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Protecting the future of freight with apprenticeship schemes

Steve Parker, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), tells Air Cargo Management that apprenticeship recruitment is a great way of attracting the next generation of logistics professionals and safeguarding the future of the sector.
photo_camera Steve Parker

Steve Parker, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), tells Air Cargo Management that apprenticeship recruitment is a great way to attract the next generation of logistics professionals and safeguard the future of the freight forwarding sector.

What is your current observation of how the air cargo and freight forwarding industry is faring?

Air cargo had a challenging 2023 but concluded the year near pre-pandemic performance levels.

As geopolitical uncertainties continue, the significance of air cargo is expected to increase further.

Signs are starting to emerge that retail shippers are sending more goods by airfreight as the Red Sea crisis continues. Air cargo must remain ready and focus on elements of cost and reliability to be prepared for when opportunities arise.

Despite challenges mounting, e-commerce continues to grow, reaching $6.91 trillion in retail sales worldwide in 2023, double pre-pandemic sales.

High-value specialised cargo, such are pharma products, are proving resistant to economic ups-and-downs and the industry continues to be in a better, more efficient place than it was pre-pandemic.

Do you think the industry is doing enough to promote its advantages to young people?

BIFA has increased its work in this area significantly by encouraging our members to engage with their local schools, our support of the development of the International Freight Forwarding Specialist Apprenticeship, and our work with apprenticeship training providers.

Many more schemes such as Generation Logistics have been developed over the last few years to promote logistics as a career choice, and the work being done by Generation Logistics complements much of what BIFA is doing to identify and attract the next generation of logistics professionals into roles within our sector.

Our Young Forwarder Network, our partnership with Manpower and the Freight Development Pathway employability programme, are all aimed at promoting careers in logistics, forwarding and the supply chain.

The government has also shown its commitment with various funding programmes over the last few years, which always helps. Forty per cent of apprentices undertaking the International Freight Forwarding Specialist Apprenticeship are taking the airfreight pathway.

BIFA is an advocate for apprentice recruitment; what would you say are the main advantages of this for organisations?

Forwarding businesses have many difficult commercial decisions to make, but shelving apprenticeships should not be one of them. We are at an important crossroads, and we must protect the future of the sector, which has an ageing employee dynamic and needs an influx of new blood.

The training costs of the International Freight Forwarding Specialist Apprenticeship can be as little as £450 per apprentice. It includes a BTEC Customs qualification for the apprentice as well, which makes it great value. Being able to study and work, apprentices are often eager to learn and willing to get stuck in with problem solving.

In addition, apprenticeship schemes that operate on a rotational basis can offer applicants a mentored and holistic understanding of the logistical supply chain. Being able to train apprentices to understand the whole logistical process helps foster innovation, streamline supply chain operations, improve efficiency, and boost customer satisfaction.

Apprenticeships are typically open to all and are a great way to employ people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. With supply chain logistics being highly globalised, developing a diverse work environment is a great way to enhance cross-cultural understandings, overcome language barriers and ensure that goods can be transported as smoothly as possible.

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Apprenticeship recruitment is a great way of attracting the next generation of logistics professionals and safeguarding the future of the freight forwarding sector.
Apprentices can earn money whilst gaining their qualifications, offering a proven incentive for productivity. Credit: 300_librarians

With a significant number of employees aged over 50, the logistics industry is known for having an ageing workforce. As technology becomes increasingly in demand, there comes the risk of a widening digital skills gap.

Digitisation within logistics has given way to the rise of innovations such as blockchain, autonomous vehicles, drones and automated picking and sorting systems. With this in mind, offering apprenticeships for all levels is a great opportunity to ensure employees can upskill their digital expertise and youngsters can bring their natural digital skills to organisations.

Apprenticeships allow you to introduce industry leading skills from the get-go. With applicants being offered close mentoring, they are more likely to feel that their experience and ability is valued.

Furthermore, apprentices can earn money whilst gaining their qualifications, offering a proven incentive for productivity. In fact, many employers would agree that apprenticeships boost productivity. When employees are more engaged and proactive, they also become eager to progress through the rankings. This not only makes for a successful return on investment but also a further reduction in the logistical skills shortage.

Can you tell us more about the International Freight Forwarding Specialist Apprenticeship? Why is it important for BIFA to be involved?

The apprenticeship is an A Level equivalent course to equip a freight forwarder apprentice with an understanding of how freight moves, customs procedures and costings. Students can take either the air, road or sea freight pathway. The typical duration of the learning period for the apprenticeship is 14-18 months, excluding the end point assessment phase.

It is important for BIFA to be involved as it was a key player in its formulation and BIFA still sees it as an ideal entry point for the industry with over 1,000 apprentices already having taken the pathway, with great success.

More information about the apprenticeship can be found online.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone who is considering joining an apprentice programme and the career opportunities the experience can bring?

The anecdotal evidence suggests that career progression is faster for employees who have taken the apprenticeship route into the industry.

With apprenticeships allowing applicants to earn whilst they learn, these schemes make for a great method of incentivised expert learning, whilst gaining a recognised qualification.

Air cargo and freight forwarding organisations can learn more about the benefits of apprentice recruitment online.

DID YOU KNOW…
Aviation Business News (ABN) is highlighting the staffing crisis in aviation this year with our Best Places To Work In Aviation awards which will celebrate those companies that are successfully driving new talent into the sector and retaining valuable skilled staff. Click here to register.

 

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