Customs and Trade Recruitment – Market Report, June 2021

At the halfway point of 2021, how active is the customs and trade jobs market?

This is the Harvey John Customs and Trade June market report…

What happened in customs and trade in Q2 2021?

Going into the summer months, the second quarter of 2021, has provided its fair share of ups and downs in the world of customs.

The ongoing grapple between customs departments and Brexit regulations continues to be a hot topic, whilst many businesses are still navigating the Northern Ireland protocol. Although this has certainly been common discussion amongst department leads, it hasn’t brought recruitment to a standstill in any way.

One notable area worth mentioning is the development of the customs technology arena. With continuous advancements in blockchain plus the wide array of tax technology available, this is certainly something to keep an eye on throughout 2021 and further.

One of the biggest challenges that is still recurrent is the siloing of customs teams. Despite the fact that there is more awareness around the needs of robust customs processes to maintain compliance, there still appears to be an underappreciation for the value that specialists bring to the table.

Whether these teams fall under tax, legal or supply chain departments there is still a lack of attention given to the opportunities that customs or trade compliance can bring to a business.

The Tale of Brexit and the NI Protocol

The UK left the European Union (EU) on the 31st of January 2020 and the transition period was set to finish by the 31st of December 2020. Although much has been done and dealt with the UK’s exit from the EU Single Market, there still remains to be plenty of discussion relating to the challenges Brexit has brought to business across the country.

Brexit, paired with the continuous challenge that the pandemic presents, has certainly brought many opportunities into the Customs world. The question now, however, is how much talent is still left on the market?

One of the most prevalent topics recently have been discussions surrounding the NI Protocol. With the changes in trade regulations between the UK and the EU, a trade border was established in the Irish Sea which would keep Northern Ireland in the EU Single Market. The UK’s Brexit Minister, however, has stated time after time that ‘the NI Protocol is not sustainable in its current form’. 

With most shipments undergoing checks in accordance with EU customs rules in NI, this has created an overwhelming amount of pressure on businesses moving their goods between GB and NI. One of the biggest question marks that remain is how these disputes will be settled once the most recent grace period finishes this coming September. Over the last few months, we’ve seen the ‘sausage wars’ alongside debates over how agri-food rules are to be followed.

The question now is how will this impact the Customs market when / if an agreement is made? Will additional checks create more opportunities, or insurmountable challenges for FMCG businesses across the UK?

At this stage, unfortunately, only time will tell. We can only speculate on the outcome of the discussions surrounding the protocol, however many specialists in this area don’t hold a high sense of confidence that a reasonable agreement will be made given the considerably different outlooks on regulations.

Customs Technology – what can we expect from this market?

Customs technology is a key area that is continuously developing. With the majority of businesses operating with manual functions, there is still a large shift of activity in the automation of customs processes. Whether it’s the digitisation of collecting / safeguarding customs duties, controlling the flow of goods, or creating secure activity around cross-border trade, there are a multitude of platforms available to those who look to transform their operations.

The automation of more time consuming tasks could ultimately create frictionless movement of goods and services across borders. There have been large developments around blockchain technology as well as new software platforms arising in specific industries like e-Commerce. Although there are well known customs technology available, like CHIEF or CDS, this can still be labelled as an up and coming area for career development.

So, what does this mean for professionals in this field?

There is a growing demand for technology specialists in this field, with software developers looking to house customs experts who can work as in-house SMEs providing technical and strategic knowledge in relation to regulation and legislative changes. This provides a different opportunity for individuals who are either looking to make an interesting move in-house and still be considered an early comer to the industry.

Customs Recruitment in a nutshell

Overall, the Customs recruitment market has remained buoyant irrespective of events surrounding Brexit.

Yes, there has been a shift in the awareness on the importance of these departments, especially with recent changes in legislation, which has now created an abundance of opportunities in the customs arena. Since the end of 2020, companies aimed to get ahead of the curve creating an extremely challenging market for hiring managers and candidates alike.

There is a higher degree of demand for customs compliance professionals – those who understand how to fill declaration forms, or implement / manage an AEO certification are still heavily sought after.

The biggest need that remains, however, is finding an individual who can really offer strategic and technical value; someone who can identify opportunities or risks that customs compliance brings. Many feel that the operational aspects of compliance can be taught to those who make internal movements, however the lack of talent that offer an entrepreneurial approach to customs is prominent.

I predict that customs technology experts, in addition to strategic thinkers, will be in high demand in a recruitment boom over the next 6 months. Service providers who are continuing the implementation of new technologies / systems will also be big players in the customs world and will definitely provide a new wave of opportunities.

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