Flemish export fell by about 8% in 2020 as a result of the corona crisis, which is less drastic than feared. Last year, Flanders accounted for 81% of Belgian goods exports, Wallonia barely 16%. Flemish annual exports to the US increased by 9.5%. Many Flemish companies have seized opportunities by responding to the rising demand for innovative and high-tech products in particular.

These positive figures in Flanders are also reflected in the demand for Export Specialist, particularly in recent weeks. The second quarter is not over yet, but we have already noticed a 30% increase compared to the same quarter last year. Looking back to Q2 2019, we even see a fourfold increase in the demand for Export Specialists.

But what exactly does an Export Specialist, or Freight Forwarder do? Viktorien van Loon, Managing Consultant at Walters People, explains what makes this international and varied job so exciting and why demand is so high right now.

What does an Export Specialist do exactly?

Viktorien: "An Export Specialist is actually a niche function within logistics and customer service and is often linked to the port or aviation industry. More than 75% of the vacancies are concentrated in Flanders: Antwerp and Zeebrugge for the ports, Zaventem for the aviation. As an Export Specialist or Freight Forwarder, you will ensure that the transport goes from your customer to the end customer, and that is very often international. If the transport is via the port, the Export Specialist will first of all ensure that the necessary containers and space on the ship are planned, and he will check which agreements apply with the shipping companies and which contracts and price agreements must be respected. If necessary, new price agreements will be made. There is also a lot of paperwork involved: the necessary customs and transport documents must be completed and submitted fully and correctly. If an on-time delivery is threatened because something has gone wrong with the necessary documents, or if a problem arises during transport, it is the Export Specialist's job to solve it and to keep the customer informed.

In some organisations, the Export Specialist only arranges transport up to the country of destination. But usually it does not stop there for the Export Specialist, and he will also take care of the after-transport in the country of arrival, so that the order will get from the ship to the end customer. For this, he often has to arrange a truck or courier service.

It may seem simple, but transport on an international level requires great accuracy and specific knowledge of the Export Specialist. Therefore, we often see Forwarders specialising within a domain such as refrigerated transport for example, or focusing on a particular region. Precisely because there are often specific rules and necessary documents, it is important for an organisation to be able to count on these specialists, who know everything about applicable rules regarding import, export and the necessary customs formalities."

Which educational background and skills are important to be successful as a Export Specialist?

Viktorien: "Graduates who aspire to a career in export usually opt for a Bachelor's degree in Logistics Management or Maritime Management or a Master's degree in Commercial Sciences with a major in Logistics & Supply Chain. But that is not an absolute must. Professionals with a different educational background can also enrol in an import and export role. And many people actually learn the tricks of the trade 'on the job' by working in an experienced team, allowing them to gradually learn everything.

Export Specialist are in daily contact with various parties: the customer on the one hand, but also customs services, external parties and colleagues. That is why a good knowledge of languages is important. Besides Dutch, a good knowledge of French is necessary, but especially English is an absolute must, as you will be making contacts on an international level. Strong communication skills, empathy and the ability to demonstrate the necessary diplomacy are also important. To ensure that the goods reach their final destination on time, an Export Specialist also needs to be deadline-driven, precise and analytical.

In general, an Export Specialist works normal day-hours, but when a problem arises with one of the deliveries, a 9-5 mentality is out of the question. At such times, he has to step up his game and, together with the customer or the services involved, find a solution as quickly as possible so that the goods reach their final destination within the set time frame.

Is a job as an Export Specialist something for recent graduates?

"Definitely. A Junior Export Specialist or Freight Forwarded will then join an experienced team where he will learn everything on the job. In the beginning, you will mainly focus on the administrative side and you will ensure that the necessary documents are available. Only when you have fully mastered that, will you also be able to contact clients and in time, you will be able to build up your own client portfolio and work more autonomously", says Viktorien.

Has the Corona crisis had an impact on the demand for Export Specialist?

"Mid-March 2020 we suddenly saw a drop in the number of vacancies and to a lesser extent this was also the case in the third quarter, but in the first quarter of this year we saw the demand for Export Specialists increase again, to the same level as before the Corona pandemic", says Viktorien." Jobfeed statistics show that in the past few weeks the demand for Export Specialists has increased enormously. The second quarter is not over yet, but we already see a 30% increase in the number of vacancies compared to the second quarter last year. If we compare the current quarter with Q2 2019, we see that the demand has even quadrupled. Viktorien: "Shortly after the first lockdown last year, we indeed noticed some anxiety among both employees and employers. Some went proactively looking for something else, or were made redundant. This was particularly the case in smaller organisations. Now that everything is back on track, we see much more movement on the labour market. The smaller organisations are again actively recruiting new employees.

What are the career opportunities for ambitious Export Specialists?

Viktorien: "If you start your career as a Junior Export Specialist, you gradually get more responsibilities and can work your way up to Senior Export Specialist or Team Leader, that is if you have the ambition to lead a team. If you don't want to do that, you can of course also grow in your career by specialising further, for example in refrigerated transport. If you choose this option, you will develop into an expert in this field and your customer portfolio will also focus on this area.

There is also a nuance in the job, depending on the size of the organisation. If you work for a large international player, then the tasks are often split up. There are people who deal with all the necessary paperwork, while others focus on the client relationship part. In a smaller organisation, you will have more of an all-round function where you will coordinate the entire transport process from A to Z. As you grow in your position, you will discover for yourself what your preferences are and where you want to grow, either within the organisation you work for, or elsewhere".

Finally, what does an Export Specialist earn?  

Our digital salary survey shows that an Expeditor with 0 to 3 years of experience can count on a gross monthly salary of 2000-2700 EUR. If you already have some more experience, the gross salary goes up to 3000 EUR. Expeditors with more than 6 years of experience in the position can expect a salary of up to 3500 EUR gross per month. "On top of that, of course, there are extra-legal benefits such as meal vouchers, group and/or hospitalization insurance, a laptop, a cell phone, eco vouchers in some organisations and a bonus when targets are met. For forwarders who supervise a team, a company car and fuel card are sometimes included in the salary package.

The Corona pandemic has also had a positive effect on the possibility of working from home. Many organisations now offer this or are willing to allow flexible working hours, at least if it is feasible with the market for which the Expeditors are responsible," concludes Viktorien.

Are you looking?

Are you looking for a new challenge? Take a look at our most recent vacancies within export/import. Does your team need an extra Expeditor? Send your vacancy to Walters People or contact one of our offices. 

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