By Keith Norbury

What does the future of freight forwarding look like in Canada? Let’s ask recent winners of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association’s annual Young International Freight Forwarder of the Year competition. The 2017 winner, Bradley Davis — who went on to win the global YIFFY award — said he wishes he had a crystal ball. Even without one, he said, “I definitely see a lot of the trucking industry starting to move towards autonomous vehicles.” He also envisions information technology platforms enabling forwarders “to go after a lot of the customers that are your onesie-twosies that can be worked automatically through a system.” And he expects to see more consolidation in the industry as large companies acquire small and medium-sized forwarders.

Pushing data entry

Kendyl Baptiste, who won CIFFA’s YIFFY award in 2018, has already seen quite a few changes since her first exposure to the industry 13 years ago. “Before, there were a lot of phonecall-based updates,” said Ms. Baptiste, who is now an ocean import supervisor at the Bolloré Logistics’ Toronto office. “Now everyone’s really pushing data entry.” That includes an online tracking system, and introduction of the paperless eManifest system, although so far her company is using the latter only for consolidations. “But hopefully everyone gets on board and it starts working more smoothly,” Mrs. Baptiste said. “It will definitely help in terms of timely submissions and speeding things up just in general.” She also anticipates that her customers, such as those buying consumer goods, are going to want their freight quotes immediately. “So, having that platform online to get a quote right off the bat — if you don’t create a program like that, you’re going to be out of the market soon,” Mrs. Baptiste said.

Like Mr. Davis, she also expects to see more industry consolidation, as well as more one-stop shops, such as freight forwarders investing in trucking companies or fourth-party logistics (4PL). (4PL occurs when a company hires a fourth specialist to coordinate the work of third-party work it has already outsourced.)

International trade agreements are also likely to have an impact on freight forwarding. “That’s definitely going to change things because who knows what Trump is going to do next,” she said.

Generational shift

Douglas Whitlock, who won CIFFA’s YIFFY award in 2014, said one of the biggest impacts he sees coming is the imminent retirement of baby boomers from the profession. “As soon as people start retiring I think it’s going to open a lot of major gaps, which is going to cause constraints on the industry itself,” said Mr. Whitlock, 32, who is now head of ocean freight for Panalpina in Miami, Fla. “But at the same time it gives a lot of opportunity for up and coming people.”

On the technology front, the industry isn’t as advanced as it could be in such areas as tracking and tracing shipments, said Mr. Whitlock, who has been with Panalpina for eight years, including four years recently in Hamburg, Germany.

“Interaction with the Internet is one part that I would say seems like it’s much more advanced but, overall, it’s just not really where it should be as of yet,” Mr. Whitlock said. “They still need to have large stepping stones into automation, into the way that data is processed, (and) the utilization of systems.”

The uneven rollout of eManifest is “just another example of how far behind the times we are when all you’re really doing is passing information that should be processed through a (computer) system anyway.”

Mr. Whitlock’s company at least is making strides toward a paperless world. “It’s actually one of our initiatives as a company to go as green as possible,” he said.

One technological area that Mr. Whitlock is skeptical about is blockchain. “Unfortunately, I think it’s one of those fads where every couple of years they come out with a new idea where they think they’re going to change the world,” Mr. Whitlock said, noting that freight forwarding has been around for centuries.

On top of the world

In 2017, Mr. Davis not only won CIFFA’s YIFFY honors, and the regional award for the Americans, he was also the first CIFFA winner of the global YIFFY award since 2007.

As this article went to press, Mrs. Baptiste was still awaiting word on how she had done in the regional competition. A victory would grant her a shot at the world title, which will be presented in Delhi, India, later this year. Mr. Whitlock, meanwhile, won the Americas competition in 2014, which earned him a spot in the final four and a trip to Istanbul for the final.

Mr. Davis collected his global YIFFY at the world congress of FIATA — the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations — in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October 2017. “It was pretty cool,” said Mr. Davis, 29, who now works as a national trade lane special with Kuehne + Nagel in Toronto, having joined the company in July 2017. “The year and half before, it was every weekend, nights, vacation time, and holidays I was spending in the office, basically writing and researching and going non-stop. So it felt like it was something I had really earned.”

The effort was worth it, though, said Mr. Davis, who worked on his YIFFY entries while with his previous employer, Panalpina. He tries to promote the competition as much as possible to other young people in the profession. Mr. Davis estimated that researching and writing the two dissertations he submitted to the competitions took him a few hundred hours for each one. One reason he could find the time to work on his dissertations was that he doesn’t have children, he said. His girlfriend, Cindy Dasrat, also works in the industry, with Expeditors International. “She understands, especially when you’re dealing with imports from the Asia-Pacific, your job never really ends,” Mr. Davis said.

