Trucking in South Africa is a very tough and challenging business! While South Africa is a unique fleet market, I surmise that there are similarities with the U.S.
It would be interesting to hear if management in the U.S. might express similar views of the fleet manager position as illustrated in the following portrayal or if you might have found yourself in a comparable situation.
My advice to someone who is currently working at a dead-end job and decides to enter the fleet market is to stop and think again. Here’s a real-world example, at the last quarterly management meeting you might be harshly criticized for overspending your maintenance and repair budget (M&R) but otherwise achieved revenue target. While the CFO made a big issue out of overspend on M&R budget – little else mattered — like maintaining fleet capacity to achieve target revenue.
What was ignored in your response is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic all capital expenditures were deferred, and one vehicle just happened to be marked for replacement. You tried to explain this at the meeting only to experience more negative criticism – welcome to a career in the South African road transport industry! Principally, when the vehicle replacement budget was deferred, you should have immediately taken this vehicle out of service.
Okay, so you messed up and have taken the fall, but it is not going to end there as you have been branded by senior management as a “big-spender.” By now you are wondering what you should have done in this situation. Frankly, you should have simply removed the vehicle from service due to a suspect engine failure, thus shifting responsibility up a notch for your manager to carry.
Well you are in a vulnerable position now as your career prospects could have stalled in this company. With job vacancies scarce, what is your next choice? Accept the situation and do not show any remorse or attitude “cause the party isn’t over yet.”
Be Prepared to Restart Your Career
So, you’ve lost your stripes and earned the reputation of being a “big spender,” but you must avoid showing any attitude and stop wasting time. Move to restart your career with a new employer, only this time you are going to carefully consider your situation before deciding to apply for any position by closely researching available posts; their terms and conditions of employment, and where you might fit into this organization.
Begin by treating a prospective company as a customer not an employer. This means carefully preparing your pitch – what value proposition can you offer? Next, how much do you know about this company? Begin your research by reading up on the potential employer. Which agency, if any, has been contracted to fill a vacancy, then explore the opportunities.
Ask your close contacts what they have to say about this company, and how it operates its fleet as well as any other important information regarding the industries it services. Next, where do think you can fit in the organization? What can you offer as an incentive that favors your experience over perhaps dozens of other potential applicants? To whom are you likely to report and where is this person positioned in the company hierarchy?
Most importantly, why is this position vacant and what are the longer-term career possibilities? Remember you are planning your future career not simply seeking employment.
Five Primary Skill Sets
Road transport is perceived as little more than being a driver and truck-and-load by the majority of people, including those who make it a career and, I would go so far as to include investors within the industry. So, overcoming this perception is probably the greatest challenge of all when planning your career. Having spent most of my life in the industry, I can vouch for this.
Apart from normal business administration competencies, road freight transport involves five primary skill sets – marketing and sales; road transport operations; truck driving; fleet maintenance engineering, and precise scheduling of vehicles to move shippers’ loads when and where required.
It is also entirely a service-driven industry - moving loads over distance [ton-miles] on a public road facility. It is also a capital intensive service industry requiring an asset turn of at least two to justify a rapidly depreciating investment.
Effective permutation of these five skill sets creates enormous challenges as it must be accomplished on a public road along with light motor vehicles and pedestrians. Furthermore, once accomplished, without a balanced counter flow demand for transport, the vehicle must be directed to an available load or return empty.
The vehicle must be suitable to accommodate the load relative to its payload capacity size. As there is no possibility to store this “service” [road transport] it becomes an almost impossible “real-time” management challenge.
Hugh Sutherland, Chief Discussion Officer, TalkingTrucks.co.za
Johannesburg, South Africa, [email protected]