Freight Forwarder

The Job and What's Involved

Freight forwarders are responsible for organising the movement of goods. Using sophisticated computer systems, they research and plan the most appropriate and economical route for a shipment, considering factors such as the perishable or hazardous nature of the goods, cost, transit time and security.

They communicate daily with carriers, such as road, rail, air and sea companies, confirming arrangements by fax or email. They liaise with their customers on the costs of transporting goods and the arrangements they have made.

If working on international shipments, they transmit the necessary customs documentation (eg bills of lading) and arrange for duties and taxes to be paid.

Other duties include:

  • Booking transport, cargo space and storage.
  • Arranging appropriate packing.
  • Negotiating transport rates, insurance and schedules.
  • Making calculations by weight, volume and cost.
  • Inputting freight details and routes on a computer.
  • Transmitting data by internet and satellite systems to trace shipments.
  • Preparing quotations and invoices and arranging payments.
  • Drafting contracts and customs documentation.
  • Liaising with carriers and customers.
  • Setting up specialised computer systems for the exchange of data.
  • Suggesting operational improvements.

They often work in a team consisting of clerks, warehouse staff and drivers. Some freight forwarders are self-employed and freelance work is possible.

Freight forwarders normally work Monday to Friday. They may have to work outside normal office hours, including Saturdays, on a rota. In some companies, especially the larger freight forwarders, shift work is required. Travel during the working day and overnight stays are common, and experienced staff may go on overseas visits to liaise with clients and colleagues.

Freight forwarding offices are typically modern, open plan offices full of computer workstations, but they may vary in size.

Starting salaries may be around £10,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 60,000 transport and distribution clerks in the UK. Most freight is handled by over 3,000 'third party logistics' (3PL) firms. These include:

Local Companies - generally small single-office firms that operate locally or concentrate on particular types of freight.

National Companies - with offices in large industrial towns, major ports and airports throughout the UK, local warehousing facilities and overseas agents.

International Companies - with offices in the UK and overseas, offering a broad range of worldwide services.

Other employers are major retail companies, some manufacturers, warehousing and distribution firms and the Armed Forces.

Although opportunities for freight forwarders are still increasing, there are limited vacancies for trainees and previous work experience in the industry may be useful. Opportunities tend to be concentrated in transport centres, such as ports, airports and rail terminals. London, the North West, the West Midlands, the South East and Scotland are main centres of the UK logistics industry.

Job vacancies are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres, and in the local and national press. They also appear on the websites of industry organisations such as www.careersinlogistics.co.uk, and in the journals International Freighting Weekly and Air Cargo News.

Direct approaches to companies may be worthwhile. Addresses of major logistics companies are available from the British International Freight Association (BIFA), which also holds a list of recruitment agencies in the logistics field.

Education and Training

There are no set minimum qualifications to begin training as a freight forwarder, but many companies ask for at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Companies may prefer A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications, and it is now possible for pupils to do a BTEC National Award in Logistics in some parts of the country. Larger companies often ask for an HND or degree.

Although any degree subject is acceptable, specialist degree and HND courses in international transport, logistics, supply chain management and transport management are available at various universities and colleges.

For a degree course, applicants normally need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

For an HNC/HND, entrants normally need at least one A level/two or three H grades and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications such as a BTEC national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject.

In England, there is also a range of Foundation degrees in logistics or similar subjects.

Alternatively, students can enter the profession through a Traffic Office Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Freight forwarders can work towards NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 2, 3 and 4 in Traffic Office.

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) offers BTEC-approved courses in Customs Import and Export Procedures and International Freight, as well as various intensive short courses in the key areas of the work.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) offers introductory short courses as well as management development training.

The Institute of Export offers a Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Diploma in International Trade, leading to professional membership of the Institute.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A freight forwarder needs:

  • A clear speaking voice.
  • Good spoken and written communication skills.
  • Good numerical skills.
  • The ability to work accurately and pay attention to detail.
  • Good computer skills.
  • An understanding of the products they are working with, relevant legislation and customs procedures.
  • The ability to juggle several priorities at the same time.
  • The ability to solve problems and 'think on their feet'.
  • To be a good team worker.
  • For some jobs, the ability to speak a foreign language.

Your Long Term Prospects

With training and experience, freight forwarders can be promoted to supervisory or managerial roles. They can also specialise in dealing with particular products or countries.

In larger firms, opportunities to work overseas are becoming more frequent.

It is also possible to move into more general sales or marketing roles.

Get Further Information

British International Freight Association (BIFA),
Redfern House, Browells Lane, Feltham,
Middlesex TW13 7EP
Tel: 020 8844 2266
Website: www.bifa.org

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) UK,
Logistics and Transport Centre, Earlstrees Court, Earlstrees Road,
Corby, Northamptonshire NN17 4AX
Tel: 01536 740100
Websites: www.ciltuk.org.uk

The Institute of Export, Export House,
Minerva Business Park, Lynch Wood,
Peterborough PE2 6FT
Tel: 01733 404400
Website: www.export.org.uk

Skills for Logistics, 14 Warren Yard,
Warren Farm Office Village, Milton Keynes MK12 5NW
Tel: 01908 313360
Websites: www.skillsforlogistics.org and www.careersinlogistics.co.uk

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