Q1 2020: Market Insights for Customs & Global Trade

Each quarter, our specialist Indirect Tax team monitors the number of in-house vacancies released onto the job market across Europe to provide you with a quarterly overview of recruiting trends. The data below provides a digestible snapshot to the in-house market from adverts posted directly from employers.*

What happened in Q1?

Following the deciding election that would eventually push Brexit over the finish line, the Customs and Global Trade job market continued to flourish in January and February. Although we did continue to see rapid progression in opportunities across all levels, the global economy then started to feel the effects once COVID-19 began to spread.

It’s unsurprising that this pandemic has affected the economy globally, where supply chains in particular have struggled to maintain normal levels of activity as operations began to slow down in March. As this proves to be a challenge, the Customs market nonetheless, has flourished in times of uncertainty caused by an eventual Brexit schedule. Although it proved to be divisive, it allowed businesses to plan future operations more accurately and efficiently; needless to say there are still other challenges regarding the transition periods.

Taking into account the current climate of this global pandemic, there’s still a level of confidence that this market will blossom and continue to thrive as we predict there will be an abundance of opportunities as customs and trade continues its efforts to reach the forefront of business operations.

A view into the Customs Market

Although there was a slight dip in the overall number of vacancies across each market in Europe, we still saw 83 vacancies open across the UK&I, DACH, and BENELUX regions. There was no shortage of demand across all markets and certainly a fair balance in between both junior and mid-level positions. There was also an influx of re-advertised roles, which could have resulted from recruitment freezes prior to Brexit.

Figure 1 shows the demand at different grades, with most roles opening at the junior (39%) to mid-grade (54%). This could be accredited to the continuous demand for specialism in the field, particularly in economically challenging times that businesses are currently facing. The senior grade was consistent in numbers based on previous quarterly reports, as a large majority of these opportunities were re-advertised (reiterating the recruitment struggles we discussed in our Global Indirect Tax & Tax Technology Report).

As displayed in Figure 2 below, there’s a visible and balanced distribution of jobs across the UK&I and Europe. The BENELUX region, however, is notable considering its continuous activity in the job market as we moved into the latter months of Q1. Overall, it made up 41% of the job market and remains to be a desired location for expatriates in any profession, specifically in Customs & Global Trade.

Establishing & Analysing the Demand

Figure 3 reflects a sum of 24 roles, all of which fell at the junior and mid management level. There were no leadership positions as a result of many Customs and Trade operations moving outside of UK borders following Brexit. March was a particularly slow month for recruitment as just 2 opportunities were released in the UK. Whilst there are numerous recruitment freezes across Europe, it’s extremely likely that this particular area of tax will thrive past the pandemic due to the prevailing global trade discussions that have been taking place over the last couple of years.

Observing the market in BENELUX specifically, many businesses have shifted operations to this particular area of Western Europe where new and existing trade routes have created demand for those who have roughly 5 years of operational experience, paired with the ability to manage small teams.

Figure 5 represents a total of 25 vacancies advertised in the DACH region. Similar to BENELUX, this region had the most vacancies (7) open at the Manager level. Although most demand came in at the Manager level, there was also a significant need at the junior level and a fairly even balance between all requisites across the region.

What were the trends at each level?
  • Leadership – In such a fickle time for the global economy, it comes as no surprise that only 6 vacancies opened up at this level across both the DACH and BENELUX regions. Taking into account that there’s a lack of movement in the market, leadership roles will continue to be sparse until there’s increased output in business operations where perhaps, multiple opportunities can open on either national or regional levels.
  • Manager – Facing considerable changes in trades routes, free trade agreements and trade deals across the EU and the UK, there was a significant shift towards a need for managers across all country clusters. 43% of the vacancies were at the semi-senior level, highlighting the need for dedicated professionals who have a deep and thorough understanding on customs procedures.
  • Assistant Manager – This grade has commonly been seen as one of small importance, given the position of this role within a business’ customs team. This quarter, 10% of vacancies fell into this category.
  • Analyst – In the current market, cross-border operations are built from its foundation and we’ve clearly seen a very distinct need for junior level candidates over the series of our quarterly reports. Interestingly, however, this demand has dropped to 39% this quarter, which you could most likely attribute to the state of the current global economy.

Brexit was a common topic over the last couple of years with much of our insights focusing on the impacts of Britain’s exit from the European Union. With that finally crossing the line, COVID-19 has stolen the headlines and impacted not just Customs & Trade operations, but businesses worldwide. It’s clear that many businesses have become susceptible to the downpour of economic instability however, as outsiders looking in, our Indirect Tax team at Harvey John remain positive in what we predict will be an extremely large uprising in the market when the world is cleared of this pandemic.

This is certainly a frightening time and job seeking may well be the last of your thoughts, however it’s important to note that the Customs & Trade market was still buoyant and there were indeed opportunities open to those who are actively seeking new jobs. With many Customs professionals working in freight forwarding and warehouse based roles, some have been considered key workers. We believe that this could soon create a spark in recruitment in due course.

Please also read our Indirect Tax and FS & Insurance Indirect Tax insights. 


*We omit the number of confidential mandates that HJ are assigned or job adverts posted by other recruitment firms. It should also be highlighted that many vacancies go unadvertised due to confidential or highly sensitive searches.


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