You don’t have to talk to many people across the trade community about their career path before someone tells a story of “sort of falling into it”. Often, it’s a matter of accidentally landing in the role when a company starts exporting and needs someone to look after the paperwork.
It’s also not long before such accidental professionals have learned enough to know they need to learn more, and that some structured, professional training is required. As valuable as on-the-job training can be, there’s a clear role for structured, classroom-based qualifications in international trade.
As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, it’s a good time to explore this increasingly popular path in international trade, offering the perfect blend of workplace and classroom learning.
Why we need more professionals in trade
Professor Sangeeta Khorana is chair of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT)’s Academic Board and professor of international trade policy at Aston University Business School. She says that, as the world of international gets increasingly complex, so the need for a more professional approach is also growing.
“International trade is a vital part of the global economy and, as with much else in the world, it is getting more complex. In the UK, for example, there is more customs complexity since we left the EU, with new rules, regulations and processes to learn. There are also new trade deals and agreements being negotiated.
“But there are also longer-term trends, including the digitalisation of trade and the pressures of the climate crisis, with increasing rules around sustainability-related reporting for those involved in international trade.”
This complexity, says professor Khorana, makes it more important than ever for those working in trade – and especially those in frontline roles – to consider a qualification.
“A qualification, including the increasingly popular use of apprenticeships, can help in lots of ways. Not only do you get insights and knowledge from the qualification, there’s also the strong network you build as you study. It also often brings with it added self-confidence.
“Working in trade is about building effective relationships and having the backing of a qualification gives you credibility among peers. They see that you are a professional who takes work seriously and is dedicated to continuous improvement and learning.”
The value of structured learning in trade
Dr Rebecca Wilde is associate professor and head of supply chain and trade at WMG at Warwick University. She agrees that teaching trade at any level, whether via an apprenticeship or in a traditional academic setting, is pivotal.
“It equips future professionals with the essential tools to navigate the intricate world of global commerce. In an era of expanding international markets, understanding trade dynamics and customs regulations is paramount.
“Fostering critical thinking and analytical skills ensures adaptability in a rapidly evolving field. Ultimately, the impact extends beyond individual success, contributing to the development of a skilled workforce that drives economic growth and sustainable global trade practices.”
Dr Di Li is assistant professor and programme director of the WMG MSc in International Trade, Strategy and Operations (ITSO) and works alongside Dr Wilde. She agrees that there are wider benefits to having a more highly skilled population of trade experts.
“There are significant benefits to the UK economy. Enhanced expertise in trade fosters greater efficiency and effectiveness in international transactions. Skilled trade professionals are better able to navigate complex trade agreements and negotiate favourable terms, capitalising on global market trends and thereby promoting economic growth.
And, she adds, a more skilled workforce also contributes to innovation and competitiveness.
“Trade experts with skills in areas such as logistics, supply chain management and regulatory compliance drive improvements in operational processes, positioning UK businesses as leaders.
“These talents are the main force in enriching and extending the scope of international trade. This, in turn, attracts foreign investment and stimulates job creation, with a positive impact on the overall economy.”
The apprenticeship route
Professor Khorana agrees that seeking any qualification in trade will be valuable to both employee and employer but acknowledges the workplace advantages of an apprenticeship.
“A qualification in international trade is likely to enhance someone’s career, offering a more structured approach to the acquisition of knowledge and skills. The benefit of an apprenticeship is that it marries the workplace learning with classroom-based theory for those early on in their careers.
“But any qualification will help to boost confidence and should lead to improved decision making, which is what success in business relies on.”
The vital role of employers
Dr Li says that in most situations where professional qualifications are pursued, there is a crucial role for employers. This role becomes absolutely critical in the case of apprenticeships, where employers are a core part of the ongoing training process.
“When employers recognise and endorse the value of qualifications, it creates a dynamic and evolving practice. Supportive employers foster a culture of continuous learning, motivating staff to enhance their skills. This not only boosts individual confidence and competence but elevates the overall proficiency of the workforce.
“Encouraging qualifications demonstrates a commitment to professional development, making the organisation more attractive to skilled professionals and enhancing a sense of belonging. This mutual investment in education enhances employee performance, contributes to organisational success and ensures competitive edge in international trade.”
If you want to find out more about international trade apprenticeships, you can do so here. IOEx, the apprenticeship delivery arm of IOE&IT, has already begun enrolling learners on its International Freight Forwarding Specialist Level 3 qualification.