APT: All purpose professionals

Joining forces with Transform, the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Body for Queensland, APT will have 100 per cent of its 80 employees and 180 subcontractors reach qualifications by 2013; taking the company to the leading edge in professionalism.

“Project APT addresses the mantra we have had in place for decades at APT. We know that having the best people equals getting the best business; and this is a step forward to recognise the skills of our people and establish ourselves firmly as an industry employer of choice,” says APT General Manager, Paul Kahlert.

“Being the first company in Australia to reach this goal will be a major achievement. Our workforce consists of 80 employees and 180 owner-drivers who are all included in this opportunity. When we asked our people if they wanted to participate, we were more than pleased to have 100 per cent respond positively to the idea.”

APT is a company differing from most in transport. Privately owned it was formed in 1975 by Trevor and Pam White who commenced from an office in a bedroom of their home. At that time Trevor was doing a milk run and selling insurance, but he recognised transport would never really be affected by the economy, simply because people would always need the transport task regardless. He realised transport would be recession-proof and identified a taxi truck business would a viable business due to both business and domestic customer needs. It has grown from there.

“That was 37 years ago and since then the company has experienced continual growth,” Paul says. “Last year we turned over more than $30 million and in the next five years I expect to take it to more than double that, something that can only be achieved through having the right people with the right qualifications.

“It is now a second generation business with the owners’ son the finance manager and their daughter the project manager and I have the privilege of being with them for 24 years after coming in on a junior level and being in my current role for 10 years. Our senior management team has been in place for a long periods of time.

“We have blue chip companies we deal with such as IKEA, BP, Queensland Health, King Furniture, Rheem Australia and QR National while our biggest customer is Target, the retail giant. We are a small company dealing with big companies and I believe people like to deal with us because we are a small company rapidly able to develop services to meet exacting needs, boutique solutions if you like. The fact we can attract blue chip customers means we are doing something right.”

APT won the national Target Supplier of the Year Award in 2011, up against companies like Patrick Logistics and DHL, certainly an accolade for what Paul describes as a ‘small boy in with the big players’. The company has depots at Loganlea, Coopers Plains, Rocklea and on the Queensland Sunshine Coast and it identifies the need to attract and retain the best talent in transport on offer.

Another reason the company decided to implement the training project is simple, it places an emphasis on developing people and skills, but when the company recently created a new division it was apparent there was nobody having qualifications within the ranks to take up the head position.

“It was a senior role with responsibilities that required a person with qualifications. If we are going to further develop and double our business we will have 360 truck operators and obviously have to grow our executives to manage the business, so the project will reap benefits for now and into the future,” Paul says.

APT has an owner-driver model that requires those joining the company to pay a $6000 bond. Paul says this has some real positives for the owner-operator and the APT business. “If an owner-driver is going to pay $6000 he won’t be a cowboy. We attract the cream because those people have financial stability and the ability to fund their business, which makes them small businessmen or women versus just a truck driver.

“We recruit at the highest level. It is the responsibility of the divisional manager to recruit people, therefore the relationship is with that manager and not with a HR person, so subsequently if the person has an issue, be it personal or in business, then he has a relationship with that manager.

“When that divisional manager goes out and sells a service he can be assured he has the right person capable of delivering that service. The bloke is not going to turn up in a battered old truck, not give a damn and not handle the freight in the best manner, rather we have the best. It goes back to the fact established in 1975 that the best people equal the best business,” he says.

“We entered into the project with Transform as we need the most skilled workforce to enable the business to grow. We are not advertising for people, we want people to come to us and recognise us as an employer of choice; we want to attract good people by our reputation. The dollar will attract a person but will not keep them, our point of difference is we do pay excellent rates but we also create a solid company for our people.

“We are also receiving support from the Transport and Logistics Skills Council with funding from the Federal Government’s National Workforce Development Fund, Metropolitan South Institute of TAFE and MEGT to deliver this extensive program.”

Transform is the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Body for Queensland.  It is hosted by the Department of Transport and Main Roads with work led by the Transport and Logistics Workforce Advisory Group Queensland (TLWAG-Q).

