What does the global trade rebound mean for recruitment?

Global trade is making a comeback!

As I listened to the FT News Briefing on my way in this morning, the dominant headline was that global trade is set to rebound in 2024 – and about time too! And then, as I logged onto LinkedIn, there it was again, trending number one on the platform’s top stories.

The positive reception to such news has signaled just how much we are all craving news that paint a more positive economic outlook.

While I leave it to the media and global trade community speculate on the high level figures, it seems more appropriate to offer some commentary and outlook on where the customs & global trade recruitment landscape fits into this.

An uptick in global trade, an uptick in recruitment

The steep decline in 2020 followed by a sharp rebound resulted in the trade of goods & services being relatively flat in 2023, sitting at around 1% – and this certainly mirrored recruitment activity last year. In the early post-pandemic landscape, customs and trade hiring was at an all time high. Those in the profession not only faced a world that was playing economic catch up from a series of lockdowns but they also had to navigate a volatile geopolitical landscape as a result of Brexit, trade wars, and then the Russia-Ukraine war.

Enter 2023 and the boom in hiring was no more. Far fewer opportunities emerged on the market in industry and there was practically a halt in further growth of trade compliance teams in the professional services. I’m certainly not suggesting that recruitment activity was directly mirroring trade activity but it did, coincidentally, dip in a similar fashion.

Looking ahead at 2024, however, the OECD expects the dial to move with a growth of 2.3% in global trade and, then, 3.3% in 2025. So can we expect to see this uptick reflected in new vacancies? Most likely, yes. In the first quarter alone, we’ve observed that 72% of in-house customs & trade roles across the UK&I, DACH, and BENELUX were pitched at those with around 2-6 yrs experience. Additionally, there’s also been a noticeable rise in the investment of ‘first time’ trade compliance manager roles, signaling that the industry are seeing increased values at bringing these skills in-house.

The easing of inflation, a dominant US economy, measures taken by the Chinese government, and a strong performance from the Asian markets all appear to be adding to the volume of trade. By default, trade teams have been getting busier, which has likely resulted in the larger than usual push for more junior resources or investment for standalone specialists.

Naturally, the UK was the most vocal in the drive to recruit – a lingering ramification of Brexit – but Ireland, the Netherlands, and Belgium were also highly active, with Germany not too far behind.

Looking ahead to a more positive 2024

As we look ahead to the rest of 2024, we expect to see this activity remain constant and, hopefully, some more strategic and coordinative opportunities present themselves to cater for the senior market.

Geopolitically, there are still various blockers & trade barriers to the OECD’s forecasted growth, not to mention the sheer number of elections over the upcoming 12 months that will no doubt add to the list of uncertainties. However, for now, we certainly welcome a more buoyant trade compliance market and have been pleased to assist a number of clients – old and new – get on top of their trade compliance hiring needs.

If you’re looking to navigate the customs & trade compliance recruitment market, do get in touch with Alex Mann.

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