First-of-a-kind degree launched for freight studies

Logistics and supply chain academy Metro Minds has made history with the launch of a graduate qualification in conjunction with leadership school, Da Vinci Institute. The Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management is a “learnership with electives in freight forwarding and customs compliance” and, more importantly, is a first for South Africa.

At a webinar announcing the qualification this morning, Metro Minds founder and MD, Juliette Fourie, said they had received an overwhelming response from the public in the run-up to conceptualising the degree, especially at executive level. When asked whether their employees would be interested in achieving a BCom in freight forwarding and customs clearance, 85.7% of executives said yes.

When asked whether such a degree could contribute to the development and formalisation of specific sector skills, the response was even stronger – 92.9%. As regards demand for more qualified individuals to enter logistics, 90.5% of all executives approached said it was a good idea.

But what about provision made in the degree for a world disrupted by a pandemic, struggling to come to terms with trade lane tumult, supply chain chaos, nagging congestion and the related cost escalation of extreme events such as the war in Ukraine?

Fourie said it had all been taken care of by the theoretical and knowledge component of the curriculum and its intended outcomes, with digitised progress being a large part of this. “How does today’s world and today’s reality talk to technology? When we talk about a freight operation, and there is a disruption, how would you use innovation and systems thinking to adapt and respond to that disruption?”

She explained that it involved honing the skill and specialisation of approaching problems on a case-by-case basis, working elements of established and endorsed practices back into play. “Instead of having modules about disruption we bring that theory and the thinking back into the framework that’s been created.”

Brain drain results in serious skills deficit

Uncertainty caused by the disruptive impact of a fast-spreading pandemic, lay-offs as a result of measures implemented to curb Covid-19, and last July’s rioting across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, has left a skills shortage across business sectors.

Addressing a “Power Hour” hosted by Metro Minds last Thursday, the logistics and supply chain academy’s founder and chief executive, Juliette Fourie, said South Africa was experiencing a brain drain because of recent events. “People resigned and others were retrenched.” And after the riots, yet more decided to emigrate “because they don’t like it here anymore. “So now, all of a sudden, we have this gap again and companies are asking: ‘How do we integrate upskilling without disrupting the organisation again?’”

She said over the years broad-based economic empowerment (BEE) had placed tremendous strain on companies transforming through adapting their staff complement and skills set. On top of “compliance fatigue”, costs related to training have turned it into a grudge purchase. In addition, what Fourie calls “misaligned strategies” – attempts to improve executive, human resource, BEE, operational and financial competencies – have resulted in companies often not having the benefit of consolidated skills upliftment.

All in all, she said, it necessitated a rethink of the whole bang shoot. “Companies ought to look at their skills strategies and ask themselves: ‘what is the big picture?’ Is it compliance or is it upskilling? And if it’s both, how do I bring the two together.”

Just ticking boxes to comply so one can move on often results in dissatisfaction over what training is supposed to accomplish. As for cost, she said “dependencies” often resulted in a reluctance to spend on training, especially in lean times such as is currently the case, where upskilling expenses tend to be relegated down the list of budget expenses. It should be borne in mind though that South Africa’s transport sector was one of the top performers in last year’s GDP statistics, growing 9% or 2-3% more than the previous year.

Investing in human capital to bolster business growth should not be held back by “misaligned strategies, compliance fatigue, and dependencies”, Fourie said. When companies fail to cultivate their people, it’s the workforce that usually suffers the most, affecting the entire organisation.

Digital literacy a top priority for 2022

“Thinking out of the box” may have become a bit of a cliché, about as hollow-ringing as “blue sky thinking”, which is not to say that it’s not possible to bring out the best in one’s professional ability through acute skills improvement.

According to Juliette Fourie of Metro Minds, 2022 should be the “Year of 2020-You!” whereby employees and employers will do well by fine-tuning their focus on self-realisation in a bid to add individual context to workplace perspective.

