Import/Export professionals in the spotlight! – Supply Chain Game Changer™

Customs experts are an often overlooked but important part of strategic logistics and import/export operations. Here’s what companies should look out for when hiring import/export professionals and what the local talent picture looks like.

On the Argentus blog, we support our recruiting business by highlighting all things supply chain management. With a particular focus on talent issues, we give our perspective on developing trends in the field, new technologies, changing skill profiles and hiring strategies.

As part of this effort, you occasionally take the time to focus on a specific discipline within the supply chain. These are often roles or competencies that play a key role in effective strategic supply chain operations – but don’t receive much attention.

The goal is to help companies and hiring managers identify the talent picture on the ground, and to help supply chain professionals find the path they will take in their careers.

Import/Export professionals

Like demand planners, production planners, and a few other front-line roles, import/export professionals are often unsung — but well-paid — links in the chain. It’s a specialized skill that’s often taken for granted. But companies that don’t strategically hire this role can face major bottlenecks along their supply chains that can lead to inventory shortages and other risks.

So it’s worth examining what makes a good import/export specialist and what companies should consider when developing their strategies around these roles.

What is an import/export specialist and why is it important?

Import/Export professionals reside in the logistics branch of the larger supply chain management tree. That means they focus on the smooth movement of raw materials and finished goods from point A to point B (and occasionally to points C, D, and E).

They specialize in moving goods across borders — the place where the physical movement of goods meets trade regulations and other government requirements. Import/Export workers are adept at bypassing this political and regulatory bottleneck in the logistics process to ensure things get where they need to go.

create value

If you don’t have people who understand this process, international transport of goods is a failure. You are a necessity. But – like many roles in the supply chain – companies often fail to realize the great benefits to be gained from it exceptionally people in these roles. They enable companies:

  • Expand more flexibly into international markets.
  • Gain the confidence to expand international supplier bases without exposing yourself to risk.
  • Avoid bottlenecks and reduce risks in the procurement process that can lead to inventory bottlenecks.

Some companies outsource this role to their 3approx Providers of party logistics or companies specializing in import/export. But others see the benefit of having this capability in-house as part of their strategic supply chain function. They are particularly necessary in industries with many trade regulations (e.g. pharmaceutical, aerospace or defense).

When you hire import/export superstars, they can act as strong in-house subject matter experts to provide advice on emerging trade and regulatory changes.

Today’s import/export professionals deal with a rapidly evolving local situation. Even before COVID-19, they were navigating new issues surrounding the US-China trade conflict.

Now, with COVID-19, businesses must meet new challenges — while also adapting to the Canada-United States-Mexico (CUSMA) Agreement, which replaced NAFTA and is now being implemented. The Canadian government has pledged to maintain the flow of goods across borders during COVID-19, including extending the timeframe for paying tariffs, but there are still difficult waters to navigate, particularly when it comes to sourcing goods from overseas.

It all paints a complex picture – and skilled import/export professionals are the ones who can clarify requirements, avoid risk and execute.

So what should companies look for as they improve their bench strength in this area?

From our point of view, here are the key competencies, in order from the basic requirements to more strategic considerations:

  • understanding of trading requirements, which may include CUSMA, World Trade Organization. Degrees in Customs & Trade Compliance or customs certifications (e.g. Certified Customs Specialist or CCS) can be a good educational backbone.
  • A deep understanding of the requirements for various modes of transport including freight, rail, air and sea. Some organizations need people specialized in these modes of transport. Others are more generalized.
  • attention to detail. At the junior end, Import/Export Specialists work on the preparation of shipping documents, permits, certificates and other forms of documentation. You must learn not only how to create this documentation, but also how to “cross every T” and “dot every I” because small mistakes can lead to big risks and bottlenecks.
  • Competence with SAP and other ERP platformsdepending on the organization.
  • Analytical skills and research. The best import/export specialists proactively prepare the organization for ongoing evolving trading needs. This means you need to be able to find and synthesize large amounts of information and present it to supply chain leadership in the organization while recommending a strategy to manage risk.
  • ability to deal with many variables at the same time. The cost of international transport of goods includes taking into account the place of collection, place of departure, port of destination, customs clearance or deferred deposit and mode of transport.
  • relationship building. Like many other positions in the supply chain, these individuals deal with people up and down the chain, including shippers, 3PLs, supply planners, production planners, sourcing, and other personnel, depending on the organization. And like many other roles in the supply chain, the best import/export specialists can use these relationships to break down silos and find efficiencies you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

Import/Export competency profile is specialised, including specialist knowledge, so remuneration can be very competitive. But it also equips early or mid-career professionals with good foundational supply chain skills to build on as they expand and develop their careers in other areas. Like many other specialized roles in the supply chain, experienced import/export professionals are hard to find.

This is an introduction. Of course, there’s more to cover about import/export as a fundamental element of many strategic supply chain organizations, but hopefully it gives a good basis on what these people contribute and what to look out for when adding them to your team.


Import/Export article and permission to publish here provided by Sam White at Argentus. Originally published on Supply Chain Game Changer on June 11, 2020.

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