In addition, an average of 56 goods-vehicle drivers are killed on Britain’s roads and a further 6000 are injured.4

Wincanton, for whom I work, is tiny in the grand scheme of things, employing 20,000 people across the UK, which accounts for only 5 per cent of the nation’s total distribution workforce. However, its portfolio of customers includes virtually all of the household-name blue-chip companies, so failure to meet any of our KPIs not only has a detrimental effect on customer relations but can genuinely impact on the successful running of the country.

Above and beyond
Despite the fact that the country entered recession in 2008, Wincanton recognised that in order to deliver genuine cost savings and performance improvement to its customers, it would require a more highly-skilled workforce. In addition to enhancing the company’s image, better training promised to deliver:

  •     less avoidable damage to vehicles, equipment and stock, thus saving costs;
  •     fewer injuries to workers and members of the public, resulting in lower insurance claims;
  •     increased efficiencies in processes, resulting in financial gain;
  •     greater capacity to adopt new technologies and methods; and
  •     improved employee motivation.

A typical logistics operation is split into two main operations: ‘within the fence’ – such as warehousing – and ‘outside the fence’ – such as road transport. Typically, each operation is regulated by different agencies (e.g. VOSA, HSE, Local Authorities), and employee skills differ, as do the everyday hazards faced by the workers. Consequently, a universal training programme is simply not practical.

Recognising this, Wincanton – at Board request – devised a twin-track approach to training and developing its employees, in conjunction with Edexel and the Learning and Skills Council.5 As part of this initiative, the warehouse ‘On Shift’ and the driver ‘On Route’ programmes were established and designed to further instil safety, environmental and operational effectiveness into the warehouse, managerial and professional driving workforces.

Where possible, the entire project was resourced internally on a cross-functional basis. It involved a mixture of people at all levels, including senior managers, first-line managers and shop-floor workers. Headed by the technical services director and the organisation development director, project team members included driver trainers, forklift instructors, safety advisors, HR advisors and marketing and communications personnel.

In total, more than 1000 person-days were involved in the preparation of the training materials that would be required to deliver this ambitious programme. Rolling out the initiative involved approximately 40,000 person-days of effort. All of this was over and above normal operational and legal training requirements.

‘On Route’
The first of the two approaches was aimed at driver-trainers, and was supported by communications material branded as ‘On Route’. There were ad-hoc driver-trainers in the business prior to 2006, when Wincanton formalised a coherent driver-training strategy. In light of lessons learnt, this was completely overhauled in 2009 and the new structure was put in place.

The trainers who were selected to deliver this part of the programme were key to the further development of our drivers’ skill-set, and hence their safety. One would imagine that for such a vital role the national training standards would be uncompromising but actually, the Driving Standards Agency simply required qualified driver-trainers to undertake the same training that they delivered themselves! Although this is an industry norm Wincanton felt it was nonsensical to make trainers sit through the same programme they have personally delivered to hundreds of other workers.

We realised that by not offering to upskill our trainers they could potentially feel undervalued and this would have a negative effect on the quality of training delivered to the drivers. As one trainer commented: “The old system didn’t work. As trainers, we weren’t learning anything new; our training just replicated the coaching we were giving to drivers. It was monotonous, uninspiring and inefficient.” 

To identify weaknesses and opportunities extensive stakeholder consultation was necessary. The project team consulted with:

  • the driver steering group – a group believed to be unique within the industry at the time. This gave senior drivers and trainers across the business the opportunity to share their views with project members. They quickly confirmed just how pedestrian and unproductive the existing approach was – especially as some trainers had completed the same course six times each!
  • industry bodies such as SAFED, the Freight Transport Association, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and others with best-practice experience within the sector; and
  • the Wincanton Group SHE committee.

The project team agreed that it needed to introduce personal development that wouldn’t just reiterate what trainers already knew but would grow their expertise and deliver it in an engaging format that:

  • communicated up-to-the-minute learning, training techniques and best practice from other organisations;
  • established a culture of knowledge and ‘experience-sharing’ between trainers; and
  • inspired trainers to be the best they can be.

The result of this work was 14 three-and-a-half-hour train-the-trainer modules, which could easily be ‘mixed and matched’. The modules make use of several learning methods, including:

  • internal classroom and practical training;
  • external training;
  • role play;
  • external assessment training through the Central Training Group;
  • seven hours of simulator training, recreating scenarios not enactable on the road; and
  • online study using e-learning materials.

Because of the varied nature of the company’s contracts and operations it was difficult to create a generic pack of training materials that could be delivered solely by e-learning means. So, while there is a place for it in the suite of training options, it became secondary to face-to-face dialogue.

Topics covered included:

  • dealing with situations like blow-outs and roll-overs;
  • legal compliance training – something traditionally aimed only at managers;
  • fuel-efficiency for trainers;
  • cutting-edge industry information and training techniques;
  • operational best practice;
  • defensive driving;
  • health and safety;
  • customer care;
  • digital tachographs;
  • regulatory authorities and enforcement;
  • driver induction; and
  • issues associated with speeding, and mobile-phone and seat-belt usage.

Since launching the new programme in 2009, Wincanton has successfully placed 158 driver trainers on the approved Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) register. They have delivered more than 55,000 hours of driver CPC coaching to a mixture of Wincanton and agency drivers. Moreover, the Wincanton head office at Chippenham was centrally accredited by JAUPT (Joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training) to deliver training, and 143 sub-centres located on Wincanton sites subsequently fell under the umbrella of the central accreditation.