From Edmonton to Russia

His first dissertation plotted how to transport 20 trolley buses from Edmonton to Samara, a Russian city about 1,000 kilometres east of Moscow. His report covered such details as trucking the trolleys, how to load them onto a ship, clearing export and import customs, and the type of equipment needed for the inland move in Russia.

“It was an interesting exercise. I do not have a lot of experience with Russia,” Mr. Davis said, adding that the experience gave him great respect for those who do project cargo work. “It’s extremely difficult and if you mess up one thing, you could screw up the entire project,” he said. As with most of the scenarios that Canadian competitors have had to solve in recent years, that one was the brain child of transportation consultant Fred Grootarz, President of Acro Navigation Inc. Mr. Grootarz said he bases the scenarios largely on his personal experiences and shapes them to fit FIATA’s rules. “I give them leads to get to certain things and all that and then they’ve got to go to work and figure it all out,” said Mr. Grootarz, who also judges the CIFFA part of the competition.

The Canadian winner receives a $1,500 cash prize. Winners of the regional Americas competition receive free registration and accommodation to the FIATA world congress plus US$1,000 toward their airfare. Aside from the cash rewards, Mr. Grootarz noted, the winners have all received “interesting job advancements because of it.”

Ice Road trucking

For his second dissertation, Mr. Davis envisioned transporting a gargantuan Komatsu dump truck from Japan to Rio Tinto’s Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories. That move entailed dismantling of the Komatsu, trucking it to Ibaraki port, then barging it to a nearby airport where it was loaded into an Antonov cargo plane. From there, the cargo flew to Edmonton where it was trucked to the mine, with the last legs of the journey over ice roads. To assist with the plans, Mr. Davis contacted companies that specialize in Arctic trucking, including Nor-Ex Engineering Ltd. and Tli Cho Landtran Transport Ltd. The latter’s drivers often appear on the History Channel series Ice Road Truckers. “I just kind of kept bugging everybody,” Mr. Davis said. “And they just thought, ‘Oh crap, this guy’s not going away,’ I guess.”

The project move was unlike anything he did in his day-to-day work, which primarily involved transporting retail goods in shipping containers. But he knew a dissertation about importing a container of garments from Bangladesh wasn’t going to win the competition. Besides, he had competed for the Canadian title the previous year and didn’t win. “I wanted it to be the hardest possible thing that I thought I’d be able to get through,” Mr. Davis explained.

Driver shortage noted

As for the threat that autonomous vehicles might pose for truck-driving jobs, Mr. Davis noted that the more pressing problem at present is a shortage of drivers.

“How many people do you know right now that are growing up saying, ‘I want to be a driver or I want to be a long haul trucker?’” Mr. Davis said. “There’s no appeal in it when you can make more money working in a warehouse than driving seven, eight hours a day through traffic, hauling huge loads. It’s a tough industry.”

At the same time, Mr. Davis anticipates a huge information technology industry developing to manage autonomous fleets. “The jobs don’t disappear. They just migrate to a new place,” he said. That would include Uber-like services for trucking. “But the issue with that is you’re lacking a lot of the knowledge that comes through the industry,” Mr. Davis said. “You can make a system look great and as long as everything’s going hunky dory, that’s perfect. But as soon as you have a port strike, you’re back to a manual process.”

As for his own future, he would like to live and work in Asia for about five years.

“One of the great things about this company is they’ve got a ton of succession planning in place and have no problems letting people experience the world and trying out different areas of the company,” Mr. Davis said.

Born in Newmarket, Ont., to Canadian parents, Mr. Davis grew up in Atlanta, Ga. After three years of study at Southern Polytechnic State University, he decided he needed a change and hopped on a plane back to his native country.

“So it’s home for right now and then I hope that the next place I go to, I can make it feel like home as well,” Mr. Davis said.

Nuclear option

Mrs. Baptiste also competed for the 2017 CIFFA prize. She was disappointed at her result but tried again the next year. (Mr. Grootarz said he encouraged both her and Mr. Davis to try again after their unsuccessful initial attempts.) The scenario for the 2018 CIFFA competition was to move the stator of a nuclear power plant from Poland to Treverton, Ont. Mr. Grootarz said he devised the scenario based on a real-life, but not identical move.

