Job Creation in Transport


Much is currently being written and spoken about “job creation” the mythical panacea to “unemployment” but when all is said and done, as usual, much more will be said than  done, due the complex and intractable obstacles to achieving the objective.

It is an unfortunate fact that unless there is expansion of economic activity, “job creation” depends on the false proposition that people can be sustainably employed and paid when there is no need for their services. For jobs in the private sector, the proposition that “extra staff” can be employed does not hold true, and  the number of jobs depends on the amount of business activity and the proportion that can be affordably spent on staffing the whole range of necessary jobs.  The amount of labour used in each firm and industry depends on the specific processes and the demand for the goods or services.  There is a false premise, extant in some government circles, that firms can absorb “learners” into the operations and some how turn them into competent employees. In most jobs in business the incumbents are fully committed to performing their functions and have no time for training, even if they had the aptitude and motivation to do so.

The creation of more economic activity requires the availability of the resources, land, labour, capital and technology, combined into economic activities by  entrepreneurship and management, as well as sufficient markets for the goods and services that are produced.

As the transport of goods is a derived demand it can only expand if more goods are available to transport. This can only happen if there is a demand for the goods, whether imports, exports, or local production. South Africa has land, capital and technology, we therefore need to look at potential markets and then at the supply of labour, including entrepreneurs and management to expand the economy.

One primary limitation on industrial expansion in South Africa is availability of sufficient labour with adequate capabilities in terms of education, technical skills in all required disciplines, realistic income expectations, motivation to work, acceptance of discipline and pride of achievement. The reducing numbers of competent and experienced people and the lack of trainable workers is South Africa’s major obstacle to economic growth ( de Geus 1).  To compound the problem, nearly all equipment and technology that is imported into South Africa from industrialised countries relies on increasing sophistication and assumes the availability of highly trained technicians for effective use or repair.

Basic school and university education as well as technical training have been sabotaged at all levels by diluting the examination standards to achieve the mistaken objective of passing adequate numbers. The result is a large population of young people who suffer from the delusion that they are employable, but are technically, not actually trainable, due to lack of the fundamentals of education. The problem with partial  education is that, like deafness, it is difficult for people to comprehend how much they do not hear or know, or to appreciate the necessity of the missing skills.

After many years of deplorable education, a large proportion of the  work seekers are only usable in the industrial workplace as labourers and operators, as they cannot read the English of text books and manuals and have minimal mathematical ability. At the same time most of them assume that having  “passed” through the school system they can expect to be engaged for higher level jobs at “decent wages”. The illusion is unfortunately enhanced by the gloss of sophistication that is provided by fiddling with computers at school, playing with ipods, games, cellphones and computer programs such as facebook, mixit etc, none of which contribute to industrially usable knowledge.

In all forms of transport there are a whole range of technical disciplines that require extensive study and practical application to gain experience. To achieve internationally acceptable standards of performance, mechanics, auto electricians, pump technicians, boilermakers, panel beaters, pilots, IT technicians, seamen, loco drivers, fitters, and many other trades and occupations, require entrance capabilities that include language comprehension (must be able to read technical training books, workshop manuals, instructions and product specifications); computer skills; mathematical ability (must calculate pressures, tolerances, read micrometers, gauges etc); manual and physical capabilities(hand-eye coordination, dexterity etc); personality characteristics (neatness, precision, responsibility, tenacity) ; and be willing to spend about 5 years of apprenticeship learning their trade. The Sectional Training Authority (SETA) approach and methodology has, predictably, absorbed a lot of the potential training resources but aggravated the problems.

In South Africa we once had more than  30,000 trade apprentices but now have less that 3000 and a large proportion of the learners enrolled do not undergo selection for suitability, motivation and capability so they do not finish the courses and drop out due to lack of interest or difficulty in understanding the material.

