By Keith Norbury

Partnering with institutions of higher learning to deliver educational programs is nothing new for the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association. For years, CIFFA has arranged with community colleges, such as Seneca College in Ontario, Brighton College in B.C., and Eastern College in the Maritimes to deliver programs in international trade, business, and logistics.

This spring CIFFA took its partnerships to another level by launching a series of intensive three-day courses with a major Canadian university. CIFFA announced a partnership with York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre, a unit of York’s Schulich School of Business, that would begin with three three-day courses aimed at senior managers or potential seniors managers in freight forwarding. The first of those programs — Sales Strategies for the Non-sales Manager — took place in May at York University and attracted about a dozen students, said Stephen McDermott, CIFFA’s director of education.

CIFFA executives test the courses

“The feedback we got from all students was that it was a really excellent experience,” Mr. McDermott said. Both Mr. McDermott and CIFFA Executive Direct Ruth Snowden took the course, which was an opportunity for them to enhance their own freight-forwarding education. “And there is the possibility that I might teach the course moving forward,” Mr. Dermott said.

The second course — What the Non-Financial Manager Needs to Know about Financial and Managerial Accounting — was scheduled for June 21-23, and the third — Building a Strong Customer Service Culture for Your Organization — is set for July 19-23. Anyone interested in that course still has plenty of time to register, Mr. McDermott said. CIFFA is also making plans to offer the courses again in November, also at the York University campus. “We’re going through them and evaluating their success and then making adjustments where we see fit,” Mr. McDermott said. “And then based on the timelines required to make those changes, that’s when we’ll pick out dates.”

Plans to offer courses in other locales

The next stage after that is to offer the courses in Vancouver and Montreal, likely beginning in 2017. CIFFA is also exploring the option of presenting the courses as webinars. “The overall goal for us is to have more and more professional freight forwarders in the industry, people who when you see the PFF designation you know that those individuals are the tops of their career,” Mr. McDermott said.

Taking the executive courses will now become a requirement for the CIFFA professional freight forwarder designation. The courses don’t have any pre-requisites; however they are “recommended for managers or those who are designated for development into a management role,” Mr. McDermott said.

CIFFA’s college partnerships programs are aimed at more practical education, he said. And they either include the writing of exams that lead to a CIFFA certificate or a CIFFA advanced certificate — or prepare the students to take those exams. “The graduates are potentially future freight forwarders in a wide variety of competencies,” he said.

Unlike the CIFFA certificate courses, the executive courses do not have exams. However, students are required to work on a group project and make a presentation to the class at the end of the three days. In the sales course, for example, that project involved creating a sales plan. “It’s also great even for those who don’t create sales plans just to understand the process so they know how it comes about,” Mr. McDermott said.

The next in educating managers

At the end of the program, students receive a certificate of completion. Since Mr. McDermott joined CIFFA five years ago, its Board of Directors has discussed what might be the next step for the association in educating managers, he said. “We wanted to bring something that was academically valuable to our industry of managers and executives, to be able to take something that they could develop and they could actually change the cultures of their organizations for the better,” McDermott said. The financial course for non-financial managers, for example, would benefit sales executives who are good at traditional sales skills such as relationship building, sales methodologies and the focus on closing, but don’t know much about reading financial statements. “If you can look at your own profit and loss (statement) and be able to interpret where the needs of the business are internally and for your client, you can create sales plans based on that,” Mr. Dermott said. “So you can do effective account management.”

Development of the program had its genesis in a survey that CIFFA did of its membership to determine which competencies or skills sets companies found lacking in the management training. CIFFA narrowed that list down to a few topics, such as sales for non-sales managers, client services, improving the customer service culture, and finances for non-financial managers. “And then from there we just went looking at different offerings that were on the market and started a conversation with the Schulich School of Business,” Mr. McDermott said. “They had existing courses that really hit all of the buttons.”

“Superstar” among the instructors

Dr. Alan Middleton — Executive Director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre which is part of the Schulich School of Business — said the centre has for a long time had “a fairly chunky business in supply chain management” under the leadership of program director Mark Thomas, who made the initial contact with CIFFA. Part of the approximately 18-month process to tailor the existing programs for CIFFA was an automatic needs analysis, Dr. Middleton said. “We don’t just jam established products into organizations,” he said. “So part of the time was spent getting to know what was going to be important and what kind of learning was required by the association for its members.”

In many cases, the instructors of the CIFFA-tailored courses are the same ones who instruct the existing Schulich Executive Education Centre courses. They include Sanjay J. Dhebar, whom Dr. Middleton described as “a superstar” and who teaches the CIFFA course on sales strategies for non-sales managers as well as the customer service course. According to his biography on the centre’s website, Mr. Dhebar holds an MBA, has a management background in heath-care companies and previously worked at a Toronto advertising agency. “He takes a high-energy approach to teaching by sharing everyday examples of Fortune 500 companies’ successes and challenges,” the bio says.

The instructor of Schulich’s other CIFFA course, on financial management, is Dr. Dom Cianflone, whose credentials include fellowships as a chartered professional accountant and certified management accountant. In future, CIFFA expects also to train its own instructors through the Schulich Executive Education Centre as part of its licensing agreement, Dr. Middleton confirmed.

Licensing deal has its benefits

That deal also enables CIFFA to offer the courses elsewhere in the country. And because CIFFA has the intellectual property rights to the courses, the association can, by subsidizing the cost, charge its members significantly less for them than what the Schulich centre charges the general public. Mr. McDermott was hesitant to call it a discount. However, the $1,300 that CIFFA charges its members for the three-day programs is about half of the posted fees for the same courses on the Schulich website.

“It might be seen as a discount for the student, but really it’s the value that CIFFA brings to its members by being able to invest in education alternatives,” Mr. McDermott said.

Mr. Middleton said the fees are arrived at “in the usual way — a combination of what the market will command and what it costs us.” Those costs include rent, catering, instructors, and the management team. As for the market forces, he said that “we position ourselves not at the top of the market but certainly not at the bottom because of the value of the Schulich brand.”

Mr. Middleton said the centre is happy to see CIFFA committing itself to increasing the skills sets of its members. “We still have too much an attitude that education comes early in life and the rest of the time it’s experience,” he said. “These days you’ve got to upgrade your skills with great frequency and I’m delighted to see CIFFA joining this.”

More education offerings in the works

Meanwhile, CIFFA is continuing to expand its offerings among Canadian colleges. This fall, the private triOS College, which has nine campuses in Ontario, is launching a new post-graduate program in supply chain management that will include a CIFFA certificate. Mr. McDermott noted that the program is an enhancement of an existing triOS program that also offers a CIFFA certificate. “What we’re talking about with them right now is the opportunity to offer the advanced certificate, which would lead to the FIATA diploma,” Mr. McDermott said, referring to the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations. “And we’re in very, very early conversations with them about that.”

CIFFA is also forging a relationship with publicly funded Langara College in Vancouver to launch a program later this year or early next year. “We’re still working out the details with them about what best meets their needs but they would be offering the CIFFA certificate as part of their program,” Mr. McDermott said.