Freight forwarders play a vital role in the movement of goods from one place to another. These guys act as essential go-betweens in the import/export process and provide assistance to individuals, commercial organisations, importers and exporters who need help facilitating their international trading operations.
While the movement of goods for individual customers is usually managed by postal and courier services, ‘freight forwarding’ commonly refers to the bulk movement of goods, also referred to as cargo or freight.
The freight forwarder works out the best method and route for moving large volumes of freight from the point of origin to the destination, utilising several modes of transport (e.g. road, rail, air and sea) and ensuring that the cargo reaches its destination in the least possible amount of time, in an environmentally friendly and safe manner and at the most affordable rate. In a few instances, transport companies themselves provide freight forwarding services, or vice versa.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be conducting research and route planning, taking into consideration the kind of cargo being transported, the distance involved and any specific customer requirements with regards to the final delivery time.
You’ll also be responsible for handling the packing, insurance, customs documentation and other regulatory requirements, especially for freight moving across national borders.
Awesome organisational skills are essential, as you’ll be arranging for the timely pick-up of freight and organising transportation between intermediate destinations, i.e. port facilities, cargo terminals and railway yards, through which a major portion of the freight movement is completed.
You’ll also be responsible for monitoring everything and keeping a keen eye on what’s going on, using software applications and satellite technology to provide real-time tracking of freight movements and ensuring timely delivery. Furthermore, you may be required to make payments and process transactions, like freight charges, on behalf of your customers.
This line of work also involves keeping your clients informed throughout the whole process and reporting back to them at each and every stage. Consequently, you will need to collect data, present it in an accessible form and write detailed reports.
From time to time, you may be required to arrange door-to-door deliveries for fragile or high-importance packages.
However, in the grand scheme of things, freight forwarders generally take up the responsibility of moving cargo from one stage to another, with a different service provider or a subsidiary unit handling local deliveries.
Salary & benefits
Salary levels for freight forwarders are dependent on the market they focus on, the location where they’re based and the type and size of the company employing them.
A significant percentage of freight forwarders are self-employed, running their businesses as proprietors or partners. These guys also sometimes operate as freight and transport consultants and/or customs brokers.
For salaried personnel in the early stages of their career, the potential earnings tend to range between £15,000 and £20,000 per annum, while freight forwarders with over three years of experience can earn between £20,000 and £25,000.
Senior professionals with over ten years of experience can earn up to £40,000 a year.
Large freight forwarding and transport companies operate throughout the year, providing a 24/7 service. Therefore, employees are likely to work on a shift basis. Work is mainly office-based and the places of work are generally located close to transport and industrial hubs.
It is possible to enter this line of work without a degree. However, a degree in logistics, supply chain management, transport planning, business management, economics and other related disciplines can be highly useful.
This profession is not exclusive to graduates with a background in these areas, however, and applicants from all other academic disciplines can also find employment in this area.
Understandably, you’ll also need absolutely fantastic organisational skills, a talent for solving problems, attention to detail and an ability to thrive under pressure.
Furthermore, your communication skills need to be second-to-none. In fact, if you are fluent in a second language, your chances of finding employment with a company that deals in foreign imports and exports will be greatly improved.
Consequently, a degree in modern languages may also set you up nicely for a career as a freight forwarder.
Training & progression
Graduate trainees in large companies and multinational corporations are likely to be recruited onto a graduate training programme, which allows them to gain practical experience through multiple placements across various functions of the business.
If you get onto one of these grad schemes, you may also be sponsored as you study towards gaining professional qualifications, which are offered by industry bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT).
Career progression is dependent upon individual performance, work experience and professional qualifications.
Apart from pursuing the option to work as a freelance freight forwarder, some employees opt to gain generalist experience across all freight-related industries and move into managerial positions, while others specialise in a niche area of trade, such as heavy duty machinery or fast moving consumer goods.