The problem is aggravated by the  increasingly complex technology of imported transport equipment and decreasing availability of skilled artisans. The overhaul of a modern truck engine or gearbox to factory standard is beyond the capability of all but a limited number of workshops, there are limited numbers of trained computer electronics diagnosticians,  and the results of sub-standard workmanship are very expensive failures and down-time. For major diagnostic problems and breakdowns it often pays to fly technicians in from Europe rather than take chances. To compound the problem the numbers of really competent artisans with recent factory training, in fully equipped workshops, available for training of apprentices, is very low, and reducing rapidly.

The selection and training of drivers for extra heavy vehicle combinations is also a highly technical field in most countries, but in South Africa it is left to local driving schools that train driver candidates with taxis and then 3 ton rigids. The learners then go for a driving test and are issued with a licence to drive. Surveys of trucking companies show that less than ten percent of driver applicants with legal driver’s licenses, can actually drive a typical HGV  and even less are employable due to total lack of any experience on the road. Establishment of real driver training facilities is very expensive with the trucks costing well over R1.0 million and spatial requirements, workshops, and equipment  also running into even larger sums. Only a few of the biggest professional carriers have the resources to build and equip really good facilities, but they are obviously used only for their in-house trainees.

A professional driver selection process  should start with personality tests to determine suitability for the job. According to insurance statistics, HGV drivers should be at least 25 years old (accident risk reduces with maturity) ; the personality characteristics required are maturity, tolerance, carefulness, respect for authority, as well as  physical fitness, abstinence from alcohol and drugs and an appreciation of the role of the driver in the firm’s activities. Because transport operations take place out in the public domain, the need for high performance standards is not negotiable, whether operators of planes, trucks, trains or ships. The presence of HIV in the age group that should provide the driver population is a further complication; drivers who are suffering from the physical deterioration induced by HIV should not be driving long-distance vehicles.

The  lack of suitable South African truck driver candidates has resulted in employment of large numbers of foreign drivers (more than 30% in some areas), which has kept the wheels turning but could pose further problems as immigration authorities apply restrictions and local unions flex their muscles. Stability and growth in the region will also reduce the future supply of immigrants to South Africa.

In the area of supervision and management there are also problems with finding suitably competent staff. The National Diploma in Road Transport Management was created by Rand Afrikaans University( now University of Johannesburg) as a joint venture by the Department of Transport and the trucking industry. The course  was intended to provide the “Competent Persons” required to manage road transport operations. The courses have graduated over 30,000 people since inception in 1980, but the lack of an official requirement for competence, lack of registration of competent persons and the lack of a register of Transport Operators has effectively nullified a lot of the effectiveness of the qualification. The result is the deplorable level of compliance with RTQS, the presence of large numbers of “backyard operations”,  and the total inability of the authorities to enforce operator quality in road freight transport.

With regard to road transport operations, the National Road Traffic Act includes all the necessary regulations for effective quality control and will always provide the legally enforceable  standards for the “Road Transport Quality System” (RTQS) as the basis for policing the industry.  Introduction of AARTO , RTMS, and other “schemes” are dependent on enforcement of the NRTA and will have minimal impact until the capabilities of the enforcement authorities are improved and the fundamental issues of road transport operator competence and registration is addressed.

In other modes of transport, for jobs such as railway management, ships officers, pilots,  and air traffic controllers as well as senior operations and technical management there are desperate shortages and minimal  available training to correct the deficiencies. The failure to make adequate provision for transport training has led to placement of untrained or part-trained personnel in all modes, with attendant cost implications. The skills deficiency situation will lead to a heavy future dependence on imported foreign skilled personnel  at all levels in the transport system, if they are available and if they can be afforded. At the same time the issue of selective employment provides continual inducement for many skilled artisans, draughtsmen and engineers  to seek employment in neighbouring countries and overseas.

The shortage of skills is having a severe impact on efficiency and costs, and the unavailability of suitable local trainees to develop the necessary numbers of skilled and managerial personnel will continue to frustrate the objective of “job creation” as well reducing efficiency and increasing costs.

Reference 1 :

Creating Human Potential: The first step to national success

Extract from paper by Arie de Geus – London School of Business; formerly Coordinator of Group Planning; Royal Dutch Shell.

Leadership and Learning Conference : Centre for Innovative Leadership

– Pretoria – 13 May 1991

Nick Porée