A freight forwarder needs to be competent in nine key areas in order to do the job at a basic level, according to the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association.

Those competencies are as follows:

• shipment planning,

• costing and quoting,

• shipment execution,

• documentation,

• cargo insurance,

• cargo security,

• dangerous goods transportation,

• regulatory compliance, and

• packing and warehousing.

“Those are the competencies required for an entry-level freight forwarder,” said Stephen McDermott, the association’s Director of Education. “It’s very specific to our analysis towards improving content.”

CIFFA identified the competencies as part of an ongoing gap analysis that included surveying its members and, then following up with interviews and focus groups in each region of the country. The results of that were taken to meetings with CIFFA instructors and other subject matter experts to identify how well, or not, those areas were being taught in CIFFA programs. “And from that we came up with our strategy for the creation of new content, which is what we’re doing right now,” McDermott said.

CIFFA Executive Director Ruth Snowden said the gap analysis is part of a $100,000 investment in modifying the organization’s certificate programs “to make sure that we do address those concerns.”

In his introductory courses, CIFFA instructor Christian Sivière tries to paint a vivid picture of the complexity of the freight forwarding world, and the importance of conformity to ensure that documentation matches the cargo. That includes examining the inter-relation between Incoterms, payment terms, insurance, and transport contracts for example.

So he offers a global picture that when he zooms into the details, the students can see where those elements fit. “I guess that would be the biggest challenge — to make things fit in the big picture,” Mr. Sivière said.

Paul Glionna, who chairs CIFFA’s education committee, said the nine competencies are “a baseline of what everyone needs to know” to be a freight forwarder. What many freight forwarding firms are looking for, though, are star performers who possess “more consultative competencies,” said Mr. Glionna, who is Vice-President of Operations with Universal Logistics of Markham, Ont.

Those competencies include working with a client to identify problems and then planning and executing solutions and strategies for dealing with them. To that end, CIFFA has begun discussions — “it’s a bit more on the whiteboard right now” — toward developing a freight forwarding management program.

“So it’s not just the generic management courses or sales type training courses,” said Mr. Glionna, who earned his CIFFA certification about 20 years ago after being taught by Ms. Snowden long before she became CIFFA’s Executive Director. “It’s something meant to be very specific to our industry.”

The industry has changed greatly in the two decades he has been in the business. In those early days, a newcomer to the industry would “do the run,” acting as a courier to move documents from one desk or one office to another. That would expose a newcomer to importers, exporters, customs officials, air freight people, or those working on an overseas desk. Now that most transactions are electronic, those in the industry are more often chained to their desks and working on specialized tasks like data entry or advanced commercial information filing. “People don’t have the 20 years that I took to learn the stuff,” Mr. Glionna said. “People want to learn it a lot faster than that.”