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‘Our plan is to produce 2,000 trained drivers within the next 3 years’

by CHUKA UROKO

November 2, 2017 | 1:11 am
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With an estimated 198,000 kilometres of roads, Nigeria has the largest road network in West Africa and second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The condition of these roads, without exception, is so terrible that only 35 percent of the entire network is motorable. But, to Lafarge Africa, bad condition of the roads is not enough explanation for the frequent carnage on Nigerian roads. BRUNO HOUNKPATI,  the company’s Logistics Director, in this interview with CHUKA UROKO, Property Editor, traces this problem to the behaviour of drivers,  hence the company’s new ambitious ‘Driving School of the Future’ initiative which has a lot more to offer. Excerpts

There are many driving schools out there, yet you are here talking about a ‘Driving School of the Future’. What does this mean to the man on the street?

This is a project that we have just started. We call it ‘driving school of the future’ because of the quality of the institution, the teachers, students and the content of the programme. If you look at the way drivers are trained in Nigeria today, maybe, those critical elements are not there yet. For us, it means doing things differently and positioning ourselves for the future.

We believe there is a gap that needs to be closed. This is an issue that has to do with the behavior of the driver. So, this initiative is modeled around addressing the behavior of the driver from the onset. We want to ensure that the driver behaves well on the road. Yes, we may have bad roads but it is only the driver that can make that road and the vehicle safe means of transport. So, if the driver does not have the right behavior, he is not going to make the road and vehicle safe.

You are targeting as many as 600 trainees for this course. What is the process for selecting them and how reliable is that?

Six hundred is just a number because we are more ambitious than that. Our plan is to produce 2,000 trained drivers within the next three years.  The 600 we are talking about are the first batch we have started with in Calabar in the South Eastern part of the country. We are to start the same school in the West early next year. We will also be planning one for the Northern part of the country.

So, in the next three years, we will be talking of 2,000 drivers we have trained in our operations. The number of trucks we have in operations is more than that number. So, the drivers will be more for our own consumption. The school has already started with the first batch of 80 people. Talking about the quality of people, we have international trainers we have hired for this purpose. As for the content, we have also internationally recognized curriculum like what you have in the UK.

So, if you look at the whole programme, you see that no one had done it in Nigeria. I doubt if anybody is doing it even in the neighbouring countries. It is really the first time and we believe is the right way  to get things done.

What makes this initiative unique in terms of training module; what difference are you making?

What is unique about this school is the way it is run and how we select the drivers. We train these drivers in four main steps. The first step is the use of visuals by the trainers. A lot of visuals are used because we believe that the way you train adults is different from the way you train children. Because you are passing on techniques on them, you have to be very specific to let them understand what you are talking about.

The second stage is to put them in a simulator which we have installed in the school. This is to help the instructor practicalise what he has taught in class. In an ordinary training school, the trainees are taken to the road in which case they can only do a maximum of two scenarios. But the simulator provides an avenue for the trainer to take multiple scenarios of what they are likely to see while on duty.  The third stage is on-the-road assessment during which the instructor will be with the driver to assess his performance on the road. The fourth stage is one in which a driver is assigned a coach.

This is an ambitious initiative, no doubt, but how do you intend to achieve skilled drivers and safe roads where illiteracy is high and the state of the roads is poor?

If you go to advanced countries such as UK and US, they also have a lot of road challenges despite the fact that they have very good roads. They are also killing people through road accidents. But we believe that it is the  driver that makes roads bad. If a driver is on a bad road and adjusts his speed to the condition of the road, he can drive safely to his destination. So, bad road is an issue but that is not the main focus of this initiative. Our major concern is the behavior of the driver.

The literacy level here is low unlike places such as US and UK where it is very high. In our case, the illiteracy level is high and that is why we are putting a lot of emphasis on visuals. But for me, as far as driving is concerned, we are all illiterates. For you not to be aware of yourself when you are driving on the road such that you drive recklessly, means you are an illiterate.

We don’t believe that people drive recklessly on the road because they did not go to school. The statistics by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that about 11,000 people died in accident in 2016. If you link this to the number of vehicles we have in the country today which is about 11 million, you find that 54 percent of them are commercial vehicles. This means there is about 46 percent accounting for the same incident.

For us, the literacy level is not a big issue because we can overcome that easily. We hope that by the time we finish training these drivers, they will be a lot better than people who are well educated but are not trained on how to drive safely even on bad roads.

We are going to put these our trainees through basic things they ought to know. The qualification requirement for them is secondary school education. At this level, they should be able to understand basic English  and be able to read highway codes. They must have valid driving licennce and must have been driving for a minimum of three to five years.

If the duration of this programme  is three years; is it going to be part time or full time? Are you going to pay the trainees during this time?

It is a full time programme and it is a guaranteed employment when they graduate. We are going to absorb them directly and that is part of the agreement we have with them from the beginning. The reason for this is because we want to safeguard our facilities. One truck today costs as much as N27 million and that is if you go for the Chinese model. You don’t  have to leave this in the hands of somebody who will damage it in one day. So, it is also in our own interest to get people who can drive safely.

How many jobs will this initiative create down the value chain?

We are looking at 2,000 drivers in the next three years and that is given. To this, you add the instructors, the medical personnel, the technical people who will train the drivers on the mechanics of the vehicles, their dynamics, the engine spark, etc. You will also be looking at other people who will be talking to the drivers on their behavior on the road, etc. When you put all these together, you will be looking at an additional 1,000 people. So, in the next three years, we will be creating jobs for 3,000 people in the country.

Many of the accidents on the roads today are caused by reckless driving and unsafe roads. What are your expectations in terms of accident reduction when your drivers hit the roads?

For us in LafargeHolcin Group, we believe we don’t have to kill people to produce our cement. We believe we can produce safely because every human life that is lost means endless suffering for his family. We value human life a great deal. We will continue to build on that and that is why we maintain safety standard in all our operations. Our strategic objective in terms of safety is to drop our accident rate by 30 percent year-on-year. We have been on track on this from 2016 to 2017 using the comprehensive roadmap we have. We monitor our drivers wherever they are on the road. All the vehicles we have in our operations have monitoring device so that at any point in time, we can track a driver’s behavior and his driving,

Specifically, do you envisage anytime in Nigeria when accidents will be reduced significantly? What fundamentals are going to drive that?

We are targeting another 30 percent accident rate reduction in the next 3 years and that will be driven by our working on the behavior of our drivers. Early next year,  we will start this initiative in the western part of the country. Preparation work is ongoing in Lagos. As a company we see this initiative as a good cause and we owe it to ourselves and to the country. Nobody knows who the next victim of accident is going to be. So, we are doing what we are doing for ourselves and for every other person. We also see it as a good cause because we are investing in human capital which is going to bring value to all of us.

Who are your partners on this journey; are you in collaboration with anybody, say government?

We are partnering with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) which is a federal institution. We are also looking forward to having other institutions that may like what we are doing here. We believe that what we are doing is a collective responsibility.  That 54 percent of accidents on our roads is caused by commercial vehicles means that the remaining 46 percent is cause by people who are not commercial drivers. To us, that is a huge challenge and we want everybody to get interested in solving this national problem. We are already taking the lead at industry level.


by CHUKA UROKO

November 2, 2017 | 1:11 am
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