Freight Forwarder Job Description - Skills, Tasks, Requirements and Career
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Forwarder Job Description
A freight forwarder is a person whose job is to organize goods shipments on behalf of a client (the shipper) from a point of origin to a destination by an agreed delivery date and for an agreed price.
Freight forwarders work in the transport sector, but do not actually carry out the transport of goods themselves. Instead, their task is to arrange for the shipping of merchandise - in many cases to or from abroad - by identifying and selecting the most suitable transport carrier for the job.
So, what does a forwarder do?
Freight forwarders are experts in logistics networks. Their main task is to identify the best way of getting merchandise from its point of origin to its destination. A number of different factors influence this process. For example, individual consignments may sometimes need to be combined into a single shipment, in a practice known as freight consolidation. In other cases, merchandise may require special transport conditions (e.g. in the case of fragile, perishable or dangerous goods). Comprehensive knowledge of the characteristics of a consignment of cargo enable a freight forwarder to make a series of important decisions, including the type of packing to use and the most appropriate mode of transportation, and to select the safest, quickest and most cost effective route to the destination - whether that is by road (e.g. HGV, truck or van), rail, sea or air.
Freight forwarders define the details of a shipment and communicate those details to the selected carrier(s), with whom they negotiate the terms and conditions of carriage (i.e. the schedule, cost and modes of transport) on behalf of their client. The client is provided by the freight forwarder with an all-inclusive price for the shipment, as if it was a single unbroken process. In reality, the shipment of goods typically consists of a number of different steps, including goods receipt, warehousing, consolidation/deconsolidation, order preparation, packaging, transportation and final delivery, all carried out by a series of different actors.
Freight forwarders are responsible for preparing the transport documents needed for the carriage of goods (including all the required tax and customs declarations in the case of goods for import/export). They handle a huge variety of documentation on a day-to-day basis, including bills and invoices, import/export declarations, bills of lading, as well as a whole host of other shipping documentation required by their clients or by the laws in force in the exporting country, importing country and transit countries. Most of this information is sent and received telematically using special equipment. In some cases, importers and exporters may appoint a customs broker to handle customs clearance procedures and paperwork (e.g. preparation of a bill of entry) on their behalf.
Key tasks of the job of a freight forwarder include being able to guarantee reliable transit times and maintaining excellent levels of communication with clients at all stages of the shipping process. A particularly important aspect of the role is keeping clients informed as to the status and physical position of their consignments, which are updated in real time using geolocalization technology.
Freight forwarders are often employed by national and international integrated logistics service providers and transport and shipping companies.
Many also work as shipping clerks or coordinators in the logistics departments of manufacturing companies in all sectors of industry, where their tasks typically include managing inbound and outbound deliveries, preparing documentation and monitoring shipments.
Freight forwarders carry out most of their work activities in an office environment and spend a great deal of their time liaising with shippers and transport companies by telephone, email or fax.
Working hours reflect shipping requirements, meaning a freight forwarder may be required to work shifts, including nights. Geographically speaking, job advertisements for freight forwarder positions tend to be concentrated around key road, train, air and maritime transport nodes, such as ports, airports, goods depots, intermodal terminals and transhipment hubs, which are usually located in industrial areas.
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Forwarder Responsibilities and Tasks
The main tasks of a freight forwarder include:
- Organizing the shipment of goods (e.g. packing, mode of transport, best route)
- Negotiating terms of carriage with carriers, booking cargo space and making payments
- Managing customs clearance procedures, transport documents and insurance paperwork
- Monitoring and communicating real-time shipment status
- Checking that shipments are delivered as planned and resolving any issues
How to Become a Forwarder - Training and Requirements
There are no specific training or educational requirements to become a freight forwarder, although job advertisements may sometimes state a preference for candidates with an economics or languages background.
Prerequisites for the role typically include prior experience in the transport sector, strong IT skills (i.e to handle shipping procedures and documentation) and a knowledge of the regulations governing the import, export and transit of goods. A knowledge of foreign languages is also essential for effective communication with international clients, carriers and subcontractors.
Additional skills needed for a position as a freight forwarder or shipping coordinator include a knowledge of goods classification and transportation requirements (e.g. for dangerous or perishable goods) and extensive knowledge of the issues and problems that may arise in connection with the various modes of transport - e.g. road, train, sea, air and intermodal transportation.
Forwarder Skills and Qualifications
The key skills required by a freight forwarder are as follows:
- Knowledge of local and international carriers and routes
- Ability to organize shipments
- Ability to use key IT systems
- Knowledge of foreign languages
- Mediation and negotiation skills
- Communication skills
- Ability to cope well with pressure and work to deadlines
- Precision and ability to work independently
Forwarder Career Path
The career of a freight forwarder typically begins with a junior position in the logistics or import/export industry.
Subsequent career development options include specializing in a specific type of merchandise, such as pharmaceuticals or food (and thus learning about the relevant legislation in that sector) or perhaps focusing on shipments to and from a particular destination (and thus working to build up a network of local contacts and commercial partnerships with carriers operating those routes).
A third option could be to concentrate on a specific mode of transport, for example as a sea freight forwarder or air freight forwarder.
A further possibility for freight forwarders looking for a fresh challenge is to pursue a career as a customs broker - i.e. a professional that handles customs clearance procedures for import and export goods.
With experience, a freight forwarder may progress into a management role, such as logistics manager or import/export manager or, alternatively, set up as a self-employed consultant, offering shipping and integrated logistics advice on a freelance basis.
Top Reasons to Work as a Forwarder
You might be asking yourself:
Why should I consider working as a forwarder?
The role of a freight forwarder is suited to individuals combining a strong interest in logistics and transportation with excellent organizational, planning and interpersonal skills. This is a dynamic, fast-paced role offering a great deal of variety. Freight forwarders are responsible for arranging international goods shipments by road, rail, sea and air and are involved in all stages of the shipping process, from price negotiation through to goods delivery.
The role also offers an excellent opportunity to develop independent decision-making skills, with freight forwarders responsible for handling every aspect of a shipment assignment and for maintaining customer communication and support at all times.
Finally, a position as a freight forwarder is an ideal springboard for anybody looking to embark on a career in domestic or international logistics.