Role of the transportation professional changing

CINCINNATI – Despite the recession-driven drawdown in freight capacity, especially among for-hire and private carriers alike, the need for experienced transportation professionals has never been greater, according to one industry veteran, and that need will only expand in the future

CINCINNATI – Despite the recession-driven drawdown in freight capacity, especially among for-hire and private carriers alike, the need for experienced transportation professionals has never been greater, according to one industry veteran, and that need will only expand in the future.

“[Freight] transportation has a more diversified and complex role than ever before; as a result, it requires more specific tools and talents than ever before,” said Larry Ahlers, vp-transportation for global building products company Oldcastle Architecture during the keynote speech here at the National Private Truck Council’s annual meeting.

(See a video of Ahler's keynote speech)

In Ahlers opinion, cost has been the driving factor throughout much of the freight world for a long time now, obscuring many other pieces of the transportation puzzle that are going to become far more critical.

“Management of transportation is best served by peoples experienced across a range of five key issues: safety, capacity, service, cost and technology,” he said. “Often there’s only been a focus on cost alone, but cost needs to be placed into context. Frequently, efforts to reduce [freight] transportation costs in the past occurred without any appreciation for those other issues.”

Take the impending implementation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) program in November this year, Ahlers said.

“If this isn’t a major issue for fleets in the next few months, it will be in 2011; it’s going to have a huge impact on our business,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical to run safely, for private fleets and contracted carriers alike, as the liability if you do not is huge. If you don’t think the ramifications of using unsafe carriers won’t come back on you once CSA 2010 is in place, you are sadly mistaken.”

Capacity is another growing issue. “If you don’t have enough capacity, it doesn’t matter what the service levels or price is,” Ahlers said. “We are going to have a driver shortage and a capacity shortage in transportation, so we need people that are able to plan around those variables.”

That means using a broader mix of transportation services than before, he stressed. For example, Ahlers indicated short hauls below 150 miles, or hauls requiring specialized equipment, demanding delivery times and multiple stops, to name but a few examples, may increasingly become the purview of private fleets, while longer more generalized hauls may be dominated by dedicated contract carriage providers and for-hire capacity providers.

“It can’t be a ‘them against us’ mindset anymore, for in today’s world a private fleet can’t be everything to everybody – and neither can for-hire transportation,” Ahlers said. “That’s why flexibility and responsiveness are well-rewarded when change occurs.”

That’s especially true when it comes to the technology used in the transportation sector, he noted. “The time used to be we established five year business plans we reviewed annually to make sure we were on track. You can’t do that when the technology you’re using in your operation today is expected to be obsolete in 18 months,” Ahlers said.

“We’re tied heavily to technology in this business and will become only more so,” he said. “That’s why even three year business plans are now considered ‘long term’ and if you are not reviewing them every quarter, you’re doing so every six months. This is but one reason why we’re going to need experienced professionals as we move forward in transportation more than ever before.”

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