The story of how it all began for us, the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT)



Forum-for-International-Trade-TrainingLike many before him—and some after as well—Dieter Hollweck learned how to do international trade from the ground up; through the school of hard knocks.

“Learning that way is very expensive, and can sometimes be deadly for your business,” says Dieter, FITT’s founding father. “But everybody had an international trade horror story back then!”

FITT’s founding father

Dieter, who was born in Germany and immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba with his family when he was 12 years old, has always had an international perspective on everything he does.

He began working as a summer student for the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) in Manitoba in 1970. He moved on to work for Burroughs (Unysis), and then for General General Electric on line-system computers for a year before returning to the TCS for another four years, two of which were spent in the United Kingdom.

In 1977 he moved on to work for Beam International selling central vacuum systems to about 40 countries and nearly 1000 dealers all over the world. This overlapped with the launch of his company Overseas Projects—which was associated with the United Trading Group—from 1980 to 2010.

Through all his experience, Dieter understood that the mishaps and misfortunes that occur during global trade can never entirely be avoided, but he kept coming back to the same notion of, ‘there ought to be a better way to learn’!

Bringing great minds together to improve on international trade training

In the 70’s he began forming ideas and putting together a concept in his head for delivering trade training. His ideas flowed from everything he’d been exposed to in companies and organizations around the world, such as the British Institute of Exports, the World Trade Centers Association and other international export training groups. Knowing that more can be accomplished with many minds, he began discussing his ideas and brainstorming with friends and colleagues.

“Dieter and I would have coffee every Sunday morning at the Ottawa Bagel Shop when FITT was just a concept in his head,” says John Treleaven, CITP and current FITT Board Member.

He kept reflecting back on things he wished he’d known when he started doing international trade, and that got him thinking about why there wasn’t some sort of training program available to people who have this passion to work in a round world. Well, that’s what led to FITT.

In the late 80’s, Dieter and Alf Chaiton, a politically-connected contact and friend who’d become involved in Dieter’s concept, approached the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to become a sponsor for what would soon be the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). From the Chamber office in Ottawa, and with the support of Tom Reid and Tim Page, President and Vice-President of the Chamber at that time respectively, a whole army of individuals began forming a project concept for the budding new organization. This army included members of the Canadian Council of Trading Houses—of which Dieter was Co-Chair—and the Canadian Export Association.

Laying the foundations for practical training in global trade

They knew from the beginning that training people for international business wasn’t a completely new idea. Apprenticeship programs had been in place and thriving in companies across Europe and other parts of the world for centuries.

They began by conducting an assessment of the current international trade environment in Canada, with collaboration from the Canadian Export Association and the Canadian Council of Trading Houses.

Dieter and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce were then introduced to the Canadian German Embassy in Montreal by Tim Page, where they learned more about the extensive training and apprenticeship programs in Germany.

Encouraged by Mike Reshitnyk with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (previously DFAIT), and funded by Mike’s division, they then began an assessment of what was and  wasn’t working in Europe in terms of global business training. They collaborated with the Canadian German Embassy, the British Institute of Exports, and the World Trade Centre in London.

The study was completed in 1991, and it further convinced them of the need for a trade training organization and program in Canada. This, of course, would require more funding.  Up to this point, most of the manpower involved in this international trade project was voluntary, and Dieter allocated what time and resources he could. It was a stroke of luck that they were introduced to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s (now ESDC) Sector Council Program (SCP).


Building an exemplary international trade training organization

The SCP funded projects that supported the development of labour market information, national occupational standards, and certification and accreditation regimes in Canada. Its main goal was to address skills shortages in strategic sectors of the economy.

Applying for the program was a challenge at first because it quickly became apparent that international trade is not a sector, but rather it crosses all sectors. Working with Judith Moses and Collette Tremblais—HRSDC employees at the time—the problem became the solution. They were able to apply for the program as a cross-sectoral initiative, and bingo. In 1992 they received the necessary funding to incorporate and develop into an international trade training organization, and were ready to start creating the world’s most comprehensive body of global business intelligence. But first they needed a great name!

Dieter put a lot of thought into what a person needs to work international trade industry, including mental and physical FITness. However, he also knew that the organization he was helping create was about training. It was about collecting resources and connections from all over the world, and creating a forum for trade experts to learn and share their knowledge.

“I was taking a shower one day and the Forum for International Trade Training or FITT came to me,” he says. “People thought it was a bit quirky at first, but it was translatable, copy-writable and trade-markable and it really stuck. There have been discussions about that name over the years, but 22 years later it still stands!”

