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Tweaking the toolbox

Ian Putzger finds out more about the training that is on offer in the air cargo industry and what additional learning resources may be needed

The course on air shipment of lithium batteries that the Airforwarders Association offers its members through a partnership with training provider GISTnet has enjoyed lively interest.


"When it comes to lithium batteries, a lot of our members are curious. They want to make sure they are in compliance," says Brandon Fried, the association's Executive Director.


IATA revamped its training on lithium batteries last year in light of the rapid rise of e-commerce and the associated risk of undeclared batteries showing up in such shipments. The updated offering has been very popular, reports Kim Kian Wee, Assistant Director of Training and Innovation.


Not everybody who wants to find out about lithium batteries intends to obtain a licence to handle hazardous materials. For many companies, especially those that are embracing e-commerce and just want to make sure they are adequately positioned to cope with rogue battery shipments, a five-day hazmat course would be overkill. Fortunately IATA offers a gamut of options.


"Often it is more awareness building than training, making sure that staff are cognisant of packaging requirements Wee says.


Dave Rogers, Head of Global Training at Swissport International, is looking ahead to proposed changes in the training curriculum for dangerous goods, notably the idea to have elements of the training course assigned to specific job functions, rather than all personnel taking a complete course. "While this has certain merit, it presents many challenges around delivering a standard which is recognised at all locations by all involved in the cargo supply chain," Rogers comments.


According to Fried, forwarders' interest in training drops off sharply when there is no pressing need. "If the government said, 'You have to have a certain course for security to be permitted to handle air cargo', my phone would ring off the hook," he reflects. "A lot of business owners in the forwarding industry will not look at training if it is not required."


At his organisation training is not as high on the agenda as he would like, as many members heavily stress the lobbying aspect. "We are an advocacy organisation, but I think we have to be a resource," he says. "The days of on-the-job learning are over. From a security, a hazmat and an operational perspective it's not possible any more."


Some industry executives have argued that traditional skills in the industry – such as how to maximise a load on a pallet – are on the wane, as airlines have moved to outsource much of the handling activity and forwarders are trying to be logistics providers.

"No doubt how you load a container, how you pack your cargo, could be the difference between profit and loss still, but I see less emphasis on this than in the past," remarks Fried, adding that the trajectory will likely continue. "The old guys still know. They show the young ones. But the old guys are leaving." 


Arguably the economic headwinds and downward yield pressure may have dampened companies' enthusiasm for training, but Wee sees no evidence of this – "We have not seen a decline in training. In fact, we have seen an increasing trend in requests for training," he says.


Wee suggests that outsourcing has merely shifted the training to handlers. That while airlines may have less need for training elements like ground handling, demand for such courses has not diminished, suggesting that the carriers' suppliers are now being trained instead.


Luzius Wirth, Executive Vice President Ground Handling and Group Services at Swissport, notes that handlers and airlines are striving to eliminate wasted efforts together. "If we do ramp safety training and the airline does that too, there is probably 90% overlap," he says. "We push to get our training accepted by the carrier, so we can reduce our training efforts on both sides."


Swissport takes on about 20,000 new employees a year, which drives a massive training effort at significant cost. As a result, the handler has developed a stringent approach marked by clear processes and operating procedures, Wirth says. >>

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