Although it may sound suspiciously airy fairy, the founder and chief executive of the supply chain and logistics academy has reason to feel philosophical about progress in training, and she has the World Economic Forum (WEF) in her corner.

Training her gaze on the uncertainty that Covid has caused through major disruption, Fourie said the WEF had identified five important competencies that might help prepare employees and executives cope better with curveballs and unforeseen eventualities: digital literacy, creative thinking, creativity, leadership, and accelerated learning.

“Digital literacy is right at the top,” she told a variety of freight industry representatives who attended the academy’s first “Power Hour” presentation for the year. It’s 200% more relevant than ever and includes online and virtual skills, the ability to work on technology, and bringing innovation into things.”

In short, she summed it up as being equipped with the necessary wherewithal to bridge the digital divide. As for the second competency on the WEF list, Fourie said: “Critical thinking, problem solving and decision making are the top three skills that graduates don’t have when they enter the workplace. Why? Because they have academic background but they have never seen the practicality of it.”

All the more reason, Fourie argued, why self-actualisation or “2020-You!” should be highlighted by employers interested in bringing out the best in their employees through adding context to perspective. “You can’t think critically if you don’t have context. People sit behind computers and they don’t have context. They only have perspective of what they see in front of them, and without context you can’t think critically. If you don’t have the full picture or the broad spectrum, you can’t do critical thinking.”

As for creativity and leadership, Fourie said it was a misconception that the former was a quality exclusive to artistry, in that it took creative thinking to seek innovative solutions necessary for business growth. Sadly, the latter, especially ethical leadership, has become a blight on South Africa’s professional reputation, a rare commodity that should be nurtured for the sake of companies seeking strategic success.

All in all it brought Fourie to the WEF’s last item on the list: accelerated learning. Referring to it as something that has arisen out of time constraints and cost, she said it was all about “short, quick, quirky, powerful stuff – non-formalised online learning that is affordable and time-efficient (*).

* Metro Minds has a variety of accelerated learning options through what it calls “Smart Minds.” This article will have a follow-up report on Monday morning to coincide with a repeat of the Power Hour presentation at 9am on January 24.

Neutral consolidator buys into logistics academy

SACO CFR has added another deal-clincher to its commitment in the field of skills development for the logistics industry.

News this morning is that the NVOCC, which used to be known as CFR Freight but rebranded on January 1 following a majority shareholder agreement with its long-term equity partner, SACO Shipping GmbH, has acquired a lion’s share stake in Metro Minds.

A statement issued by the academy for the freight industry said the majority shareholdership demonstrated SACO CFR’s “commitment to neutrality and a long-term strategy to partner with clients to facilitate mutual growth, but never to compete with them”.

Metro Minds founder, Juliette Fourie, said: “We are so excited to be able to implement more practical and simulated sessions in our current curriculums. We aim to become the trade and logistics academy for an industry that is still not on the best level of skills development success.  This is such an exciting time for our business, and we cannot wait to be part of this well-aligned partnership.”

Dave Graham, joint CEO of the SACO CFR Group, said: “This investment fits perfectly with our growth strategy and commitment to provide our many clients with an extended service offering, whilst preserving our assurance to remain neutral. Metro Minds is a leading provider of training to the industry and there are many synergies in the client bases of both companies. SACO CFR and Metro Minds share common values with aligned principles. We view this as a unique and viable investment opportunity and are proud to be associated with Juliette and her team.”

Martin Keck, joint CEO of SACO CFR, said: “This is a partnership opportunity for both companies. We will not be absorbing Metro Minds, nor diluting the identity or independence of the company. Rather, our intention is to facilitate the continued autonomous operation of the company under the leadership of Juliette and the existing team, and to assist where possible in the mutual growth of both Metro Minds and the SACO CFR Group. With this partnership, we are adding more meaning to our passion of investing into much-needed education of our industry and our society as a whole.”

