Think about your mobile phone:
- Where was it manufactured?
- How did it get to the UK?
- How was it delivered to you?
The answer will typically be that the phone was manufactured in Asia, shipped in a sea container into a UK distribution warehouse and couriered to you or a phone store. Whether an item is a phone, a shirt or fresh fish, it will typically be sourced off shore, and there is an entire industry that is there to plan, organise and execute the flow of these goods from the source to the end user.
International commerce is nothing new, goods have been traded internationally for centuries but in the last decades ‘globalisation’ has enabled companies to take advantage of lower production costs in emerging economies. Freight forwarders are the key link in the supply chain, ensuring companies maximise the benefit of a global sourcing strategy.
What is freight forwarding?
The terms ‘Freight Forwarding’ and ‘Logistics’ have, in the last years, become interchangeable and in essence there is often not a clear boundary between the two. Logistics encompasses the movement, processing and handling of materials from source to end user. Freight forwarding is an aspect of logistics that focuses solely on the transport element, whether the goods move on a truck, plane or a container vessel. Simply put, a ‘freight forwarder’ is a company or person that organises the transportation of goods and materials for other companies or individuals.
Being a freight forwarder
A freight forwarding company typically does not own the containers, boats, planes, warehouses or trucks that the cargo is moved or stored in. Rather the forwarder will utilise various independent companies. They add value to the customer by understanding the best method and routing of the transport.
Working as a ‘forwarder’ is not limited to only organising transport flows. As with any other business there are many other facets that cannot be ignored, such as Finance, Human Resources, Sales, Information Technology. There is a role for everyone within freight forwarding and the wider logistics community.
A day in the life…
So what does a typical day for a freight forwarder look like and what kind of work would you be expected to undertake?
Sean Docherty, Export Operator from Kuehne + Nagel explains:
“Every day is different and this is one of the main reasons why I enjoy working in freight forwarding.
“A typical day would involve coming in around 08.00 to check the progress of shipments from the last few days, if there are delays I want to know why so I can let the customers know. Then I check the log to see what needs to be done for the day.
“Typical tasks include arranging shipments, checking queries, invoicing, providing prices to prospective customers, the list is endless. The variety has meant that I have learned lots of new skills which are very transferable.
“I didn’t have a degree when I joined four years ago but Kuehne + Nagel invest in their staff and I recently completed my Level 5 Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT).
“It’s been great mixing the theory and practise. The opportunities within freight forwarding are immense.
“At the end of September I will take up a new role in Hong Kong as part of the business development group. Although I don’t have a huge amount of experience in sales my knowledge of the practical side has enabled me to progress. Forwarding isn’t just my job, it’s a way of life and I hope others will be inspired to work in this exciting industry.”
Have I got the right skills?
Whether you are a graduate or a school leaver, a pre-requisite for anyone wanting to work in freight forwarding is that you are enthusiastic, hard working and most importantly open minded. Just because something was always done in a particular way does not mean its right.
Fresh thinkers come with fresh ideas.
What are the opportunities?
The opportunities are endless but are ultimately dependent upon you. You can go as high and as far as you want, it just depends upon your ambition, determination and desire. Many forwarders actively promote further education for employees that want to challenge themselves, whether that’s an NVQ, diploma, bachelors or masters degree.
When can I start?
Getting a career in freight forwarding is relatively straight forward. You can go to the internet, search for freight forwarding jobs and away you go. If you don’t succeed straight away, just be persistent. Enthusiasm and perseverance are what defines a ‘freight forwarder’.