“The program is a great outcome of what can be achieved when everyone works together. We also want to share our experience with other industry employers and help them join us in raising the professionalism of our vibrant and diverse industry.”

This has been echoed by Jo Hammond, Distribution Centre Manager, Coles Logistics and TLWAG-Q Industry Leader is impressed with Project APT. “Skilling for our industry is so important, it raises our profile as a professional industry, diverse and capable. What APT is doing is an industry first and will no doubt raise the bar for all of us across industry to look at how we develop our people.”

Transform Director, Louise Perram Fisk, points out that within the road transport industry the top five companies are those who develop their people, yet strangely enough this is often the least targeted area for many companies.

“Retaining people has long been the bane of companies in transport but those who address this through giving the workforce necessary qualifications achieve a high success rate in this area,” Louise says. “APT is already finding that qualifications are leading to the company being an employer of choice and it will continue to do so.”

Paul Kahlert says many instances of recognition of the qualifications of people are overlooked, for example skills acquired through on-going technology introduced into the industry. “There has been a huge technology shift in recent years. Our company has invested in a lot of new technology within the business and for the drivers, yet many do not recognise this equipment requires qualifications,” Paul says.

“The average age of our drivers is probably 45 and if we are to attract young people into the industry we must move with the times. There has also been a shift in workplace health and safety considerations, for example gone are the days when you asked a driver to shift a pallet weighing 1.5 tonnes, you just can’t do that to a driver, particularly the older people.

“Our divisions include courier vans, taxi trucks ranging from small trucks to semi trailers, removals which does everything from domestic removals through to warehouse relocations as well as new furniture. We have our Sunshine Coast operation, warehousing with 20,000 odd square metres under roof. The best thing is our reputation and we get a lot of referral work.

“Our drivers pay $6,000 dollars to join the company and treat what they do as their business, so at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon he might want to go home to watch the football, but if I ring him and ask for him to do another job I have 6,000 reasons why he will. They are professional business people,” Paul says.

He also points out that in all respects the company is over compliant, admitting that at times perhaps drivers are driven nuts by that fact, but he says that contributes to the attraction of blue chip clients.

“The drivers look at requirements and possibly say this is more paperwork to do, but it is a vital part of our compliance package that gives us the opportunity to go to our customers and tell them that all our people are professional drivers with national certified and recognised qualifications,” Paul says.

“What drivers do on the road every day is a lot more than our warehouse staff or administration people do. A driver has a huge number of decisions to make, deadlines to meet, electronic data to attend to on his in-vehicle screen, obligations to secure a load correctly, manage dangerous goods, maintain legal axle weights. A driver is a mathematician, a politician because he has to keep customers and fleet managers happy and after all that has to go home and be a businessman asking did I make a dollar today?”

The company has never had a fatal vehicle accident or one serious enough to warrant the hospitalisation of a driver. The company has an annual safety audit and another example of its approach to professionalism is the fact it has the highest safety record in Australia, with systems and processes highly regarded.

New people joining the company will complete a three-month probationary period and the expectation is they will have recognition of prior learning (RPL). According to Paul is they are not in a position to RPL then there is a problem.

“A condition of employment is within six months of being in the business people must have RPL keeping qualifications at a high standard. Our people want to reach high standards and when we first announced Project APT there was 100 per cent of people signed up for it within five days. We have an annual event where we tell our people what the business plan is for the coming year, keeping them informed and there was a desire by everybody to gain the qualifications.

“Our bookkeeper is an example, this lady has been with us for 10 years and does an excellent job but had no formal qualifications, but now she is aware people from outside All Purpose Transport recognise she has been qualified,” he says.

Project APT started early this year and the company is the first in Australia to have the entire staff qualified to above Certificate III, making it the most qualified transport business in the country.

“It is a million dollar investment to undertake the RPL process, and you can probably add another $200,000 when you add things like time out for our people to undertake the process resulting in loss of productivity, but in saying that we do not have an issue what that. It is all about giving our people and our business to achieve the best in the transport business,” Paul concludes.

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