In addition to ensuring its driver trainers are competent Wincanton has invested heavily in the skill base of its drivers. Driver CPC is aimed at professional drivers of large goods vehicles (LGV) and buses or coaches (PCV). It has been developed as a requirement of the EU Directive 2003/59, which is designed to improve the knowledge and skills of professional LGV and PCV drivers throughout their working life.

Driver CPC is good up to a limit; however, as with the national curriculum for schools, there are always other things people would benefit from, over and above the mandated topics. For example, driver CPC only requires 35 hours of compulsory training over a five-year period, which does not, in itself, allow sufficient time to develop drivers to the extent we would like. For this reason, Wincanton drivers also receive instruction that covers accident investigation, safe systems of work, causes and effects of accidents, and driver well-being.

‘On Shift’
The second of the two approaches was aimed at people working within the warehouse, and was supported by specially developed ‘On Shift’-branded materials. The original concept – a leadership development framework – was designed to address training and development needs within the warehousing environment. The programme is flexible and adaptable and can be applied to any work groups or teams. Concentrating on activities beneficial to career development focuses minds, behaviours and actions on sharing best practice throughout Wincanton, and develops managerial and site behaviours that drive continuous improvement.

The programme aims to:

  • create a consistent way of working;
  • improve health and safety performance and raise standards;
  • build relationships between sites and customers;
  • encourage collaboration;
  • improve efficiency and productivity; and
  • create opportunities for personal development.

Consisting of a set of performance indicators that managers can use across the warehouse operation, the programme provides employees with a career pathway that enables them to develop their career – from induction through to deputising at first-line manager level.

In addition to their regular progress discussions with site mentors and trainers, programme members receive a formal performance development appraisal twice a year. This is used to link current performance to development needs. New starters initially have a review at four and 12 weeks, and on a six-monthly basis thereafter, assuming they are at development level 2.

Learning and development objectives are agreed for all programme members. Levels 1 and 2 are mandatory for all warehouse employees, while level 3 and above are determined by the site. Individuals are selected on the basis of their performance, as a career development opportunity.

In order to improve performance standards, each site was granted a degree of autonomy and flexibility to set its own specific performance measures, based around customer requirements. In addition to allowing this degree of flexibility a set of common, measurable, health and safety minimum standards was applied across all Wincanton sites. Compliance with these standards is the overall responsibility of the site general manager; however, programme members are assigned components against which they are monitored.

Each programme member is required to maintain a Learning Log as a personal record of the learning they’ve received. Not only does this encourage them to own their own development but it can also be used as a discussion document at review time. Managers of these individuals are also required to encourage them to consider all experiential learning activities rather than just the academic ones. The log records developmental activities, such as the acquisition of new skills, research undertaken, new experiences, and the like. It is not used to record performance against routine tasks, such as order-picking rates.

Warehouse operatives are supported at three levels: ‘Warehouse Buddies’ are trained to demonstrate the safe use of standard warehouse equipment, and to help team members improve their safety performance; ‘Warehouse Mentors’ are more experienced and trained to deliver full induction, to disseminate risk-assessment findings, to support the warehouse manager in maintaining safety standards, and to provide feedback for colleagues to help them improve their performance; and ‘Warehouse Trainers’ write and deliver training programmes and help in the development and assessment of the previous two support groups.

The buddies, mentors and trainers all benefited professionally through making themselves more visible in the business. Most of them also derived a great deal of satisfaction in helping their colleagues.

This programme was supported by specific mechanical-handling equipment and manual-handling training manuals and best-practice guides. These materials were developed internally, but also based around external guidance and standards – for example, HSG6 and L117 from the HSE, and information from the International Powered Access Federation. These are intended for use by all line managers, and form part of the Wincanton box set for operational training guides.

These, in turn, are underpinned by a full suite of internally developed training modules – examples include: PPE use, accident procedures, evacuation, manual handling, pedestrian safety, security, team working, operational equipment, receiving/storing/dispatching goods, hygiene, assembling orders, recycling, and dock-leveller operation. Since the expertise for these activities was contained within the business, and the process was excellent development for the individuals involved, there was no need to use external expertise.

Logistical dream
Both the driver and warehouse programmes were launched in 2009 and, since then, almost 4000 drivers and 2500 warehouse operators have achieved NVQ accreditations. Employees are engaged and embrace the process, and many of them have enhanced their careers with the NVQ qualification and have moved into management roles.

Did the effort put in to making this exercise work? Well, in the first year of the scheme alone, Wincanton’s lost-time accident rate for the UK and Ireland fell by 7.5 per cent. It has subsequently fallen by a further 10.3 per cent. Vehicle incidents have fallen by 20 per cent since the start of the scheme, while employee survey results show a 22-per-cent increase in the level of employee engagement.

One of the key factors in making a success of this scheme was having buy-in from the senior management team; the fact that it was driven from the top was critical. Lessons from this project have also enabled Wincanton to move into the apprenticeship arena. Apprenticeships are being used to directly support the business, from new driving-team recruits to enhancing existing employees’
skills.     

References

  1. Labour market statistics, ONS, July 2011 – www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/lmsuk0711.pdf
  2. In the 2008/2009 Labour Force Survey, 264,600 people were employees in the industry sector ‘Freight Transport by Road’ (SIC 6024), and a further 149,900 in the ‘Storage and Warehousing’ sector (SIC 6312)
  3. 2005/06-2009/10 (provisional) HSE statistics for SIC Codes 6024 and 6312: 58 fatal injuries, 8687 non-fatal major injuries, and 41,552 over-3-day injuries
  4. http://assets.dft.gov.uk/statistics/ tables/ras30001.xls
  5. Replaced in 2009 by the Skills Funding Agency and Young People’s Learning Agency

Sean Cusack is Group SHE director at Wincanton plc.

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