Last year, in the run-up to its rebrand, SACO CFR nailed its colours to the mast of mastering future growth through investing in human capital when one of its protégés, Justin Goedhart, scooped a prestigious international award. This after the Federation of International Freight Forwarders Associations announced the junior trade lane coordinator as the regional winner for Africa and the Middle East of the ‘Young International Freight Forwarder of the Year’ title.

Working from home ‘a privilege’

While the labour market readies itself to respond to a ‘post-Covid’ world in which office workers will be expected to be vaccinated in order to return to work, it’s important to look into why some staff may argue that it’s better to maintain the work-from-home status quo.

According to Juliette Fourie, founder and CEO of logistics training college Metro Minds, the best approach is finding out what improves productivity.

It leads to the simplest answer, she feels, namely fewer disruptions.

“It takes our brains 21 minutes to truly refocus on what we were busy with before distracted.

“On average, disruptions and distractions take 2.3 hours of your day. At the office, most employees are working in an open-plan environment with all kinds of distractions.

“The basics of time management talk about general time wasters preventing us from being more productive. Depending on the person, a general example would be commuting to and from the office on a daily basis. This can sometimes take three to four hours out of a person’s day (not necessarily eight to five), depending on the travel distance and amount of traffic, not to mention the maintenance of vehicles and fuel costs.”

To this Fourie adds another angle, quality of life and what it means for the mental health of employees.

“For a person not having to waste time commuting to an office, the probability of starting work earlier than they’re supposed to and with fewer disruptions, is very high.

“Their time is managed by themselves, and where time can be saved on anything, it can be done.

“For instance, instead of using the weekend to rush around and run errands when it is ten times busier and takes longer to do, the work-from-home crowd will run these errands during their breaks.

“They are the ones who use a weekend for what it is for, and come out a healthier, happier, and more productive employee. Or, if a child is sick, they are at home and close by to look after them – less stress and more focus on their work.”

Providing more insight, Fourie says staffers who succeed in managing their work-from-home time generally do so through having working hours shift from the traditional eight-to-five arrangement to a more outcomes-based productivity schedule.

“Do they physically sit behind their computer from eight to five? No.

“But they are available when clients need them, they are transparent with their work progress, they are self-disciplined, and they are less stressed and more rested as they are using their commuting time and Saturday shopping time on things that release stress, improve general health and ensure better productivity.”

However, this can only be accomplished provided that the 5Es are under control – therein lies the rub.

These 5Es are exactly why managers feel staffers should return to the physical work place:

  1. Environment. Working from your bed and bingeing on Netflix cannot be productive and ergonomically good for you and your health. That is why there are no beds in a normal office space. Many employees’ environments at home are not conducive to working productively. If you have small children at home or family that you need to take care of with no separation of workspace versus home space, it could become a difficulty.
  2. Equipment. As the proverbial saying goes – you need the right tools for the right job. If the employee cannot perform their tasks from home, it would be better to require them to be in the office. Good IT infrastructure and technology is a key ingredient for productivity and working remotely.
  3. End results. Unclear goals can misdirect employees and impact on productivity. Clear objectives also mean clear performance indicators that should be measured by outcomes, not a rigid 8 to 5 work day. What is measured – time or outcome?
  4. Engagement. Productivity can suffer due to lack of human engagement and being able to explain something face to face. Trust and relationships are built in between meetings and workstations – not on virtual calls. For some employees, working alone is not conducive to this. Their team inclination is higher than individual inclination and will impact on their productivity.
  5. Ethic. Not everyone has a good work ethic and self-discipline. If they don’t have it at home, they won’t even have it at the office.

Fourie concludes that the work-from-home or return to the office debate is not an easy decision to make, especially for companies with a diverse workforce.

“It is not fair to punish the ones working from home, producing the best results of their career, to go back to the model that creates barriers in their productivity.”

Ultimately, it needs to be understood that working from home is not a right, but rather a privilege or added benefit, she says.

To work from home or not?

