The airfreight-forwarding industry had a humble beginning.
Before the days of forwarder- or integrator-owned planes and fleets of trucks, the primary tools of the airfreight forwarder included a phone, a phone book and an airline credit account. Many of us may even remember names out of the distant past such as REA, Emery, Shulman and WTC. For these industry pioneers, business involved merely
purchasing excess capacity in the bellies of passenger flights to fly boxes from city to city.
Today’s freight-forwarding customers demand more from their selected vendor. Forwarders are tasked not just with transportation, but also with business strategy. To
keep customers, it has become essential that forwarders understand principles of accounting and negotiation techniques; they must also have superior communication skills.
Most organizations now use sophisticated operations software designed to cover all aspects of the shipping process. This includes remote order entry, routing, tracking
and communications with carriers and stations. This sophistication extends to the financial side of the business, as the accounting function seamlessly integrates into the
Freight forwarding has become a “people business.” As such, leadership and management skills are an absolute necessity. All too often, these essential tools are overlooked in the fast-paced daily turmoil of what has become a transaction-oriented industry.
Times have also changed for cargo salespeople. The two-martini lunch hounds and their black books have given way to more educated and sophisticated business problem-solvers
who use advanced tools to track their clients. Customer relations management (CRM) software is now a technical mainstay used through the complete lifecycle of the client relationship. Aside from a good memory, shippers can most likely thank CRM software the next time their service representative remembers a birthday or how many kids they have.
Airfreight-forwarding professionals now require more education. Fortunately, colleges and universities have responded to these market demands by offering undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs specializing in logistics. Online programs are also offered to accommodate those with busy schedules.
In the past, most airfreight-forwarding employees started their careers with little more than a high-school diploma. Forwarding veterans who started their careers in the 1940s and ’50s say that, aside from scant company-provided literature, not much written training material was available to new professionals. During those early years, forwarders gained experience while actually on the job.
Today, however, most sales, operations and airfreight industry managers have at least some college education, and many hold bachelor’s degrees. It is common for professionals to now even hold a master’s-level certificate in supply-chain disciplines.
The need for increased education in our industry has never been more necessary. Thankfully, trade groups are responding with educational programs designed to increase
skills. This is why the Airforwarders Association sponsors educational webinars; the group recently joined forces with the American Public University System, so that companies can encourage employees to continue their education, and students can take advantage of educational opportunities for career growth.
Education plays an important role in continuing to advance the industry. President Obama’s National Export Initiative calls for a doubling of U.S. exports in five years. Despite our economic troubles, recent reports indicate that our country is making steady progress toward meeting that goal. The role of the educated, creative and sophisticated
forwarder is clear in assisting to meet this demand.
Unlike the first forwarders with their telephones and phone books, airfreight forwarders today need to understand how electronic data interchange and programs, such as E-freight, can ultimately make the shipping process less expensive and more efficient.
The demands for logistics and supply-chain managers will only increase as companies look to cut costs. Nevertheless, unlike those forwarders of years ago, demand exists for people who can move and manage information as well as products. Education is key in advancing the industry and continuing to meet the demands of the customer’s ever-evolving needs and expectations.
— Brandon Fried is executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association.