By Keith Norbury

Technically speaking, one doesn’t need a formal education in freight forwarding or a diploma in a related discipline, such as in international trade, to enter the freight forwarding profession. As a practical matter, however, such an education confers a huge advantage. Just ask Tony Jaques. Now a Vice-President and business unit manager with Panalpina Inc. in Toronto, Mr. Jaques credits his successful 20-plus years in the profession to a decision he made in 1990 to enroll in an international trade program at Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont. “Without the diploma, I would not have been considered in the industry,” Mr. Jaques said.

Initially, Mr. Jaques had enrolled in the college’s policing program with an eye to a career in law enforcement. During the first semester, he heard speeches from various instructors of other programs at the college. Among them was Peter Malkovsky, who taught international trade and who still teaches a similar program at the college today. “Peter had a very convincing speech to get me to flip and take a shot at international trade and Pacific export,” Mr. Jaques said. “He sold the concept that international trade and international business would only grow in importance.”

Mr. Malkovsky, who used to write a column for Canadian Sailings, isn’t a freight forwarder by profession. But he has been involved in freight forwarding and international trade for about 35 years, going back to when he worked with the federal government for the deputy minister in charge of Customs at the time. “I have an MBA in international trade from Texas A&M University, and it always bothered me that I had to go to Texas to learn my trade,” Mr. Malkovsky said.

So he leapt at the invitation in the mid 1980s to set up Fleming College’s international trade program, which launched in 1987. “I came to Fleming in 1985 to teach customs but the agreement was that as I teach customs, I would develop an international trade program,” Mr. Malkovsky said.

Program leads to virtually assured employment

Graduates of Fleming’s most recent three-year program, who finished their studies in April, are readily finding work in the industry. David Roberts started his job as an import coordinator with BDP Canada ULC on May 20, less a month after he graduated. “I was going for interviews in my last week of school and then my employer here called me an hour after I finished my last exam,” said Mr. Roberts. He had four interviews in total and doubts he would have landed any of them had he not taken a diploma program related to the profession. “A lot of companies that deal with international trade in Ontario are pretty well aware of the Fleming College program,” Mr. Roberts said. “And a lot of them do love to hire grads.” The program prepared him well for the overall work of freight forwarding and related customs clearance duties, he said. “Every freight forwarder or international trade company has its own software that they use in order to track and record shipments,” he said, noting that the main challenge was “just getting a hang of” those procedures. His typical day involves planning the arrival of cargoes into Canada and “arranging custom clearances and inland freight of those shipments.” Most of those are for manufacturers, such as a helicopter company that gets many of its parts from Taiwan and France.

Mr. Roberts was studying marketing when he first went to college, but after taking an introductory course in international trade, he drifted in that direction and hasn’t looked back. Eventually he would love to branch out into other areas, like the export side, “so you get experience around the full spectrum of freight.” He also looks forward to the prospect of travelling for his work in the future.

The pay is competitive, not bad for an entry-level position, he said. And he expects it will get better down the road. On the whole, he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend freight forwarding as a career choice. He also recommends his alma mater as a path to that career. “I’d rank it probably eight out of ten because the jobs are there, especially with our program,” Mr. Roberts said. “A lot of our graduates become pretty successful. So there’s lots of room for advancement.”

Plethora of courses offered

Several colleges across Canada now offer courses in international trade that have a freight forwarding component or that tout freight forwarding as a potential career upon graduation. Many of those have affiliations with the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association, but not all do. Those affiliations vary from college to college, said Stephen McDermott, CIFFA’s Director of Education and Training. “We have legal contracts with them and everything is vetted by lawyers. We make sure we establish a strong partnership to make sure the program can be launched with the credibility that it has,” Mr. McDermott said. The basic CIFFA Certificate for its affiliate institutions is for “an introductory course for new employees or employees looking to break in to the industry in one of the entry level types of jobs,” Mr. McDermott explained. “So it doesn’t certify you as a freight forwarder.” Mr. McDermott explains that the Certificate is “a certificate of achievement,” and not an accreditation in the sense that a medical practitioner or a lawyer or accountant might be recognized. CIFFA does, however, offer a professional freight forwarder designation (PFF), which is very different from the introductory Certificate. The PFF designation can be seen as confirmation of the person’s qualifications, experience and adherence to ethical standards. Those achieving this designation must become individual, as opposed to corporate, members of CIFFA. In fact, it’s the only way for an individual to belong to the association.

Professional association also offers programs

CIFFA also runs its own courses, in classrooms or online. In Toronto and Montreal, CIFFA instructors teach the program in rented hotel conference rooms.

“We teach classes at night so our members can attend after work,” Mr. McDermott said. In the Vancouver area, CIFFA teaches the program at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby. But it is not a BCIT program per se.

“We hire the instructors; we rent the rooms; we provide the materials; it’s all managed through CIFFA itself,” Mr. McDermott said. “So it’s not a college-run program. But it is a partnership in that BCIT students can take CIFFA courses and get BCIT course credit.” However, one does not have to be enrolled at BCIT to take the CIFFA course offered at BCIT.

