After 30 years in the industry I have seen a progression of change, and I am very sure of myself to speak to it. Thirty years ago, warehouse work was ten times as difficult as it is today. Everything was labor intensive, and we had little or no technology. The warehouses were ice cold in the winter and steaming hot in the summer, and there was little or no empathy to be had. Leadership today cares much more about the working conditions and how people are being treated than back in the day. Problem was back then, that almost every parent on the dock would raise their kids NOT to do that kind of work. They worked very hard so their children could go to college and (as my father would tell me) “work like a gentleman”.

What many of today’s leaders in the industry don’t understand is that those warehouse professionals back in the day knew their business. I mean, they knew how to build pallets and load trailers that made money — they were dense, stowable, and had very little damage. I was fortunate to learn from these professionals as I was on the docks during those times.

Let’s just say this, the dock foreman and supervisors would stop in their tracks if a pallet was not squared off and stowable, and lay into whoever was building that pallet. Or if a truck was not properly loaded, they would make you take off the freight and load it again. If they had to address you more than once, you were gone. I don’t agree with that leadership style but we maximized the transportation dollar! Today, those skills are missing from the dock. I know, I am out there and see it first-hand. I see two, sometimes three trailers with the same OD points being used, when if the pallets were properly built and loaded, they would need only ONE trailer. I see dock leadership individuals who do not have the slightest idea of the failed utilization. They can’t even speak to you in cube, forget about knowing how much cube a trailer actually can hold aside from max weight. A corporate analyst told me once that he cuts off a trailer load at 2000 cube because that was full truck. I asked him how long he worked there and how many loads/week he managed, then quickly did the math – –  it was tens of millions of dollars in spend that was not necessary!

Because this was such hard work, the next generation wanted to work in the office. You know, the set of stairs right after the entrance door that went up to the offices and didn’t require you to go too far into the warehouse? From there, the goal was to make it to the corporate office, far away from the warehouse. I get it, it’s much nicer in the corporate office. I have worked both, from being in the warehouse, to on the road, on the airport ramp, and yes, in the home office.

With the flight to the offices and learning how to use computers, we lost some of the most valuable skill sets there were in our industry. We have seen a decrease in the number of people who knew how to build freight and load trailers. This did not happen overnight. It was incremental, but it did happen. And the financial impact also happened gradually, so gradual that the increasing costs in transportation were not understood, or noticed by the actual root cause that was driving the increases. The home offices assumed it was attributable to carrier cost increases so they did what they thought best. They negotiated that much harder with carriers, and squeezed them so much that it started the situation we have today. Very little partnership and one side leveraging the other when they have the upper hand, it’s awful.

When I left my last corporate job to start Columbia Leadership & Efficiencies Inc., I did so with a vision to teach the fundamentals of our industry again. It’s a great job to be a professional freight handler; we just need to teach them how to do their jobs right. There is a tremendous challenge to properly build freight and load trailers properly that drives many people. I know, I have seen it happen. I personally love it when I maximize every cubic foot of a trailer, safely!

In conclusion, here is my pitch. Based on what I just shared, take some action and reverse the trend of inefficiency on the dock. Here are a couple of ways to do that:

(1) If you are a shipper, retain Columbia for an audit. I will come in and assess the situation and provide a detailed report on your opportunity and a very good estimate of how much more you are spending than you should for LTL and TL shipments. Once you see the number, you will definitely want to take next step of scalable training.

(2) If you are a carrier or broker, retain Columbia as a resource for your shippers. Send us in to locations in partnership with your shippers who have the most challenges and we will closely partner with them for improvements. Ultimately, their improvements become your improvements. Stephen Covey calls that win-win!

To do this, contact Columbia and ask for GQ!
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