It’s become a familiar sight in the workplace, arriving at one’s place of employment only to be ‘greeted’ by the following notice: “Please refrain from coming into the office when displaying any Covid-19 symptoms.”

Although part of safety protocol in response to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s a statement that is very easily abused, says Juliette Fourie, the founder and CEO of accredited training company, Metro Minds.

Writing for Freight News, she says many things have been learned from the pandemic and opportunities revealed in a time of crisis and uncertainty.

In relation to the effect on the mental health of a company’s workforce, Fourie says, studies indicate a 38% rise in anxiety and depression. The reality of anxiety and depression is the effect it leaves behind – on personal competency, productivity, resilience, and general health.

“Many people are left with no income, less income, more family dependencies, and loss of loved ones. This reality makes the discussion so much more difficult because the world needs to continue and ‘life goes on’.”

Current debates about working from home or not, Fourie emphasises, cannot continue if we do not understand the realities of our workforce.

“By no means are we saying that organisations must change every employee’s circumstance, but acknowledge the new world they might find themselves in. Before we assume people are too lazy to come back to the office, let’s understand their circumstances and plan our future workforce around this to get what we want – higher productivity.”

Thought should also go into flexible working hours, she says.

“Hybrid working policies might be good for some but detrimental for others. Like anything in life, we row our own boat and must gauge what works well for you and your organisation. Much research indicates that productivity has gone down for them where the others are saying it works well.”

As for the ongoing debate about working from home or not, the emphasis should fall on making better decisions, Fourie says.

“We must recognise that the pandemic caused chaos first and then, as we acted, sensed, and responded to it, it moved towards complexities whereby in unclear and ambiguous times, a lot of probing and research had to take place to make decisions.

“We moved from an unknown world into a known world and business practices emerged differently from this. This is a typical example of transitioning through different stages to land up either dysfunctional or in a comfortable, known space.

“This model refers to the Cynefin Framework developed by David Snowden. The new emerging practices will outlive the pandemic, and it is a matter of how engaging leadership can ensure easy transition into a model that works best for the organisation as a whole – its people (employees, suppliers and clients), processes and systems.”

* This is the first of a two-part series penned by Fourie exclusively for Freight News on the Covid-related topic of working from home or not. The follow-up report, focusing on the pros and cons of the current norm of working from home, will be posted tomorrow.

Metro Minds’ journey – a passion for education

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in the one hand, strawberries in the other and screaming – whoo-hoo – that was FUN!” With passion for education and a drive to get people to succeed in their lives, the journey of Metro Minds started here, founded by Juliette Fourie.

In October 2006, Metro Minds served their first client. They are serving this same client today. With R 15 000 in the bank, they started with the vision of EDUCATION TODAY. EXCELLENCE TOMORROW.

The fun started immediately. Back in 2007, their innovation for simulation already took a stand. Utilising gamification as learning tools made for memorable experiences – then and now!

In 2008, Metro Minds achieved accreditation with the Transport Seta and Service Seta, paving the way to comply with skills development targets and compliance. This allowed them to colour inside the lines when required while still exploring new possibilities and creativity with customised learning solutions – they are officially on the map as an accredited training provider.

2010 marked a celebratory year for them– they moved from a home office to their own office space with comfy training rooms. Growth comes with more responsibility – and so they took it on! Expanding their offering on a national basis enables them to deliver services in South Africa’s main centres. To guide them, they created their five values as their compass and direction. Family, excellence, integrity, passion and funovative.

Key personnel joined the business to share in the Metro Minds Magic to grow the team even more. And just like that they turned five years young. In 2011 they achieved another milestone by becoming accredited with the International Chamber of Commerce in educating international stakeholders on the new Incoterms 2010.

Moving onto 2012, their expertise and offerings were showcased at the International Saaff congress in Cape Town. Collaborations continued with the likes of the dtic and Seda Export initiatives.

