Apartnership between State-owned freight company Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and the University of Johannesburg has resulted in a tailor-made training programme for Transnet that seeks to improve its employees’ understanding of the logistics industry’s needs, comple- menting Transnet’s R300-billion infra- structure programme.
“Through the training programme, the university visited many TFR and other suppliers’ sites, including coal mines, as rail is a major route and means of transport for coal to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal for export,” says University of Johannesburg Department of Transport and Supply Chain Management chair- person Professor Jackie Walters.
He says the university visited the various sites to better understand their business models, needs and concerns to ensure that the training programme will assist in the upskilling of Transnet’s current and future employees.
“It was necessary that we visit these sites, as TFR services these customers. A better understanding of the customer’s business and needs will help Transnet employees create better and more efficient logistics networks,” explains Walters.
He says the main purpose of the training programme is to educate Transnet’s employees on the customers’ expectations of them in the supply chain, and how important everyone in the system is. “We looked at all the components in the value chain, from the wheel tapper to personnel at strategic levels, and how important it is for all the components to work together.”
Meanwhile, Walters points out that Transnet’s infrastructure programme has the ability to be a successful project, provided certain key areas are reviewed.
“The supply chain is only as good as its weakest link. You can invest billions, but if there is a weak link that you cannot control in the logistics system, you will have a problem. It is important that Transnet’s programme approaches this challenge systematically.”
Further, he says people play one of the most important roles in any business or industry, as they are key to customer interaction and satisfaction.
Currently, railway services are not always optimally designed to meet clients’ needs, which is why road freight and logistics have enjoyed such significant success over the past decade or so, says Walters.
He says, although transporting goods by road is more expensive than rail, cargo owners continue to use the services of road logistics. “Cargo owners look at the total cost of transporting goods. If it is going to cost a mine more in the long run to use rail, owing to inventory and storage costs and time constraints, in most instances, they turn to road freight.
“The railway industry also needs to improve customer interaction and service delivery. The training programme seeks to tackle these issues, which indicates that Transnet has realised the need for a systematic approach going forward. I am optimistic that our programme, among others, will assist rail in functioning better as a result,” states Walters.
Meanwhile, he stresses the importance of South Africa’s logistics infrastructure being seamlessly integrated with that of other African countries and that it could have significant benefits for Africa’s economy.
“There is a commodities boom on the African continent and, currently, the Southern African Development Community is pushing for the development of efficient transport and logistics corridors to boost trading conditions among African countries. An efficient logistics pipeline linking various African cities and ports will provide endless opportunities for economic growth in Africa.”
Walters highlights that well-managed transport corridors will result in increased and faster trading among countries, higher turnovers and lower costs.
However, he states that solutions aimed at border efficiency are a critical aspect that needs to be investigated and implemented to improve trading among African countries. “Inefficiencies such as multiple agencies and corruption currently experienced at the border posts of some African countries cause significant revenue and time loss.”
Going forward, Walters says, although the University of Johannesburg offers undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in logistics management, there is room for enhancement to ensure that logistics training focuses on different sectors and industries .
“In future, we hope to specialise in certain industries and this is something we are working on. However, we do currently provide learners at undergraduate level with the generic foundation of logistics and supply chain management.
“We are also working closely with industry to secure sponsorships for students, as universities are limited to a certain extent regarding resources,” says Walters.
He adds that the university is also working with international universities, such as the Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, to offer rail operations training for TFR. This is a new programme, in addi- tion to the logistics programme already offered, and focuses on rail operations. “We customised the UK Institution of Railway Operator’s training material to suit South Africa’s rail environment.” Partici- pants that complete this training programme will eventually receive a degree from Glasgow Caledonian University.
Walters says there is a lot of opportunity for job creation within the logistics sector, including in the mining industry. However, he believes much more can be done at secondary school level to inform students about the opportunities that logistics training offers.
“I am not sure that school leavers are aware of the opportunities within the logistics industry. The chances of being employed after graduating are exceptionally high, and more needs to be done to make people aware of this.”
Transnet’s training programme, facili- tated by the University of Johannesburg at the School of Rail, at Esselen Park, is currently ongoing.