BDP International is a leading privately held global logistics and transportation services company, headquartered in Philadelphia, USA. The company serves more than 4,000 customers worldwide and provides a range of services, including ocean, air and ground transportation; lead logistics process analysis, design and management; export freight forwarding; import customs clearance and regulatory compliance; project logistics; warehousing, consolidation and distribution; and its web-based BDP Smart Suite® of shipping transaction/ tracking management and visibility applications.
Since BDP International diversified its service offering into life sciences and healthcare in 2016, we’ve rapidly expanded our customer portfolio in the segment. We’ve invested in resources and expertise to support this new strategy and, today, about 35% of our overall business is with pharma. I, Simona, was hired at that time, bringing with me almost 20 years of experience in healthcare logistics, and my role has been to develop the life science business in Europe.
We know healthcare will remain one of the most important industries, as we can see with COVID, but it’s changing fast and quality requirements keep going up. Ensuring product quality is a significant challenge for the industry, and shippers need to be assured that their product integrity and customer service expectations are met. So in 2019, we decided to further invest and obtain a certification. It had to encompass European Union Good Distribution Practices (GDP), World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) standards.
As global pharmaceutical supply chains are heavily dependent on air freight, it also needed to cover the IATA Temperature Control Regulations, so the IATA CEIV Pharma certification was an obvious choice.
The uncertainty of the pandemic put our plans on hold for a while, but we eventually decided to go ahead because the certification was important to us for two reasons. We wanted to reassure our customers that we had them covered in a constantly changing, logistically difficult situation. And we wanted to be at the forefront of promoting reliable healthcare transport, as members of pharmaceutical industry logistics collectives, such as Pharmacom Italia and Pharma.Aero.
Half the effort required for certification is in training, and we needed to train 20 people from multiple areas of the business, at the same time, so everyone understands the entire chain of responsibility and their part in it. These people had varying levels of experience: from beginners to decades in the industry. And they were located in three different cities in three different countries, which we had chosen for the significance of their role in pharma transportation: Milan, Brussels and New York.
The IATA training for the CEIV Pharma certification is composed of two modules with eight days’ training in total: Temperature-Controlled Cargo Operations; and Audit, Quality and Risk Management for Temperature-Controlled Cargo. The live virtual training format offered to us was well suited to our situation, and the teaching methodology was adapted by the IATA trainer to meet the needs of the participants with their varying levels of experience and different roles. We were also able to set up sessions for 4pm Central European Time so that the entire team on both sides of the Atlantic could do it together.
This was my first time doing IATA training but, when you choose an organization like IATA, you expect that they will understand the industry and your daily reality, and that they will have a decent learning methodology. I did not anticipate that our trainer would be so very competent, and that the training would be of such excellent quality.
I, Kaija, agree completely. It was also my first time training with IATA, even with 25 years of experience in air freight. As Global Pharma Manager, in addition to being Airfreight Product Manager, it was good to see how colleagues from different functions learned and understood what each of our responsibilities are, where one finishes and the other starts, so we ensure seamless service for the customer. This will really help us grow our business in healthcare, I’m sure.
With virtual training, there’s always a risk that people will be distracted by other activities, but there was no chance to not pay attention. The teacher was really good: proactive, encouraging interaction, asking what we thought. There were team tasks and live exercises. Some people had no previous knowledge, so it was probably more difficult for them to take things in, but we could ask questions, and we went over everything at the end of each session, to check we’d understood. A handout also made it easier. It was pretty intense, and we were exhausted at the end of day. But we learned so much! After the training, we had a week or so before our exam. It was fairly complex, which you’d expect given the importance of the certification.
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We expected this training to boost our understanding and enable us to reach our certification goal sooner, and we now know what we need to put into place and how to do it quickly. The training taught us the theory, and then allowed us to practice it. We realized, for example, that we need to put more resources into how we manage our subcontractors to ensure compliance. This is essential for us because BDP is an asset-free business.
The training helped me, Simona, to better understand the IATA CEIV certification and the value it brings, so I can better promote BDP’s services and capabilities to customers in the life sciences and healthcare sector in my role of sales. This will help me achieve my targets.
For me, Kaija, I’ve gained more specific knowledge of pharma, and I found the risk management and quality aspects most useful, as I’ve had less experience with that. This will be valuable in my role as Global Pharma Manager. I can also say that now our operations personnel are able to comply with all the applicable standards, regulations and guidelines expected of pharmaceutical manufacturers. In addition, the training solidified us as a global pharma team and helped us learn to work together, exchanging best practices in our different countries.
The investment in training personnel at three stations is considerable, and we discussed the expected return beforehand. We expect the CEIV Pharma certification, of which about 50% is linked to training, to give us a return on investment in about one year.