Call it the seven-year itch, call it refreshing, call it what you like, 2013 was the year they were RE – everything. Rebranded to a fresh logo, redoing our headquarters and moving into a brand-new space, reframing and going global by becoming a study centre of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply. How refreshing this was.

2014 emphasised the boss’s passion for people and development when she won the Leadership Boss of the Year, SA. She was interviewed by Gareth Cliff, made front-page news, and continued the winning streak by signing an MOU with the remarkable Da Vinci Institute as Faculty Associate.

In 2015, Metro Minds continued achieving excellence, winning the runner-up award for Innovation in People at the TT100 awards, as well as a recognition award for the work done as the Sales Faculty for the Higher Certificate in Management and Innovation, specialising in sales and customer management.

The company graduated a few hundred competent learners and successfully bridged the first group of learners into the workplace with the Wise Minds Bridging Program.

2016 was a momentous year  when they turned 10 years old and also changed shareholding structure to achieve BBBEE level 2 status.  So momentous that a song was written for them by Jacques de Villiers – leaving behind a legacy. The sky is not the limit, and they are proud to say that they are living their purpose of building futures with fun and quality education – with excellence as their promise.

The launch of their education trust, Changing Minds, started changing lives immediately. With various socio-economic development initiatives, the trust has become a vehicle for assisting education support, growth and fighting unemployment. Using fun, fund-raisers to start the ball rolling, they were able to feed a few and dress another couple with community projects. Beyond changing lives, they started saving lives by hosting blood drives in collaboration with the South African National Blood Services.

In the same year of 2017, Metro Minds completed their first simulated learnership, with a 100% competency rate and a 96% absorption rate into the workforce.

As 2018 approached, the company theme was baptised as HEAL. Not just looking after their clients but themselves. The rainbows appeared after the rain, and after a few setbacks, Metro Minds still managed to stand out as the winner at the SA Innovation League Awards and make the top 3 in the TT100 competition –  this time for the work done on our Customs Act it Out Simulation programme. They hosted their first CEO awards, recognising all their clients who had contributed to education in their businesses.

With FAMILY being one of their values – as a family they started the year off on the right foot, with a team strategy session themed FIT! The hard work of staying fit paid off when achieving 3rd place for Sapics Education organisation award and 2nd place for facilitator of the year award. This year also saw the launch of our brand-new Career and Entrepreneurship Programme – Kickstart – ending off their journey with a magical showcase and self-made millionaire and entrepreneur Marnus Broodryk, leaving all the guests with great insights. Building on their current learner management system, they introduced their online platform called eMinds. This allowed learners to access their learning and assessment process online, with all activities and simulations included. Continuing with this fantastic process, Changing Minds sponsored five learners to attend the Young Logistics Initiative at the Fiata Congress in Cape Town, proudly graduating hundreds of competent learners across the country.

And then 2020 turned to 2021 without anyone realising it. The battle against this invisible war continues, and the trail it left behind will forever be captured in history. Metro Minds started a wide variety of webinars and connected to the world even more. Not did they just become stronger, but smarter. Metro Minds launched Smart Minds which is an interactive, impactful online learning platform with diverse topics, ranging from personal development, human skills and life skills to industry-specific hard skills. It’s affordable, easy, accessible and a whole lot of fun.

“So here we are! 15 years later. Ups and downs and so many great memories and unforgettable experiences. For every client, supplier, associate, competitor, learner, friend, colleague and family who have crossed our paths in the last 15 years – we cannot thank you enough. We are truly blessed. You helped us colour in our pages and walked with us on this journey! To the most magical, rock star team in the world, I commend you for your hard work and commitment at Metro Minds. You are worth more than gold and we have proven we can fight a war together! Please celebrate with us and cheer on to the next 15 years of building futures with fun and quality education.

Shorter, more impactful and affordable the new trend

Shorter, but more impactful courses at a lower cost are the current demand from industry, according to Juliette Fourie, CEO and founder of Metro Minds.  Another growing trend is simulation, offering employers the opportunity to ensure learners are ready to hit the ground running on completion of training.

