The Customs Service provider industry is not about “form filling”, it is a dynamic, international profession with a bright future – especially post- Brexit and the Covid-19 / Coronavirus crisis.
The negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union has re-started despite the fact the Covid-19 / Corona crises is still tormenting our countries. There have been several rounds of negotiations in the different groups that discuss Future Relations (FTA; Customs/border arrangements, Fishery, Gibraltar and some other matters) and specific matters like i.e. The Joint Committee/Special Committee for the Northern Ireland protocol application under the Withdrawal Agreement.
There have been voices from both EU and some UK groups, that there should be grounds for the United Kingdom to ask for an extension of the transition period due to the Covid-19 / Coronavirus crises beyond the 31 December 2020 to access more time for these complicated talks and negotiations. The UK Government has – on multiple occasions - been extremely clear that this will not happen since the deadline of the transition period is implemented in UK law and it will not be changed. The transition period ends on 31 December this year. Therefore, it is time for the private sector to start preparing.
One thing that has emerged in the internal United Kingdom debate based on the short time remaining to the end of the transition period is the potential capacity of the professional service provider industry.
Since there are more than 150,000 companies in the UK that never have done import/export before, there is an urgent need for customs professionals in companies to handle the customs business and for the professional service provider industry to offer services to those that will need help to move their goods out from and into the United Kingdom after January 1st 2021, only 238 days from now.
A challenge is that there is a tremendous gap in capacity in this sector, a huge lack of experts. This is a bit strange since the profession is embedded in a dynamic sector with an international outreach that should be attractive and a dream for the younger part of the population.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, has on several occasions mentioned an estimated need for 50,000 new professionals in this sector. We estimate that the need is even larger, maybe as much as 60,000-70,000 new customs experts are needed in the service provider industry and trading companies in UK post-Brexit.
HMG has issued a grant fund for training and HMRC have launched several initiatives to offer training for people in this specific sector, like the online digital UK Customs Academy that offers a professional pathway from level 2 to Level 7 education in the customs field. These UK Customs Academy courses give professional and academic merits and certificates and they are with the education grant available from HMG offered free of cost. The business environment will jump on any students with such expertise when the transition period is about to end and customs formalities will be needed for all goods moving between UK and EU – as well to the rest of the world.
While many hundreds of students already have signed up for this education platform, it is designed for many more and there should at this stage be tens of thousands of students on the UK Customs Academy platform and using other similar initiatives. There is a need for a Government marketing drive to get students aware of the opportunities in this profession, especially in the shadow of Covid-19 reaping its victims in companies going out of business all over the country and people losing their jobs.
The Customs sector with its interesting and important tasks, offering international careers and with an urgent need for a new workforce to enter the sector due to Brexit, should be the perfect win-win and a positive story for the UK that like any other country desperately needs good news in these times.
Several heavy media houses have recently brought this issue to the surface and forefront of things to be solved. BBC News wrote about this last week, Financial Times and Bloomberg did long articles about the situation this week.
One of the things that we picked up from these articles is the language used to describe the customs service provider industry. The words “form fillers” is frequently used to describe this profession and there is no other word that could farther from reality. The customs profession today is an interesting, complicated, analytic profession and it comes with huge important responsibilities and career opportunities.
The customs expert profession today consists of a range of different expert roles, from legislation and procedure experts, to supply chain analysts, digital data specialists, warehouse experts, Freeport/Freezone experts, logistic experts, industry experts, cargo handlers, declaration specialists, consultants skills etc - just to mention a few.
The international value chains and global supply chains are today extremely integrated for almost all products that we trade. Every decision at the border, before and after, related to international trade rest heavily on international standards, regional and national legislation. Every time a customs expert or service provider makes a decision at the border this is something that needs to be considered.
This is not about “form filling”, it is a knowledge industry where data capture, analysis and fast decision making based on risk management is far more important than forms.
An example to consider is the fact while many countries have been in lockdown due to the Covid-19 / Coronavirus crises our borders have remained open for goods. This has been vital for our protection and the fight against the pandemic. While our health care institutions have been screaming for medical equipment, our customs experts have, with danger also for their lives, been at our borders 24/7 managing trade and making sure that medical equipment and health care products have been moved across the borders to its receivers. These people are experts in their field and they are important, too important to being called “form fillers”.
I don’t say this to criticize anybody, but to make the point that we need more bright and talented people to enter this sector, many more - and we need them to start their training as soon as possible.
The first thing to do is to make potential people aware of the fact that there is a need for a new workforce in the area of customs expertise.
Secondly, potential students need to know that in the United Kingdom it is now possible to get training with certificate merits for-free using the HMG grant for training in this profession through the UK Customs Academy and other training institutions.
Thirdly, they need to know that there is a needed of tens of thousands of experts right now.
The Customs profession is a profession for the future. The future is bright for Customs experts, so where are you?
CEO/MD KGH Global Consulting