By Keith Norbury

Leading up to his appointment as Executive Director of Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association, Bruce Rodgers decided to get some schooling in his longtime profession. So, he enrolled in all four of CIFFA’s educational programs “because I didn’t have that desk level understanding that this really starts with,” said Mr. Rodgers, who became Executive Director in November 2018. “And I learned a significant amount that I didn’t know before. Not that I had a negative turn on the CIFFA training,” he added. “But now I’m a strong advocate that everybody should go through these programs because it really gives you a very good understanding of how the entire supply chain process works.”

Since his years of experience in the business were at an executive level, including as President of large multimodal operations, “I really didn’t get involved at the desk level,” Mr. Rodgers said. “I didn’t build containers and I didn’t necessarily understand what a cubic meter was in a container, or how to load it, or anything like that.”

Good overall understanding

As an “old guy” in the industry, his training was all on-the-job — “sit down at the desk, here’s a shipment and move it,” Mr. Rodgers said. Traditionally, people in the industry learned their craft that way — from the people who sat in that desk before them. “So, this will give you a really good overall understanding of how the entire process works, versus sitting trying to learn what somebody else has forgotten,” Mr. Rodgers said. “I think it’s a very worthwhile program to take, and I think they will learn a lot from it.”

His previous employer, Schenker Canada Limited, also availed itself of CIFFA training, especially for people coming into the organization who were new to the industry. “It provides them with that basic understanding, and a very good understanding of how the freight forwarding community works,” Mr. Rodgers said. “And CIFFA is really the only one that offers the type of training we were looking for — just to give that skill set to the desk-level individual.”

About a year before she retired, Ruth Snowden, his predecessor as Executive Director, also took the CIFFA courses. “Her pursuit of lifelong education is a true one,” said Stephen McDermott, CIFFA’s Director of Education and Marketing. “We love to encourage all of our members or anybody who’s working in the industry, who’s been doing it for a very long time and had a successful career, to just consider to continue to learn.”

Such opportunities are more bountiful than ever. In addition to its own certificate programs, which are delivered entirely online, CIFFA now has partnerships with 15 Canadian post-secondary institutions. Each year, about 3,000 students take programs with CIFFA courses either through the colleges or online.

Enrollment grows

“We’re actually seeing a lift in our enrollment, in our dangerous goods programs, our air cargo security programs, and even our workshops,” Mr. McDermott said.

For example, a recent Incoterms 2020 workshop had a huge response, he noted.

When Mr. McDermott joined CIFFA about eight years ago, the association only had half a dozen college partners. But since then, it has steadily added one or two new ones each year. Recently added was Fleming College, which offers a supply chain management-global logistics program at its Peterborough campus that includes a CIFFA certificate upon graduation. CIFFA also recently signed a new agreement with Centennial College for two programs at its Scarborough campus that also award CIFFA certificates. Both programs include the cost for the CIFFA exams and certificates in the course fees. That’s now the case for all but three of the college partnerships, Mr. McDermott said.

“How it worked before was that we would be creating our own exams and things like that based off of the material that CIFFA provided us,” said Amanda Stone, who chairs business and management studies at Centennial’s business school. “Should students achieve a particular grade, as per our agreement, then they would go on to CIFFA, pay a fee, and write the actual exam through CIFFA.”

Value-added education

Centennial educators discovered, though, that those who didn’t write the exam “were missing out on a value-add piece,” Ms. Stone added. So now, with the CIFFA fee embedded in the course price, all students can write the exams within the respective courses. “For students who may not academically meet the requirement on their first go-around, CIFFA has agreed they can write the exam again through its facilities outside of our classes within a one-year timeframe,” she said. That includes a nominal fee for the repeat exam.

Centennial offers CIFFA courses in four programs: global logistics courses in diploma-level and post-graduate programs; and diploma-level and post-grade principles of freight forwarding courses. “We just don’t have a CIFFA midterm and a CIFFA final, we have other assessments built into our courses that allow us to be able to reliably determine whether or not a student has met all of the learning outcomes for the particular class,” Ms. Stone said.

Post-graduate programs run full-time and have classes in six or seven subjects each semester. CIFFA fees are only applied during semesters that CIFFA courses are taught.

“It is a lot of work. But we make a lot of conscious effort at the college to make sure that every year we look at what we call our student workload map to make sure that work is distributed evenly or as evenly as possible throughout our 14-week semester,” Ms. Stone said.

At any given time, Centennial has about 550 students enrolled in the CIFFA-related courses. Most of those students are from outside of Canada — about 60 per cent for the diploma courses, and around 90 per cent for the post-graduate courses.

“We are known as Canada’s International College,” Ms. Stone said. The international students pay a premium for that privilege. Two semesters of tuition for the graduate global business management course run about $14,500 for international students compared with about $4,300 for Canadians.

The CIFFA certificate can also lead to a diploma from FIATA, the international federation of freight forwarders associations. That is particularly appealing to students from China, “where the only other CIFFA in the world exists — the Chinese International Freight Forwarders Association,” Ms. Stone said with a laugh.

International aspirations

No wonder CIFFA itself is looking to expand its educational programs internationally. “We’re getting a number of requests from outside of Canada as well, really to fill a void,” Mr. Rodgers said. “Nobody has this type of training program that we offer to people within Canada. So a number of people are reaching out to us to look at how to educate people elsewhere.” However, neither he nor Mr. McDermott could comment on what specific cities, in the U.S. for example, would be likely CIFFA education partners.

Mr. Rodgers said that CIFFA is in the “discussion stages” with potential education partners outside of Canada and that an international group that provides compliance type training is looking into it.

CIFFA has also partnered with York University’s Executive Education Centre on three management-level programs. “There’s a finance program, a sales program, and a customer service skill set program as well. And that ultimately gets the individual into a professional freight forwarder designation,” Mr. Rodgers said.

CIFFA promotes that designation — called PFF for short — as identifying top-notch properly trained members of the profession. To achieve the PFF also requires five years of experience as a freight forwarder.

“We have a variety of different training programs,” Mr. Rodgers said. For example, Essentials of Freight Forwarding provides a basic understanding of how to create the paperwork, how to load proper containers, how to properly price shipments, as well as calculations of cubic dimensions. It also covers more advanced material such as Incoterms, customs, and project cargo handling.

Subject matter experts

“We probably have anywhere up to ten different subject matter experts, depending on the topic, that we call upon to help us to upgrade our material or create new material at any time,” Mr. McDermott said. Five employees at CIFFA’s secretariat are dedicated to education. That doesn’t include the contractors who teach the material or write the curricula.

CIFFA would also like to expand its educational opportunities into more parts of Canada. The association’s other educational partners include Anderson College, Lambton College, George Brown College, Seneca College, triOS College, Eastern College, Brighton College, St. Clair College, Eastern College, Universal Learning Institute, Langara College, and Discovery Community College.

While CIFFA has partnerships in B.C., Ontario, and the Maritimes, it doesn’t have any in Quebec or in the Prairie provinces yet. “We try on a regular basis to have communications with different schools in Alberta in particular, but we just haven’t been able to integrate our material into their program,” Mr. McDermott said. “It’s a tough integration because a lot of work needs to go into making sure that all standards are met.”

According to Ms. Stone at Centennial College, CIFFA meets those standards with flying colours. “We’re bringing industry directly into the classroom, from a practical perspective, but also from a designation perspective,” Ms. Stone said.

The payoff for students comes when they apply for a job and can state on their resumes that they have a CIFFA certificate, she said. “They already set themselves apart from a multitude of other people who are graduating from college or university, but without that certificate.”