“We have recognised that not everyone wants formal courses,” said Fourie. “The focus at present is definitely on shorter courses and lower cost. The courses, however, have to be extremely impactful. With this in mind, we have developed a non-accredited fully online platform, called Smart Minds. The courses range from human skills to technical and life skills. We have a large focus on shorter courses for logistics, supply chain and freight forwarding at a maximum price of R499 per course.”

She said this was an exciting development as it allowed training to reach far more people than would previously have been the case. From a company point of view, the training is also more cost-effective. These are important developments in the current economic environment. “Simulation courses are another huge focus point, especially for new industry entrants. It works very well for existing employees needing continuous development as well. The simulated courses are extremely practical and are based on the cognitive flexibility theory of accelerated learning. Five days spent with a simulated course is equivalent to 25 days of practical work experience,” she said.

According to Fourie, taking an integrated approach to training is essential for companies to measure the correct skills improvement. “What does talent look like? Are you using a benchmark per job function?” she explained. “Start to build the ideal talent pipeline through skills projects that could give your business a competitive edge as well as receive all your directives. This way you build a skilled workforce with talent being nurtured through coaching and mentoring and cultivating leaders for the business.” Gone are the days of one size fits all.

“The Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR) is defined as the combination of human engagement at the centre of drawing humans, machines, artificial intelligence, and technology together. The 5IR follows the 4IR, driven by key technology impacting governments, businesses, and society at large. Humans should be front and centre of connecting critical thinking, creativity, and technology. When we as educators are asked to train people, it should be driven by the business with purpose, not compliance.”

Fourie said managing human capital in business required an integrative approach between executive strategies, workforce strategies and human resource strategies. Recent reports from the Teta indicated the shortage of skilled workers was due to the increasing use of technology and automation within the transport sector, affecting many jobs at many levels. The workforce needed modern skills like digital literacy, logistics operations, and skilled people to manage customers’ operations and service delivery.

Mental health elevated more than ever before

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to initiate mental health programmes for their employees. According to Juliette Fourie, founder and CEO of Metro Minds, this is something that should have been implemented before Covid-19.

“Unfortunately, this pandemic has brought about change for everyone. We have all been forced to adapt. In the learning space massive changes have taken place as well, and we are seeing the need for mental health care more and more. We are starting to see that it’s not just about acquiring technical skills but that soft skills like health and wellness, resilience, change management and decision-making are important too,” said Fourie

“This climate has brought about the need to cope better, whether it’s coping with loss of a loved one, coping with financial issues, or even just having to be in isolation. Overall health and wellness are starting to take centre stage. No matter your job title, you need to have the mental capacity to deal with everything happening around you.”


Budgetary constraints impact BEE employment focus

As companies in the logistics sector struggle with Covid-induced budgetary constraints, the focus among employers is survival – which clearly has an impact on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) goals. That’s the view of Juliette Fourie, founder and CEO of Metro Minds.

Commenting on whether companies were still serious about BEE, Fourie said there was still a lot of focus on the equity part of BEE and who employers needed to employ. “But the focus right now is getting the right person for the job.” “BEE is about spend and right now employers are choosing to spend less on skills development and enterprise development to get points and procurement because they would rather spend that money on trying to survive through Covid-19. Employers are focused on keeping their staff instead of spending money to get points for BEE.”

Covid-19 has resulted in the consolidation of job functions for companies across the world and means that many employees’ roles have become redundant, says Fourie. Automation and technology have become massive in the logistics industry. “This has helped logistics companies become more efficient, but the reality is that the labour aspect is in decline. To put it simply, companies no longer need as many staff members,” she adds.

“The logistics sector has become a professional industry compared to years ago and companies are looking for professionals. In the last ten years recruitment in the industry did not require individuals to have many qualifications to complete certain job functions, but now companies are looking for professionals. There is a lot of pressure to formalise qualified people.”