Creating a comprehensive body of global business knowledge

FITTskills textbookFITT’s first official project was no small task. With a three-year deadline, they took the challenge to develop the entire FITTskills body of knowledge. Each section of the program went out to tender separately to ensure that every topic was created by the most qualified experts. All of the knowledge had to be researched, reviewed, referenced and compiled into a usable database of content. That collection of content needed to be functional and malleable to ensure instructors could provide the best possible training to produce competent international business professionals.

Is the FITTskills program for you?

Developed by business for business, FITTskills meets the needs of those who are

  • seeking to enhance their import-export career standing,
  • new to exporting or importing,
  • and those who simply want add to their expertise or gain valuable educational credits.

Learn More about FITTskills

“There were some tight deadlines in the beginning, and it was pretty grueling at times,” says Dieter. “Just like when you’re running a marathon, those last five miles are all mental. You aren’t doing it because your body wants you to, you’re doing it because your mind refuses to give up.”

Jan Fedorowicz and Josef Jurkovic, who both worked for Paradigm in Ottawa, were huge players in helping put together the body of knowledge.

“The idea was that if anything changes in the industry, because it’s fast and always changing, we would easily be able to update our body of knowledge,” says Dieter. “We wanted to be able to section it up into chunks, deliver it in chunks, and delete and change chunks as needed.”

Jan, Josef and many other international professionals helped to make this happen.

FITT was also an early adopter of all things technology for publishing, says Dieter.

“The idea of ‘on-line’ multi-media delivery was never far away from our ‘just-in-time’ development concept,” says Dieter, “but alas, YouTube and the World Wide Web with all its delivery magic were still just around the corner.”

Expert international trade professionals delivering expert training

By 1993 they had created the entire FITT body of knowledge, and it was time to start delivering training to individuals across Canada. In the beginning, it was decided that they’d offer the program by partnering with colleges and universities across the country. This would increase their reach and help educational institutions add a much needed international element to their existing business programs.

That year they brought together about 25 learning institutions from across Canada to meet in Ottawa at the Chateau Laurier. FITT presented the new FITTskills program and pitched their ideas for implementation. The intention was to get everyone to commit to delivering the pilot program that fall. The questions and discussions continued throughout the day until finally someone made a decision.

“The Dean of Business from Ryerson was the first guy to stand up that day and say, ‘this makes sense. I’m going to do this, and so should you all.’” Says Dieter.

And that’s how the FITTskills program launched in educational institutions across Canada.

Second newletter FITT ever published, featuring founding father and then-President Dieter Hollweck.

In the beginning, FITT assisted their partner institutions in finding instructors who had real-world international business experience, says Dieter.

Our focus with FITTskills was always to bring in the masters who have the experiential knowledge, but to give them all the content they need from our FITT body of knowledge to structure their presentations and teach effectively. They aren’t just telling war stories, they’re also going through all of the practical content and covering everything from A-Z.

FITTskills courses, whether online or in the classroom, are still taught to this day by experienced industry veterans using an evolution of that body of knowledge.

FITT is growing along with our community of international trade professionals

Over the years FITT has grown with new faces and new projects meant to address skills and knowledge gaps in the international trade industry, and to prepare businesses for success in global markets. The Certified International Trade Professional (CITP|FIBP) designation was launched in 1998—the first of its kind in the world. FITT began accrediting other international business programs in 2001, and by 2007 FITT was recognized and endorsed by NASBITE and the World Trade Centers Association.

The FITTskills international trade training program, and accredited versions of the program, have spread and are being offered in countries from the United States, to Colombia, and even over in Iraq. The online courses have spread FITT training even further to individuals around the world.

As a part of our community you are now part of this incredible journey through these past decades. Tell us why you chose FITT. How did you hear about us? Do you think FITT has been helpful toward your growth in global trade? How?

“We didn’t re-invent the wheel, we just repackaged it,” says Dieter. “People respect teachings from international experts, and if you can transfer their knowledge, skills and perhaps the right business connections on to the next generation, then you’ve done a great thing!”

Learn more about the CITP|FIBP designation

International Business Certification—CITP©|FIBP©

Advance your career and build your professional credibility in the field of global business by earning the Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) designation.

Why Earn the Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) Designation?

The Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) designation is the world’s leading professional designation for the field of international business. So whether you’re new to global trade or have over a decade of direct experience, you’ll find the CITP designation can help advance your career and build your professional credibility.

The CITP designation sets you apart in the competitive international business industry because it’s proof you possess the competencies global business experts have identified as being essential for a successful career in international trade. It also recognizes your dedication to ethical business practices and ongoing professional development—both of which are desirable traits for today’s global business practitioners.

Click here to take the next steps to your CITP designation

About the author

Author: Daniella D'Alimonte

With her background in writing, marketing and business journalism, Daniella focuses on crafting quality stories and relevant content to inform and inspire the international business community.

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