All Purpose Transport: fit for the future

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


Five years since implementing a workforce development program, All Purpose Transport's future is looking a whole lot brighter

 

General manager Paul Kahlert at the All Purpose Transport Brisbane HQ

With the transport sector facing a new era of unprecedented change as digitisation and customer expectations evolve, many operators are tightening their purse strings and reassessing their transport needs.

However, All Purpose Transport (APT) has a different game plan. The Queensland-based family-owned business has poured thousands of dollars into its workforce over the last five years.

APT general manager Paul Kahlert has ensured the company’s turnover continues to increase by offering all workers the opportunity to upskill through training as a way of value adding.

The company has always been of the opinion that having the best people equals the best business. The privately owned company, now led by second-generation members, has continued with the program despite the significant funding reductions occurring with the National Workforce Development Fund’s demise of the past year.

APT has established a commercial relationship with Queensland TAFE to jointly fund the program, fully qualifying its 300 staff, of which 220 are owner-drivers. They all receive formal qualifications in their field of expertise to a minimum level of certificate three.

With eyes set on overcoming main challenges – finding and retaining talent, and keeping up to speed with technology – Kahlert says the program creates a well-trained workforce that has led up to a 100 per cent increase in some transport divisions’ turnover.

APT moved to its new 12,000sqm Berrinba warehouse two years ago, which is significantly larger than the previous 4000sqm Rocklea facility. It has brought in new customers, with existing clients also taking more space within the new warehouse.

"They’ve realised that partnering with us is a better outcome," Kahlert says.

"We’ve consolidated customers — where they would have used us as an offshoot they now use as a distribution centre.

"From a transactional point of view, we’re going into thousands of people’s homes a week doing home delivery across our business for customers such as IKEA, King Living, Harvey Norman and Domayne Furniture.

"We’ve also picked up the milk distribution around Brisbane – that business now goes into 600 deliveries a night, where over 50,000 litres of milk a night gets delivered."

The number of refrigerated vehicles has also increased by 200 per cent over the last five years – from five to 35 trucks and vans.

"On a divisional-type basis we’ve seen a growth in refrigerated/chilled business in five years and in our new furniture business, which is our home delivery-type of business, we’ve gone from roughly doing 400 home deliveries a week to 1000," Kahlert says. "That’s over 100 per cent increase in turnover."

Other areas of business such as trailer work, has increased by 40 per cent, with a customer base of 600. The new warehouse consists of three gas forklifts, four high reach forklifts, five electric pallet movers and one order picking machine.

APT’s software system has been developed in-house for its customers, with SAP Warehouse Management System and Manhattan also present.

About 300 people work for Queensland-based All Purpose Transport

Employer of choice

Kahlert never imagined business would be as good thanks to a simple project.

"The whole idea behind it was to reduce the turnover of drivers and workers," he says.

"By providing a skilling pipeline for them we were able to create job security.

"Getting a well-trained workforce means you know how to allocate work properly – therefore the trucks got fed with the right amount of work and that kept the retention. We were also able to grow their fleet as well because, by us creating the noise in the market about us doing the skilling program, we then created a pipeline of people who wanted to come and work for us.

"We found that, when we were putting ads on Seek, people were coming to us saying: ‘You do the skilling program, we want to come and work for you.’ So we became the employer of choice."

He has seen many former Australian Defence Force personnel apply for truck-driving positions, saying majority of them are in their early 30s and highly trained.

"We find we’re getting workers coming to us now that weren’t a traditional truckie," he says.

"We find that we have used different ways of attracting owner-drivers; we’re using Gumtree now whereas traditionally it used to be out of a newspaper – now we’re also using more social media type of stuff."

APT has also been receiving interest from first-choice employees – those who chose the transport and logistics industry as first preference.

"That’s the young people. Because it’s actually a good-paying industry, we are now finding we are getting first-choice people."

Those who started in junior positions five years ago have climbed up into more senior roles, with up to 10 per cent of the workforce progressing within the business. An average worker costs between $2000-3000 to train.

"That’s a very big incentive not to have a turnover of staff, so you actively want the management team looking at what our retention strategy is," Kahlert says.

There is a 6 per cent improvement in staff engagement each year, according to APT’s staff-engagement survey. The company’s motto ‘best people, best business’ can only stay true if the company continues to invest in its employees, Kahlert adds.

"If you do nothing about training and development of people then that doesn’t hold water," he says. "Five years ago, seeing your delivery come into your house didn’t exist – whereas that’s normal now.

