Motormouth. Trying harder: Local trucking firm shows the way

Trying harder: Local trucking firm shows the way

– “In the driving seat is Neil Henderson, CEO of  Barloworld Transport. Seen with him are Grant Clarke, MD of Manline Freight (left) and Justin Blythe, MD of Manline Energy”

– “In the driving seat is Neil Henderson, CEO of Barloworld Transport. Seen with him are Grant Clarke, MD of Manline Freight (left) and Justin Blythe, MD of Manline Energy”

The road freight industry is not sexy. Nor is it a reliable means of getting rich quickly and staying that way. Done properly and responsibly, it’s hard and exacting work.

It isn’t popular with the general public either; there are too many crashes, too many breakdowns and too many barely-moving obstacles restricting traffic flow. There are also too many chancey operators that skimp on basic safety maintenance while paying untenable wages to barely employable drivers.

But the business is vital to commerce, industry and the goods in our shops. The only cost-effective alternative, rail, is unsuited to moving fuels, perishables and point to point deliveries. Think a tanker-load of milk to the dairy or 100 cartons of tomorrow’s special to the supermarket. Rail is not geared for that.

According to figures released by N3 Toll Concession, an average of 6579 trucks pass through the Midlands’ Mooi plaza each day. The majority, a mean of 4968, are big rigs with four or more load-bearing axles. Conservatively estimating 50 000 kg per vehicle, trucks transport more than 120 million tons on KZN roads each year. Extrapolated to the rest of the country, that figure comes to billions.
Numbers are huge and problems are countless but fortunately there are operators, in for the long haul, who try harder.
Speaking at a recent media briefing Neil Henderson, CEO of the Barloworld Transport group, put his firms’ case: “Our standards are high. We employ only about five-percent of the hundreds who come looking for work as drivers. That’s despite occasionally being short-staffed to the extent that we could, theoretically, hire more.
“The scary part is that many unsuitable applicants are already employed elsewhere. They park down the road and walk up to our gate, pretending to be out of work. After failing one or more of our screening, aptitude or health tests, they climb back into our competitor’s vehicles and continue their daily routines.”

Barloworld subsidiary Manline consists of three specialised divisions; Manline Freight (general cargo), Manline Energy (hazardous materials, chemicals and fuels) and Manline Mega that moves abnormal loads. The group employs about 3000 people, runs 1750 trucks and has numerous support vehicles. Adding a touch of hi-tech “glamour” are full-time computer programmers and cellphone applications specialists. Back-up facilities include on-site hostels, with qualified cooks, for out-of-town crews staying overnight; sophisticated workshops to maintain trucks, including manufacturers’ warranty work, and service trailers; training personnel; monitoring and control staff and a clinic. Apart from initial screening, this monitors drivers’ health. Those with chronic conditions such as HIV and AIDS, diabetes, or blood pressure issues are checked monthly to make sure that medications are taken properly and to intercede if necessary. Employees younger than 55 undergo full physical examinations annually while older staffers are examined twice a year.

Vetting of aspirant drivers takes about two hours. Preliminary checks determine whether licences are genuine, professional driving permits are current and employment histories are real. Thereafter, a full physical assessment identifies any major health issues. The final phase consists of aptitude and co-ordination tests.
Those who qualify – about three percent of hazardous cargoes applicants and up to seven percent of others – are enrolled in a five-week programme of classroom work, practical training and mentoring. Only when each candidate’s overseer is satisfied that the new recruit is ready, will he or she be allowed to take to the road solo.

But that does not mean unsupervised. In-cab cameras monitor driver actions and behaviour continually, vehicles are tracked by satellite around the clock, clients and office staff have 24/7 access and every trip ends with a debriefing. Then there are monthly braaifire meetings during which skills and attitudes are honed. Drivers accept the strong discipline and close scrutiny, knowing it’s for the sake of the job and that the firm is looking out for them. Thankfully, despite the multinational makeup of the workforce there’s no question of xenophobia. That’s because no-one has “stolen” someone else’s job; all were chosen strictly on merit and have proved their worth as professionals. The resulting spirit of “family” transcends borders and very few leave.

Cargo logistics is not sexy although it can be financially rewarding, but with reward comes responsibility and hard work. It is fraught with route- and vehicle challenges, weather problems, ever-changing client needs and Life’s little dramas. But it can be done right.
Pic: 3 MDs.jpg – “In the driving seat is Neil Henderson, CEO of Barloworld Transport. Seen with him are Grant Clarke, MD of Manline Freight (left) and Justin Blythe, MD of Manline Energy”
Pic: MANlineup.jpg – “Ready for hard and exacting work”