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Pandemic success story

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Although 2020 was an extremely challenging year for business, that didn’t stop founder and CEO of Innovative Solutions Group Arnoux Maré, from starting up a new business venture – Innovative Learning Solutions (ILS).

2021 has revealed a shortage of approximately 3 000 truck and bus drivers in the South African transport sector. Photo by Innovative Learning Solutions
2021 has revealed a shortage of approximately 3 000 truck and bus drivers in the South African transport sector. Photo by Innovative Learning Solutions

In June 2020, the company established the new driver training centre in Boksburg East, Gauteng. The centre originally aimed to assist South African Code 14 truck drivers but aims to ensure Code 10 drivers will receive the same benefits in time.

Over the 365 days since ILS opened its doors more than 8 000 drivers and businesses have enrolled for one or more of the courses in what is the largest Code 14 truck driver training facility of its type in Africa. Maré says demand was strong from the get-go and has continued growing every month since.

“It is an ‘impossible’ time to open such a people-intense business, I admit, but I couldn’t ignore the critical need for trained drivers, the need to make our roads safer, and the need to create jobs during a time of catastrophic job losses. In fact, it was the pandemic itself which was the wake-up call required to the need for such a facility: with almost the entire economy in lockdown, trucks were in many instances the only means of keeping the country’s economy ticking, ensuring food, medical supplies can still reach consumers,” says Maré.

The pandemic has highlighted for many consumers and businesses that without skilled, committed truck drivers, much of life in South Africa would probably have ground to a halt. It added urgency to their understanding that driver training is an essential service, the lifeblood of commerce. Fellow businesses have been the main supporters of the exponential growth still being experienced by ILS, as they recognise that training benefits themselves – both their bottom line and employee relations.

Companies now have access to invaluable skills development, advanced driving courses, and the drivers themselves, employability enhancement opportunities.

Community spirited

To commemorate the event within the community in which ILS is based, the driver training centre invited ten youths to spend the day at the venue with the intention of enthusing them as to what a career in commercial driving can offer.

“We are inspired by the words of Winston Churchill who once said that ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’. I believe he was right. Business owners make a living for their employees by keeping the business profitable. But it is only when we give back to the community that we make our work truly meaningful. By making other people’s lives better we get back something that cannot be measured in material ways,” Maré says.

The ten youth will gain a comprehensive overview of what life in logistics can offer, and Maré adds that he is convinced that when they sit in the cockpit of one of these huge 18-wheelers and hear the roar of the engine, “they’ll hear their future careers calling”.

Boksburg is one of the main logistics hubs in South Africa and Maré says the business has a sense of duty to inform the previously disadvantaged of the potential opportunity right on their doorstep. Transformation has been a priority at ILS since its inception, given that transport is a heavily male-dominated profession.

ILS recruitment practices have been conducted with particular emphasis on recruiting directly from local communities (50% of employees) and especially of women (35%) in logistics from management positions to occupational health, administrative roles and as driver trainer assistants.

Poor driving skills lie at the heart of the high death toll on South Africa’s roads, a tragedy that sees 16 000 people die on roads each year. Maré explains: “As of 2021, there is a shortage of approximately 3 000 truck and bus drivers in the South African transport sector, a shortage which has the consequence of unskilled, unqualified and illegal foreign drivers being recruited. Not only does this deprive locals of jobs – which our local youth are desperate to fill – but the shortage means employers simply do not have the capacity to allow their pool of drivers any time off. They are required to be behind the wheel every available moment, with all the safety consequences that follow,” says Maré.

“Our training helps make drivers more attuned to situations they may encounter on the road, such as their own drowsiness, heavy traffic, bad weather conditions, and other drivers behaving irresponsibly, even faulty vehicle conditions. We help drivers understand how to respond to those conditions appropriately,” Maré concludes.