FTA on a mission for SME members

“The opportunity and the challenge is to move into those that are purely van operators and don’t have a compliant mindset.”

This could include companies who predominantly run cars with a smaller number of vans, although Wells stresses that the FTA has no designs on becoming a car fleet association.

“The end result is to drive up standards in the van sector, applying O-Licence principles to vans,” he adds.

Inspections are a key element. Wells questions whether it is right that a three-year-old 3.5-tonne vehicle need only be tested once a year during the MOT.

“Good practice is to inspect it more regularly,” he says. “We want to promote good operators that are doing this already.”

The FTA has often raised the spectre of European legislation, with rule makers deliberating whether to reduce the weight limit for O-Licences below 3.5 tonnes.

“We want to avoid that bureaucracy by showing that the industry can regulate itself,” Wells says.

This is where Van Excellence comes in. Launched in 2010 to raise fleet standards across the industry, it currently  has 100 accredited members, with more going through  the audit process.

Not surprisingly, the early adopters were the larger, professionally run operators, many of which were instrumental in shaping the standard. The key for the FTA is to encourage smaller operators to sign up.

One way it is looking to achieve this is with the help of van manufacturers promoting the initiative.

“They are saying to their customers this is what good governance looks like,” Wells says. “It’s getting the message out to smaller fleets.”

He is also buoyed by a growing trend for large construction companies to push the standard out to their sub-contractors as he looks to double Van Excellence membership within the next two years.

“That’s good news; once it becomes a procurement requirement, it will get its own momentum,” he says.

The inspection process will be simplified with the imminent launch of an FTA fleet management tool in conjunction with Fleet Check. The software helps fleets manage their van operations, including driver licence checks, MOT check and governance, but also enables the FTA to do remote auditing for Van Excellence.

In addition to growing its van membership, the FTA is looking to attract more companies which operate a low number of O-Licence vehicles. Many take compliance and governance seriously but struggle with the resource required to employ an in-house fleet team.

“An organisation like the FTA can step in and help to provide those services,” says Wells.

Evidence of a growing need for companies to rely on outside help when it comes to compliance comes with the rising take-up of FTA services by members.

Vehicle inspection is most popular, followed by tachograph analysis. This service is now supported by a new tacho analysis tool which brings in the inspection service data with the ultimate aim of become an O-Licence management tool. It is also transferrable to vans. Other popular services include training and consultancy, with FTA benchmarking members against set standards to improve their operations.

While the target for growth is the 10-100 vehicle operators, FTA “is happy to help” companies with fewer than 10 vehicles and does have some members in that category. However, it’s a different community, often owner-operator driven (the domain of the Road Haulage Association), whereas FTA’s relationships tend to be with transport managers.

“We are perceived to be there for the big boys, which isn’t true, but we do deal with transport managers that have sole responsibility for a fleet,” Wells says.

While the FTA bumps heads on occasion with rival associations like the RHA, it is also looking to work more collaboratively on major industry issues.

Wells has invited the RHA, Society of Operations Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport to a ‘brainstorm’ meeting to discuss ways they can improve the image of the industry.

The impending driver crisis is one of the biggest issues facing the industry (see panel above), illustrated by a recent FTA conference attended by more than 700 operators.

“We are in a battle for talent and we are facing a skills shortage,” Wells says. “As an industry, we have to up our game to attract younger people, women and ethnic minorities – we are under-represented in all these areas.”

Certificate will validate role of the van driver

The FTA has been working with a number of van fleet operators over the last 18 months to create a Certificate of Driver Competence.

The project, launched in June as  part of Van Excellence, will enable operators to demonstrate how  professional their drivers are and how seriously they take their responsibilities in the work that they do.

It will also provide validation  for the van driver role as well as demonstrating, encouraging and creating a route for development.

David Wells says: “We launched the van driver passport to be an industry-recognised training scheme that drivers can take with them as an accredited qualification to other employers.”

The Certificate of Driver Competence will be valid for three years and has two elements:

1. Training: FTA will provide in-house van driver competence training, and ‘train-the-trainer’ using the Community Driver CPC model. Users will be able to access computer-based training.

2. Assessment: van drivers can be put through assessments at recognised centres. Operators will be offered the chance to become recognised as assessment centres, and FTA will also be able to provide assessment centres.

The following areas are included:

■ Pre-use vehicle checks

■ Fitness to drive

■ Vehicle loading and safe loading

■ Rules of the road

■ Vulnerable road users

■ Safe and green driving

■ Accident and breakdown procedures

Self-reflection and collaboration needed to tackle driver shortage

If the van and truck industry is to encourage more drivers, particularly younger people and women, then it needs to take a wide-ranging look at itself, according to David Wells.

One issue is the level of facilities available to drivers, for example service stations. It requires collaboration with employers,  Government and local authorities.

“We have a project running with drivers unions regarding facilities, for example, washrooms and toilets,” says Wells.

“We are also working with City and Guilds on training and education. There is a gap left by skills and logistics for a qualification staircase that takes you through to transport manager CPC.”

The FTA also has produced plans to get the message out into schools, with the announcement of a formal plan of action due  later this year.

Wells adds: “The answer to a lot of our concerns is collaboration.   The issues are too big otherwise.”

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