Five years ago Tesco Dotcom, the home delivery division of the supermarket giant, was running 1,200 delivery vans and had, by its own admission, some way to travel on the road to fleet efficiency and exceptional risk management.
Today, it has 2,450 vans and is a double award winner, having scooped initiative of the year at this year’s Fleet News Awards and van fleet of the year – delivery at the Fleet Van awards.
It’s an impressive turnaround which has been driven by operations director Keith Price, assisted by fleet and equipment operations manager Dino Papas and Cliff Cheeseman, fleet operations manager – training.
Price, who joined the Dotcom business from a store role in 2005, says the company was sparked into action by the high cost of driver accidents.
“Our driver recruitment and management needed to improve quickly.”
Now, no-one can get a job as a Tesco Dotcom driver unless they have been assessed to prove their capability to drive the vehicle and fully trained to carry out their duties.
Those duties mean they are more than simply drivers. Tesco Dotcom calls them customer delivery assistants (CDAs) and never uses the term driver internally.
Facilitating its new policy was the decision to centralise the recruitment process. It gives Price greater control over the quality of new CDAs.
The hour-long assessment includes reversing manoeuvres and an on-road evaluation by a trained assessor.
Around half of potential recruits fail the test and there are no re-takes; if you fail that’s the end.
For those who pass, this is just the start. Licences are checked and a mandate has to be signed to give the company permission to verify with the DVLA at any time. New starters ‘buddy up’ with an existing CDA while they undertake Bronze training.
This intensive course includes vehicle checks, paperwork, load stability, defect and accident reporting and on-road training with RoSPA qualified instructors.
Recruits are issued with a permit to drive, which doubles as an ID card.
Bronze training is the minimum level of safety. Silver represents the next step in a CDA’s career ladder and enables them to buddy another driver.
It also covers a higher level of maintenance skills such as changing light bulbs and mirror lenses.
Tesco Dotcom plans to introduce a Gold standard where its assessors undergo further occupational training with RoSPA.
Assessors are promoted from its best CDAs. They undergo a three-day RoSPA course and return as a trainer/assessor or a Dotcom manager.
Such career progression opportunities give ambitious CDAs something to aim for. It has improved staff motivation and helped cut the attrition rate from 40% to around 1-3%.
“This programme helps to make Tesco feel like an important place. We have made the selection process more demanding and we offer the best CDAs the opportunity to progress their career,” says Price.
Cheeseman adds: “The permit to drive is also good for culture. CDAs are proud of it and they are proud to be a Tesco driver.”
Not all training is career-focused. Mindful of its previously high accident rate, incidents which result in damage to a vehicle or property are recorded and passed to Papas’s team.
Every Friday Tesco Dotcom hosts an accident review board via conference call, when two CDAs and two instructors listen to a description of the incident.
They are not told who the driver is, but make the decision about whether it was avoidable.
“Letting the peer group make the decision means we have never had a grievance,” says Cheeseman.
Nine out of ten incidents are deemed to be preventable. The CDA will get coaching based on the type of incident.
The impact on costs has been substantial with a £2,000 per van drop in repair costs since 2005.
It has also cut third party costs.
Tesco Dotcom’s training programme also includes a one-hour alcohol avoidance session.
And next year it will introduce alcohol testing for drivers after reaching agreement with the unions.
Key to getting their buy-in was agreeing to set up random breathalysing by shift rather than individual.
“We just want to make life safer for our drivers,” says Price.
Safety was also paramount when Tesco Dotcom introduced telematics a couple of years ago.
Every van is fitted with the Microlise system.
On their return to the distribution hub, CDAs have an immediate debrief (‘normal’ stores do the debrief the next day) which looks at key performance indicators logged on the system, such as harsh braking, speeding and vehicle idling.
The consequences of violations can be severe – exceeding the speed limit by 20mph is gross misconduct.