Freight Forwarding: A Profession, Trade or an Occupation?
Industry experts, journalists, observers, and outsiders, have expressed diverging views on the question whether Freight Forwarding is a profession, trade or simply an occupation. While many have insisted that it is a profession, others have argued that it is an occupation with all the trappings of a pure trade orientation. In other words, the major difference here is the value orientation of individuals, organization or groups who are in the business of freight forwarding.
An industry pundit recently concluded that the approach of individuals who practice Freight Forwarding as a trade is purely transactional and mainly about how much money they stand to make from each transaction; with little regard for value addition or compliance with rules, regulations or even procedures. This group is largely responsible for the cageyness and pervasive corruption common among Freight Forwarders in many developing economies today.
While we don’t want to run into some hasty conclusions, our aim is to establish the semantic relationship between a profession, a trade, and an occupation. This will help those of us who use them interchangeably to properly classify these terms and be able to draw the connecting and distinguishing lines between them.
A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profession). Don’t get this wrong! University degrees in Freight Forwarding or Logistics Management are not the only means of acquiring specialized educational training in Freight Forwarding. In fact, specialized professional programmes, deliberately designed mentorship and on-the-job coaching programmes, have been established as some of the most effective means for grooming and making industry professionals.
Trade involves the transfer of goods from one person to another, often in exchange for money (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/trade.asp). This is an aspect of Freight Forwarding, where money is paid in exchange for services rendered. This can be done by individuals, organizations, and groups on behalf of a client or partners for the transportation and destination clearance and delivery to the consignee.
An occupation is a person’s usual principal work or business – especially, as a means of earning a living (www.dictionary.com). What this means is that whether you believe that Freight Forwarding is a profession or a trade, it is unarguably an occupation, since it is the individual Freight Forwarder’s means of livelihood.
In a careful attempt to draw the lines, we must bear in mind that Freight Forwarding can be mostly seen as a profession when expertise, skills, knowledge, and far-reaching competencies are demonstrated in the effective planning, Documentation, management, coordination, and transportation of goods across diverse international routes by air, land, sea or rail, as well as handling at destination – including regulatory procedures and last mile delivery to designated consignees.
This is the most direct result of specialized education or training; where people have been seasoned and equipped with a combination of general and specialized skills in Multi-Channel Communication, Costing/Pricing, Documentation, Overseas Coordination, Customer Relationship Management, Accounting, Information Technology, etc. Here, professionals or organizations also play the role of consultants to both importers and exporters on documentation, country-specific regulations, resource optimization, cost management, key industry-based information sharing, and competitiveness. Though all these services are rendered in exchange for money – which qualifies Freight Forwarding as a trade.
The major difference here is that the professional Freight Forwarder is far more committed to value addition, long-term corporate objectives, sustainability, customer service orientation and retention strategies premised on organized structure, systems, and processes. While the trade-oriented Freight Forwarder is more interested in immediate gains and no clear-cut commitment to long-term objectives.
Trade oriented Freight Forwarders may have high proficiency in managing Customs clearance procedures but bereft of the capacity, knowledge and skills required for managing the complexities of Freight Forwarding across diverse routes and modes of transportation.
In conclusion, Freight Forwarding is an occupation that can be practiced as a profession or purely as a trade; depending on individual, group, organizational business objectives and value orientation. However, the foregoing can also be likened to the relationship between the Horse and the Donkey. They may look alike; carry-out similar functions; may be mistaken for one another by a naïve observer but the truth is that a Donkey remains a Donkey and can never be a Horse; can never exude the glory, elegance, and many other distinctive attributes of a Horse.