Last summer, CIFFA launched an online demand course “for those students who require a little more flexibility,” Mr. McDermott said. “We recommend it for those who are already working in the freight forwarding industry because there is no instructor support with that.” Another recent addition is online refresher training. “We offer a variety of different types of learning,” Mr. McDermott said. “One is classroom. One is blended that involves webinars with online learning. And one is online lessons and online exercises as well as recorded webinars.” In total, 650 to 700 people now receive CIFFA certificates each year, Mr. McDermott said. Detailed information about the many CIFFA programs and its affiliations can be found on the organization’s website,

Not every program has a CIFFA link

Fleming College used to include a CIFFA Certificate in its program but no longer does. However, Fleming’s website still promotes an affiliation with CIFFA, which refers to Mr. Malkovsky’s long association with the organization, which has included teaching the CIFFA program for the organization itself. He also contributed to the textbook that CIFFA uses in its programs and is the author of Basics of Import/Export, which Fleming and several other colleges use in their trade programs.

Mr. Malkovsky advises students in his program to obtain CIFFA Certificates after they graduate. Employers typically arrange and pay for that after workers have been hired. “We buy CIFFA’s textbook, we use it, and we teach the first semester CIFFA course as part of our curriculum,” Mr. Malkovsky said.

Other programs offered in Canada appear to have no connection with CIFFA at all. For example, Avaal Corporation (Vaughan, Ont., and branches in Surrey, B.C., and Winnipeg, MB) offers a 20-hour freight forwarding fast track program. Spread over weekend sessions totaling four days, the program costs $995.

That’s a fraction of the time and cost of the Fleming College course, which takes three years and costs $1,951.09 per semester, not counting books and supplies.

Mr. McDermott wasn’t familiar with that program or with a Vancouver Career College “intensive” international trade program that lists “freight forwarding” among the job opportunities for its graduates. The customs border services program at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont., also promotes freight forwarders as potential entry-level employers of the program’s graduates.

“Most schools now, especially private colleges, offer something in logistics or international transport or freight forwarding,” Mr. McDermott said. “If we go into partnership with these schools, they’re very closely on-boarded with respect to their material meeting our criteria for what has to be taught.” Current CIFFA educational partners include triOS College in Mississauga, Seneca College in Toronto, Brighton College in Vancouver, and George Brown College in Toronto.

In some cases, such as at triOS, the CIFFA Certificate is included in the college’s fees. For other institutions, such as Seneca and George Brown, writing the CIFFA exams and receiving the Certificate is optional. “They will take their international business program and then at the end if they choose to pursue the CIFFA Certificate, that is the student’s prerogative,” Mr. McDermott said. “But if they don’t want to, there’s no problem.”

In George Brown’s case, confusion about that arrangement landed the College in legal hot water a few years ago. A group of former students successfully filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the College’s course calendar misrepresented that completing the College’s international business program would lead automatically to a CIFFA Certificate and other industry designations. Ontario’s Court of Appeal last July upheld a lower-court ruling the case. George Brown had already, in 2008, corrected the course description before the case went to court.

CIFFA is also embarking on new programs with several other institutions, including Toronto’s Centennial College, Newfoundland’s Academy Canada, and Halifax’s Eastern College, which is now owned by triOS Corporation, Mr. McDermott said.

New program discovered in B.C.

Among CIFFA’s newest partners is Discovery Community College in B.C. The college, based in Campbell River, has just launched its international trade management and freight forwarding program at its campuses in Nanaimo and Surrey. Students were just about to embark on the freight forwarding component for the 39-week program as this article went to press. Upon successful completion of the program, they will receive Certificates from CIFFA, which will be covered by their tuition, said Patrick Kelly, Director of Education at Douglas College. The CIFFA training takes place in the last two-week module of the program. Successful participants also receive a certificate from the Forum for International Trade Training, a.k.a. FITT, for completing course work on international transportation. The Discovery curriculum also includes introductory business courses in accounting, computer skills, financial statements and the like.

“I think the blend of all those skills together for a freight forwarder is a real asset,” said program coordinator Fouad Menassa, who came out of semi-retirement after 40 years in the freight forwarding profession to run the program. “I enjoy the industry so it’s a pleasure to be back in it,” said Mr. Menassa, who also teaches the program at the Nanaimo campus. When he was a young man, education in freight forwarding was virtually non-existent, and employers were not looking for a Certificate. “CIFFA was not strong at that time,” said Mr. Menassa, who later worked with Panalpina for 24 years, then with Kuehne + Nagel, and finally as Vice-President of Delmar International Inc.’s Ontario operations. “Most employees we hired were trained from the bottom up into freight forwarding.” That’s no longer the case. Today, formal training is a prerequisite for many companies — such as the ones he worked for.

To be recruited, a candidate with training already has some knowledge of the industry, Mr. Menassa pointed out, reducing the time and financial resources required to train that person. “On the other hand, of course, if there is a very strong candidate who has other skills that you need, then you will encourage him or her to take CIFFA training,” Mr. Menassa said.

