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  • Role: Trainee Manager
  • University: Newcastle
  • Degree: Chemical & Process Engineering

Robin Prentice

Having studied engineering at university, I may not be a typical candidate for a career in logistics. However, as I neared the end of university education and the big wide world loomed, I wanted to be involved in a fast moving industry where you can see the results of your hard work on a daily basis. Additionally, I wanted to gain people management experience from day one and not be chained to a desk.

After some research I decided that the logistics industry was the one for me. Luckily the world’s number one logistics company also seemed to want me!

In my opinion the best thing about the graduate scheme is the ability to gain exposure to different challenges through the placements that form the first 18 months in the business. In order to give a balanced view of what life might be like working for DHL Exel Supply Chain I have tried to summarise my experiences and what I have gained in each placement.

Overall, I would like to stress that the opportunities will not come to you at DHL Exel Supply Chain but they are definitely there if you ensure that in every situation that you are exposed to that you take on as much as possible and make sure that you let people above you know how your input can be beneficial.

Line management major retailer (M&S) RDC – Nottingham

Within two weeks of joining the business I was in charge of my own team of 40 people. This quickly satisfied my desire to gain people management experience!

The team’s actions were my responsibility, therefore I learnt a great deal about how to inspire and motivate people in order to achieve their best. Of note, I interviewed over 60 people for warehouse operative positions and was responsible for giving feedback to those who were unsuccessful. Additionally I completed a process improvement project that improved productivity in a function by 7%.

Transport analyst M&S division

In this role I worked directly for one of the directors of a division of our company. I was involved in various projects which required me to travel extensively throughout the UK.

Day to day tasks involved the generation of weekly and monthly reports of the division’s performance that were required by the customer. I often had to justify and explain our performance directly to the customer.

During this time I worked on the following:

  • Completed a month working directly at our customer’s head office in Central London. I assisted with tracking business critical advertisement lines through our transport network.
  • Involvement in the biggest change in supplier transport charging by the customer in 15 years.
  • Ownership of the business continuity plans in the event of a bird flu outbreak effecting the operation of the 11 sites and over 3,000 employees in the division. I had to ensure that this linked in with the methodology that was required by the customer, was operationally feasible and had the correct ethical bias.
  • Involvement in the development of proposals to deal with the increased volume expectation in the run up to our customer’s busiest Christmas period for many years.

Toward the end of this secondment I became involved in the operation of an out-based transport operation at a site that was operated by one of our rivals on behalf of our customer.

This was a test of relationship management in order to provide the best possible service for our communal customer by maintaining a good working relationship with our rival but also ensuring that the efficiency of our transport operation was not compromised by this relationship.

Transport implementation – chemical plant, Northwich

Currently I am working on the implementation of a new transport contract. As the product is in the chemical industry it has required me to learn about the road transport regulations that apply to dangerous products. My degree has helped me be able to speak with confidence in meetings with the customer.

On site I am driving the change in transport planning systems that should save the customer 10% of their transportation cost. Many of the employees were transferred over from the previous provider and the step change of processes that the change to DHL Exel Supply Chain has brought has been a test of my people management skill. It is early days and there have been some very long days getting it right, but it appears to be working.

This role then developed into supporting the transport manager in the operation of the dedicated transport service. In this function I was involved in the recruitment and selection of delivery specialists along with benchmarking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the new contract. This was a demanding role that tested my people management skills. During this role I completed my CPC national qualification.

Operations Manager – Unilever

I began my first postgraduate scheme role as Operations Manager of a contract with Unilever based in Leeds. I have responsibility for an administration team, a warehouse operative team and a team of nine drivers, with three first line managers reporting to me. My team coordinates the clearance of finished goods from Unilever’s factory, warehousing in the UK and also the onward distribution to 28 European countries. Health and safety is our highest priority due to the fact we are transporting and storing highly explosive aerosols.

As the operation is 24/7 across two sites, a big challenge in this role is ensuring that effective communication is maintained. Additionally I have to lead the team in maintaining our performance against a set of demanding KPIs.

In the six months I have been in the role I have overseen the implementation of the biggest change to the European haulier portfolio in the last five years.

I have had to support Unilever in the implementation of a new stock management computer system and manage all the constraints that this placed upon our warehousing and transport operation. Every day in this role is a new challenge due to the ever-evolving nature of the contract.

However, I take a sense of pride seeing cans of Lynx and Sure in my local supermarket, knowing that I have played my part in ensuring that shelves right across Europe are full.

Training and development

The training provided has been excellent. I have attended various courses, which have made me much more aware of my management style and how this interaction can affect the performance of a team. I have also completed courses in: project management, effective grievance and discipline, risk and its role in the business, selection processes and accident investigation and prevention.

Day to day I have had to proactively take charge of my learning in the various roles that I have taken in the business.

I have learnt to live by the old adage of ‘if you’re not sure, just ask’, someone will know what you need to know in infinite detail and the majority of individuals are only too happy to pass on their knowledge.

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