Her dissertation for the regional competition involved exporting humanitarian relief aid to the Central African Republic, a country she knew nothing about. “It was very interesting because there’s a lot of armed conflict going on.” Mrs. Baptiste said. “Trying to transport into that kind of situation is very difficult.”

For each of the papers — which combined total about 60 pages, including photos, graphs, and maps — she worked for at least a month and a half, in her spare time. “For the week leading up, as I was putting everything together and finalizing everything, I wasn’t really getting a lot of sleep,” she said.

Mrs. Baptiste started in the freight forwarding business while still in high school, working part-time at Shipco Transport, where her mom, Karen Valenta, worked.

“I started off really just doing filing for them,” Mrs. Baptise said. “Eventually I would ask questions. I wanted to learn more so I would start doing some of the manifests for them, just submit customs paperwork. I got more and more involved and then I progressed to actually handling some of the deliveries, some of their shipments, and processing the paperwork. It just kind of kept going from there.”

Mentoring her elders

Her original goal was to be a teacher, which led her to study physical and health education at the University of Toronto. About half way through, she dropped her educational aspirations. And when she graduated in 2012, she had a lot of bills to pay, so decided to work full-time at Shipco, where she had continued to work part-time and during vacations while at university. “And since then I just kind of went with the flow, and stayed in the industry,” Ms. Baptiste said.

After two years full-time with Shipco, in 2014 the flow took her to SDV Logistics, which is now called Bolloré Logistics. Headquartered in France, Bolloré has offices in 106 countries with 20,200 employees.

Mrs. Baptiste works out of the Toronto office in Mississauga. Since April 2018, she has been an ocean import supervisor, with five full-time employees and one-part-timer working under her purview. With the exception of the part-timer, all of them are older than Mrs. Baptiste, who is 27. “It’s an adjustment, definitely,” she said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. They’ve all been in the industry a lot longer than I have.”

As a millennial, though, she grew up with the Internet and learned about computer applications in school “whereas this is something they would have had to learn on the job.” As a consequence, she gets to put the teaching skills she learned at university to work — although it’s more like adult education. “That’s actually one of the aspects I do like about being in this position is teaching,” she said.

Moving an Avro Arrow?

Mr. Whitlock said he entered the YIFFY competition at the urging of colleague Kal Petrov, who represented the Americas region at the 2013 competition in Singapore. At the time, Petrov was also employed with Panalpina. He has since moved to join 2017 YIFFY winner Brad Davis at Kuehne+Nagel. “When I first heard of Kal doing it, I was not too eager myself to take on extracurricular activities. But I saw the success that he had, and that kind of trickled down to Bradley, who just won recently as well,” Mr. Whitlock, noting that the three are good friends.

For his initial dissertation, Mr. Whitlock had to plan the move of a replica of Canada’s historic Avro Arrow fighter jet from a Toronto museum that was closing to a museum in Manheim, Germany. “So I had to do the whole process of how the move would be made, the packaging, (and) when it got into Germany, what road constraints there were. Would it move on the road? Would it move on a barge? And stuff like that,” Mr. Whitlock said. “It was an interesting overall experience.”

For his second dissertation, Mr. Whitlock had to plan the movement of relief aid to the Philippines in the wake of a tsunami.

While his entries didn’t win him the world title, they did earn him a trip to Istanbul for the FIATA World Congress, where he rubbed shoulders with industry leaders from around the world. “I think I got over 200 business cards at that point — people congratulating you, saying ‘Hey, we’d like to work with you,’” Mr. Whitlock said.

The shining moment

The exposure from his YIFFY efforts also helped advance his career. “Probably the shining moment was where I was able to get recognition within the company itself,” Mr. Whitlock said. And that, he added, enabled him to move into new roles within the organization.

Freight forwarding wasn’t his initial career choice, though. He studied graphic design at Mohawk College, but he graduated during a recession when “people just weren’t hiring graphic designers.” So he ended up working for Canada Cartage, which was where his father was working at the time. Then he dated a woman whose father owned a small freight forwarding company, Zircon Logistics. The young love didn’t last, but his relationship with the industry blossomed, resulting in him joining Panalpina in August 2010. After about four years as a regional, then global key account manager in Germany, he recently moved to Miami where he now supervises a team of eleven, most of them older than he is.

Dealing with the generational diversity is comparable to dealing with people of different cultural backgrounds — something he is used to doing as a Canadian, he said. “We’re very personable,” Mr. Whitlock said. “We’re also relatable but we’re also very sensitive and sympathetic to others as well.”