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Technology, skilled workers pay off

At logistics firm Aerolog Express, technology complements skilled staff and plays a role in raising efficiencies.

Mr Hungate says that there are many good schemes available to help firms move up the productivity ladder.

PEOPLE matter as much as machines, when it comes to productivity, at logistics firm Aerolog Express. The company, wholly owned by SATS, makes it a point to ensure that all its staff are trained and properly skilled to do their work. In fact, workers are continually upgraded and their jobs redesigned so that they will develop new skills and capabilities.

"To achieve sustainable improvements in productivity, we also upskill our workforce to allow our people to acquire the skills they need to operate efficiently with technology," said SATS chief executive officer and president Alex Hungate.

For instance, forklift operators are given training so that they can also check cargo manifests and handling documentation. With the new training, they do not just operate the forklifts but go on to do additional tasks, which turns them into cargo specialists.

"With training, they are able to take on more responsibilities to provide clients with a more efficient process of handling shipments. Through this initiative, SATS achieved 30 per cent improvement in efficiency," said Mr Hungate.

Technology complements skilled workers, it is not bought for the sake of having more capital in the company.

"In this respect, we leverage technology to enable us to work smarter. However, technology is only one side of the equation," he added.

The firm actively scans its operations for areas where technology can play a role in raising efficiencies.

It has a system called iTrek that has been adopted across all its main business lines from cargo, baggage handling, security, ramp and interior aircraft cleaning services units. The system allows the firm to monitor activities on the tarmac in real time.

"This system has helped improve accuracy and accountability as well as elevate the competency of our staff. The use of technology has also reduced our carbon footprint significantly by eliminating 70 per cent of the manual paperwork," said Mr Hungate.

In an industry like cargo handling, even a second makes a difference so productivity is key to keeping the company performing at full efficiency. This gives the company ability to generate volume and build scale.

"Besides, productivity improvements create opportunities for SATS to redesign jobs and upskill our workforce. When our staff acquire new skills, they feel more empowered and that drives greater productivity," said Mr Hungate.

Thus the company - which operates 46 airports in 13 countries - is a firm believer in productivity, seeing it as a critical component of its success.

Its productivity efforts have paid off in a tangible manner, with value added per employment cost - a key measure of labour productivity - rising 3.5 per cent in the last fiscal year.

Asked if there are other things that the government can and should do to raise productivity in the sector, Mr Hungate said that there are already many good schemes available to help firms move up the productivity ladder.

But one way to give a greater push is to create an ecosystem that allows all players in an industry to raise productivity together.

For instance, the SATS eAcceptance programme in cargo handling has helped clients from both the bigger firms, which are accelerating their productivity push, to smaller cargo agents, which have limited resources, to become more productive.

"Through this process, productivity for the industry as a whole has seen improvements," said Mr Hungate.

"SATS operates in an ecosystem that has both big and small partners with differing levels of technological capability. Our ultimate goal is to elevate productivity in the industry through spearheading a step change in the adoption of technology and job upgrading."

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