The program he oversees is still very small with only four students enrolled at each campus. Among them is Oxana Krylova. She became interested in freight forwarding while working as a purchaser for a Vancouver area company that makes playground equipment. “It was very interesting to call freight forwarding companies,” said Ms. Krylova, who is studying at the Surrey campus. She is looking forward to an apprenticeship later this summer with Kuehne + Nagel. She is also optimistic that the cost of the program — $13,722 for a domestic student and $16,267 for an international student — is going to pay off. “Education is expensive but I look at it as an investment that I hope will land me a good job,” Ms. Krylova said.

Her classmate James Chen came to Canada on a student visum from China to take the program, planning to return to China to help his father set up a freight forwarding business. Another classmate, Jennifer Rossi, has business aspirations of her own that extend beyond freight forwarding. “I would like to have a good career but I also came here because I’m an inventor and I have a patent for a product I invented,” said Ms. Rossi. She wants to market to major corporations. “I’m hoping the course will give me some insight into that as well,” said Ms. Rossi, who is also looking forward to her practicum. After a year in the business, she would then qualify to become a Certified International Trade Professional, or CITP, “which is also a huge benefit because then I could literally work anywhere in the world,” she said. She described the program as “a very informative course,” and the instructor, Parbir Sandhu, as “an awesome” teacher.

Unlike Fleming, which is run by the province of Ontario, Discovery is a privately owned college regulated by the province of B.C. Discovery does not receive any direct government funding, although its students are eligible for provincially approved student loans, said Lois McNestry, the College’s owner and President.

The college, which is in its 26th year and graduated 499 students last year in all disciplines at three main campuses and several satellite campuses, focuses on “creating careers that are going to have an outcome of employment,” said Ms. Nestry, who joined the college about 15 years and is now its owner. A couple of years ago, she discovered that job opportunities in freight forwarding on a Canada-wide basis were quite outstanding,” she said. About that time, she met Mr. Menassa and brought him on board to develop the international trade program. “He knows the industry so well,” Ms. McNestry said.

Grad benefits from instructor’s connections

At Fleming College, Mr. Malkovsky is also well-connected. Those connections enabled Ashley Darwin to land a job immediately upon graduation in April, at Hensall Global Logistics, about 200 kilometres west of Toronto. Company managers were also graduates of Mr. Malkovsky’s program. “They were looking to hire so they contacted Peter, who recommended me for the job,” Ms. Darwin said. She works in the ocean operations department, helping move agricultural products for export all over the world. Originally she had planned to attend university in preparation for a career in international development. But she changed her mind after learning about the international trade program. “I just really liked the program.” She praised Mr. Malkovsky for making the program practical. For example, she said, her work involves filing many B13A export declarations. “We did a lot of that in school,” Ms. Darwin said.

Interviews with Ms. Darwin and other students indicate that a hallmark of Mr. Malkovsky’s teaching is the attention to such details. He makes it clear, for example, that one of his pet peeves is widespread abuse of Incoterms.

Short for International Commercial Terms, Incoterms are standard definitions of shipping terms established by the International Chamber of Commerce. Despite Incoterm having precise definitions, they often conflict with a similar set of definitions in the U.S. federal Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC.

“You see FOB (free on board) for truck freight all the time coming from the States. You see CIF (cost, insurance, freight) for air freight all the time. And yet both of them are restricted to the marine mode only,” Mr. Malkovsky said.

His focus on Incoterms certainly made a lasting impression on former student Joshua Devan, now a national apprentice in the oil and gas marine logistics division of Kuehne + Nagel. “The big thing is no shipper out there really knows their Incoterms,” said Mr. Devan, who graduated from Fleming in 2008. He credited Mr. Malkovsky with using his wealth of experience “and all of his real life examples to really help us learn all the base materials we needed.” That included four grueling weeks at the start of the course where students did nothing but study those Incoterms “until we all knew them like the back of our hand,” Mr. Devan said.

It paid off. He was able to land a job straight out of college — during the depths of the Great Recession — at DHL. He did customs clearance work for four years and then he moved on to an ocean export position, “which helped me build the skills I needed to get my current position at the (Kuehne + Nagel) project team because they wanted ocean freight experience.”

Mr. Devan is now taking an apprenticeship program not unlike the one that Mr. Jaques took at the start of his career over two decades ago. The Fleming diploma was key to Mr. Jaques’ acceptance into that apprenticeship, which began a 16-year career at Kuehne + Nagel, followed by two years as regional general manager for FedEx Trade Networks, and ultimately, his present position with Panalpina, which he joined two years ago. Now that he’s in a position to do the hiring, Mr. Jaques will often look for a candidate who has a solid education in the field. He even admits to a bit of bias toward Sir Sanford Fleming College, where he still sits on its advisory board. “If we’re hiring for a more senior position then obviously we’re looking for practical experience,” Mr. Jaques said. “But if we’re hiring for an entry-level opening position, depending on the position, if it’s the forwarding division, then I’m certainly paying attention if somebody is a college graduate of an international trade or international business program.”