Between hazardous goods and honorary office – an interview with Logistics manager Ralf Nieß

The field of logistics is complex, multifaceted and constantly faces new challenges that need to be mastered. This not only requires a certain amount of expertise, but also demands flexibility and commitment. As a long-time head of our logistics department and member of the executive committee of the Bundesverband Wirtschaft, Verkehr und Logistik e.V. (BWVL), Ralf Nieß looks back on many years of professional experience and ever-changing market situations. In this interview, he tells us how logistics has developed over time, what challenges are faced on a daily basis, and how he sees the future of the department.

Ralf Nieß
Logistics manager Ralf Nieß

Mr. Nieß, you can already look back on many years of experience in the field of logistics. What has your career been like so far and how long have you been working for Häffner?

After my training as a forwarding agent, I graduated as a transport specialist. I also passed the trainer aptitude test and worked for a total of ten years in the truck forwarding sector. I was then allowed to gain experience in air freight for one year and then spent fourteen years working for an American company in the transport and export documentation department. I have now been working for Häffner since 1999.

Why did you decide to work for Häffner after many years in a large corporation and what challenges do you face – especially in the medium-sized business?

I originally came from the medium-sized business sector and wanted to return to it. I was not yet familiar with the hazardous goods and tank sector and wanted to broaden my professional horizons. That was ultimately the deciding factor. The challenges of logistics often revolve around issues such as a shortage of drivers, a shortage of cargo space, but also the conditions on the roads, such as construction sites, accidents, or ailing infrastructure in general. Drive-through bans for trucks do the rest, and I would see the management of driving and working times as a constant challenge – also for the future.

In addition to your work at Häffner, you are involved in several associations on a voluntary basis. Among other things, you are a member of the executive committee of BVWL. How did you get your position and how long have you been active in this association?

Häffner is a founding member of the association. At his suggestion, I was appointed to the advisory board a few years ago and eventually asked if I would like to serve on the presidium. I was then officially elected in 2017. The BWVL office is located in Bonn. As a member of the Presidium, you mainly have an advisory role.

Why is the work of the BWVL so important for members and transport markets?

The most important thing is the exchange with politicians. The individual is often not heard, so cohesion and also working with other associations is essential. Otherwise, political decisions may be made that could ultimately be to the detriment of markets and companies.

Häffner is therefore represented in two very important associations, the BWVL and the VCH (Verband Chemiehandel). As a contact at BWVI, I have represented the interests of VCH on the topic of “Safety in Logistics” for over ten years. In addition, I am a member of the transport committee of the Stuttgart Region Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The exchange of experience and networking among each other is enormously important for cooperation and the future of the industry. You can discuss both positive and negative experiences and arrive at new approaches and solutions together.

The Corona pandemic is still going on. What changes or even restrictions have you noticed in your day-to-day business?

It is more difficult to plan tours because goods are not always available. Accordingly, the daily volume is sometimes very volatile and there is less loading space available in the market. In the vehicle fleet, employees have to be flexible and adapt to vehicle changes, for example.

You recently appeared in a ZDFheute report on the subject of “Ailing infrastructures in Germany”. To what extent does this circumstance affect the work in logistics and how do you deal with it?

Due to construction sites, detours and accidents, our tours are much harder to plan. We have to pay close attention to driving and working times as well as statutory rest periods. In addition, there are far too few truck parking spaces. Our drivers leave very early and usually return in the afternoon, so we can drive somewhat contrary to rush hour traffic in the hope of avoiding long traffic jams.

If we look to the future: In your opinion, are there any significant changes in logistics that will play a major role in the future? If so, what would they look like in your opinion?

It will certainly be exciting to see which drives are used in the future. Whether electric, hydrogen or similar. In my opinion, diesel will die out as a fuel in the long run. Electric drive is currently not practical for long-distance transport. Personally, I estimate that electric in short-distance transport and hydrogen in long-distance transport have great potential, but the appropriate infrastructure must be created for this.

Driver and cargo space shortages will continue to be a major issue. Whether and how autonomous driving will find its way into goods transport is something I cannot judge at the moment, but I personally do not believe that long-distance transport can be converted to it.

We recently welcomed three new trainees at Häffner. One of the new colleagues will now start in warehouse logistics, the other two in wholesale and foreign trade management. In your opinion, how important is the “promotion of young talent” in this area and what strengths should young trainees bring with them in order to succeed in it?

It is enormously important that training takes place and that young people are accompanied into working life and given specialist training. Well-qualified employees are increasingly needed, whether in the office or in a fully automated high-bay warehouse. In contrast to the past, the liability of the loader has a different meaning. Therefore, load securing or – as especially at Häffner, for example – knowledge about dangerous goods is a basic requirement for our daily work. You have to approach it with interest, willingness and a thirst for knowledge, then you can learn a very multifaceted and comprehensive profession in logistics.

Especially in the area of hazardous goods, it is important not to be afraid of this material, but never to lose respect for it. Accidents can be avoided by wearing appropriate protective clothing. Nevertheless, the responsible handling of these substances is a necessary prerequisite for our everyday work. Last but not least, I would like to emphasize that there are numerous opportunities for further training, so that you can always improve your professional skills and – as in my case – also do voluntary work for your profession.


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