The global financial crisis (GFC) had a devastating effect on almost every industry across Australia, not least of all those in the transport services industry. Even after seven years, the ripple effect of this event is continuing to affect businesses.
With businesses tightening their purse strings and reassessing their transport needs, an already competitive industry was becoming increasingly cut throat with price wars constantly raging.
For Paul Kahlert, general manager of All Purpose Transport, these difficult operating conditions haven't slowed down his business or his own drive. Not only is the company still growing, Paul has been awarded one of two TLISC International fellowships to travel to the USA for three weeks to study the transport sector there and observe the processes other mid-sized firms have put into place to boost productivity.
Paul will then bring these best practices back to his work here in Australia, presenting his findings within the Queensland transport industry to raise awareness of international trends.
So how did Paul manage to lead his company through the storm to the enviable position in which they stand today, turning over revenue of nearly $40 million?
Developing employee capabilities for a competitive sector
In every industry today, there is a focus on developing the right skills and experience in order to achieve new growth. In the transport sector, this is certainly true, with many established players at every level competing to deliver the best service.
'The industry has got a lot harder,' says Paul. 'Trading conditions are worse in the industry and everyone is very price sensitive.'
"Despite that, our turnover has continued to increase and is now sitting 14 per cent up on last year."
While some managers might cut costs in difficult conditions, All Purpose Transport has taken an alternative approach, offering staff the opportunity to upskill through training as a way to add value to the company.
Part of the reason for this is the importance of having the right personnel in place for any company working in a service industry.
'We don't have a product to sell, we are a service, and to engage a service obviously you need people,' explains Mr Kahlert.
Investing in staff training to improve corporate outcomes
'The only real way to improve productivity is to find quicker, faster, smarter ways of doing things'
As a company that employs close to 300 staff, All Purpose Transport makes it clear that each individual at the company counts and has an impact on the business.
This is one of the factors that led to it becoming the first transport company in Australia to fully qualify their workforce, meaning every employee - from the cleaners to the drivers through to the bookkeepers - received formal qualifications in their field of expertise, up to certificate level 3.
It was a project that cost $1.2 million, but one that continues to have far-reaching benefits. This is evidenced by the fact All Purpose Transport has since gone on to pick up almost every award in the industry, including the 2013 Transport & Logistics Industry Skills Council Award for Innovation and Excellence in Workforce Development.
Paul says this focus on people is especially important in a business of All Purpose's nature, and was crucial in seeing them overcome one of their most recent challenges - finding and retaining the talent to drive the business forwards.
'For our business to have still been growing through the GFC - and still showing strong growth and strong top- and bottom-line performance - that's an indicator that the business is doing well,' he claims.
Another major area of investment for Paul is in technology, which will be a big part of the International Specialised Skills Institute fellowship he is embarking on later this year in the US.
'The only real way to improve productivity is to find quicker, faster, smarter ways of doing things,' he said.
'Over there, the transport task is a lot bigger than it is in Australia, so therefore you have more players and more people undertaking better and smarter ways of doing things.'
Focus on training brings personal benefits
While Paul has certainly focused on the capabilities of his staff, he has also looked into improving his own skills. That journey began four years ago when Paul joined TEC and has continued since then through opportunities like this fellowship.
'Before I started with TEC I was very insular in my outlook in relation to business,' he says. 'By entering into the TEC program I got to learn about the operation of 14 other businesses, and therefore got a broader view of what was actually happening in the greater business climate.'
'Obviously what I'm bringing back to the business from TEC is working, and I'm certainly learning a lot more about business life from the TEC experience'
That insular thinking is also something Paul sees in the transport sector, which is a major reason for his enthusiasm about this fellowship.
'The issue we have over here [in Australia] is that, because we are an island, we tend to have island thinking so we don't look at the world's best practice,' he stated. 'The purpose of this scholarship is to go and identify the world's best practice.'
With both Paul and his staff investing in new opportunities to grow their horizons, All Purpose Transport is likely to be in a strong position moving forward, even in challenging conditions for the industry.