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Transport & Logistics careers

Import/Export, Shipping & Freight Forwarding

Why get into international trade?

International trade is an absolutely massive industry. Every nation in the world imports goods from abroad and exports its own wares to other countries. However, this transfer of goods is a highly complex process. Consequently, a range of people in different careers are required to make sure everything runs smoothly.

The likes of importers, exporters and freight forwarders are required to act as intermediaries who facilitate the business side of these international transactions, whilst people working as shipping clerks oversee the active process of goods coming in and going out of the country.

How does international trade work?

International trade and shipping consists of two parts: importing and exporting. Importing is the acquisition of goods from abroad, and exporting is the sale and distribution of goods to other countries.

These transactions tend to be on a large scale. They often involve a lot of money and a lot of goods being transported in large haulage operations using ships, HGVs, aeroplanes and trains.

The necessity for international trade comes down to three things: availability, price and status.

The first reason for a company importing goods or raw materials is purely down to the fact that certain things are just not available in certain countries. For instance, the UK does not really have an abundance of banana trees, so in order to meet the demands of the people who want that yellow, mushy, potassium-filled fruit, they have to be brought in from abroad.

Secondly, it can often be a lot cheaper to buy goods from abroad than to produce them domestically. For instance, electrical goods are produced and sold for a lot cheaper in the Far East.

Finally, the status of some items is enhanced by their foreign origin - imported beer from the Czech Republic, for instance.

Since international trade operations are conducted on such a large scale, people who pursue careers in this area need to be incredibly well-organised, focused and excellent at maintaining records.

Excellent communication skills are also necessary to help arrange and coordinate transactions effectively. Furthermore, the ability to speak a second language can be a fantastic asset when liaising with foreign clients.

What roles are available in the import/export sector?

The business side of importing and exporting can be extremely challenging, fast-paced and financially rewarding. Some careers in this area focus purely on the import side of things or the export side of things. However, many careers focus on the entire shipping process.

Essentially, import/export managers act as go-betweens for different companies across the globe and help to facilitate their huge shipping transactions and operations.

Careers in this area can take a number of different routes. You might work for an export management company. These expert organisations take charge of a domestic company’s exporting needs. They seek out buyers, oversee distribution, carry out marketing activities, research the best transport routes, arrange the shipping and sometimes even look after the financial part of the transactions.

These companies work on a commission basis (often 10% of the product value), and owing to the size of these transactions, employees can earn a particularly handsome wage.

Alternatively, import/export professionals might work for an export trading company. These guys work as agents on behalf of foreign buyers and seek out potential suppliers for them. To earn their commission, they then negotiate the best prices and get their clients the best possible deal.

Some importers/exporters work as brokers on a freelance basis. This can be a risky but incredibly lucrative career choice. They have no specific client base and simply buy goods directly off suppliers, do their research, find buyers and arrange the storage, packing and shipping all by themselves.

Understandably, this is not an entry-level option. These guys are dynamic salespeople who need to know their industry inside out. The best way to get started in this business is probably to get an assistant sales position with an import/export company.

Alternatively, you might get a better understanding of international trade by working as a shipping clerk, or for a freight forwarding company.

Importers and exporters act as intermediaries for companies, and freight forwarders act as intermediaries for importers and exporters. Effectively, these guys are a smaller link in a bigger chain. Working on behalf of import/export companies, people in these careers use their expertise to arrange the best, most efficient and cost-effective means of transport for the shipping of specific goods.

A freight forwarder’s job might involve researching transport routes, negotiating contracts and handling costs with specific logistics companies, arranging specific courier services (depending on the type of product), and liaising with everyone in the shipping chain to make sure everything goes according to plan. These guys need a good understanding of customs regulations, trade security and insurance policies.

Shipping activities need highly-organised administrative staff to monitor and administer the distribution and reception of imported/exported goods. This is where shipping clerks and import/export document coordinators come in.

These guys are employed by companies to keep a detailed record of all imports and exports, prepare the appropriate documents, verify the receipt and distribution of the right goods, maintain inventories, and liaise with suppliers to monitor delivery schedules and to rectify any mistakes.

These guys also need a sound understanding of customs regulations, invoices and technologically advanced documentation systems.

If you’re keen to keep the country well-stocked in bananas and other exotic (though not necessarily mushy) produce, you should probably consider a career in the exciting world of import/export, shipping and freight forwarding!