"That type of technology needs to have people in the offices with very good skill sets. You need to train and develop those people because they need to also understand how to allocate trucks.

"It’s very hard to have them come with both IT background and logistics background so what we’re saying is you come to us with the IT background and we’ll skill and develop you on the logistics background."

The new warehouse has 13 forklifts on site

Refined System

APT will be launching its new IT upgrade on August 1, which will have the latest and greatest of ‘Uber-type’ technology.

"The change is coming; customers no longer just accept the stuff that’s being delivered – they want KPI reports, delivery on-time reporting, activity reporting, cost reporting; all of that now has been developed in our old system but is a little clunky so we’re bringing a new system in to get all of that more refined," Kahlert says.

APT has been modifying its current IT system over the past five years since commencing the workforce development program to keep in touch with technology and trends in the industry.

The idea was instigated following Kahlert’s return from the USA in 2015, where he spent three weeks studying the transport sector and observing the processes of mid-sized transport firms. What he noticed was the increase in skilling and development programs being undertaken by Americans.

"I identified through the ISS fellowship program that the biggest issue America had was the ageing workforce and a massive driver shortage – much worse than what Australia has, to the point where they were paying workers up to $6000 as a start-up bonus to just try and get drivers into trucks," Kahlert says.

"The big thing that opened my eyes was the problems they experienced were similar in Australia – they have a very fragmented way of skilling and developing their people.

"There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and a lot of the businesses I’ve visited were smaller, more-agile businesses that had taken on the skilling project like we have.

"If they didn’t do anything about skilling and developing their people, their business would end up as dinosaurs.

"So the people I visited were doing their own internal programs and they were doing college programs."

All of APT's staff have been fully qualified as part of the workforce development program

Keep growing

Despite the competitive industry becoming increasingly cutthroat, Kahlert says the reason APT is still gaining new customers is because of its reputation. The company receives up to 15 inquiries a week through its recruitment website from drivers interested in joining the company.

"I think we are seeing very much the last 18 months being around doing it cheaper; I was getting very concerned about the quality of getting it done cheaper and the pressure to cut corners was getting very high," Kahlert says. "Probably since January we’ve seen a bit of a turn where now customers are using the word partnership and ask: ‘How do we partner and make it a sustainable partnership?’

"Because, unfortunately, the industry was doing a race to the bottom where everyone was cutting each other’s throats to try and do it cheaper and that’s not a sustainable business model. We’re now in a situation where growth is the only way for us to go forward – if the business isn’t growing then you’re failing."

APT plans on expanding its services into New South Wales and rest of Queensland – it’s currently only focused on the south-east Queensland market. It expects to open depots within the next two years.

Lessons

The main lesson APT has learned over the past five years is the loss of a major retail customer. By putting a lot of its energy into that one client, it did take some focus off its whole customer base, Kahlert explains.

"Sometimes you find that the big fishes do sap a lot of resources out of you and also, by their size, can dictate the pricing, so therefore you are sometimes pressured commercially," he says.

"The benefit we’ve found is we’ve got a much better balance across our business where we’re not as exposed to large customers where we had that massive exposure with a retailer."

The relationship came to an end as APT couldn’t offer a national solution.

"It simply came down to the fact we weren’t a national player, that we were a Queensland-focused business. It didn’t allow us to play with the big boys."

APT general manager Paul Kahlert and finance manager Alex White

Next generations

Founded in 1975 by husband-and-wife team Trevor and Pam White, APT is based on an owner-driver model and offers a range of services including courier, taxi, truck, storage and third-party logistics (3PL) warehousing.

White’s daughter Belinda Polglase leads the company as executive manager and has been in charge of the workforce development program. Her brother, Alex White, finance manager, works closely with Polglase and Kahlert, making it a "truly second generation business".

"Our big challenge now is to get another 40 years in front of it and along of doing that we’ll be looking at expanding our footprint into the Queensland and New South Wales market," Kahlert says. "I think the best thing that we could have possibly done was make Belinda the project manager for the skilling program because she got to see first-hand if you do something a bit innovative the benefits you’ll get from it.

"From being a traditional type of trucking business to trying to do something innovative has put Belinda in a better stand, hence why we’re investing in a new IT technology base because we can see that if we don’t continue to do something innovative then we’ll die.

"The advantage I’ve got in both Belinda and Alex is that they’re both in their early 40s. So therefore, from my perspective, I’ve seen that by getting them up to speed, the next 10 years will get them to a point where we’ll then be bringing through another generation of young people in the business."

The business continues to diversify, with three of the 10 divisional managers being women.

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