Fifteen years ago, almost to the day of writing this, I was at a FITTskills graduation ceremony listening to Fred Kruberg, who was Chair of the British Columbia Institute for Studies in International Trade (BCISIT) at the time.
Fred was not the keynote speaker, but he is the only speaker I remember from that day.
I remember him so clearly because before introducing the FITTskills graduates we were honouring that morning, he spoke passionately about their role in developing international trade as a profession.
As President of FITT, this of course resonated with me.
Even today, when speaking about the profession of international trade, I often think of Fred’s presentation and wonder:
Just how long will it take for international trade to be seen by business as not only an activity of exchanging products and services across borders, but a true occupation and profession that takes a specialized set of knowledge, skills and abilities to perform?
International trade is a profession
As an example of how professions develop over time, Fred introduced me to the evolution from the medicine man to the highly specialized doctors we have today.
Despite being one of the oldest professions in the world, international trade just doesn’t have the same level of visibility or recognition as other vocations.
Ask a CEO who has an export growth strategy in place “What do you do?”, and they will answer to their sector: “I am in: agriculture, aviation, mining, fish, French fries, breakfast cereals…”
Ask their employees what they do, and they will answer to their job title: “I am a: business development manager; account manager; accountant; supply chain specialist; logistics specialist; compliance officer…”
Generally speaking, neither the CEO nor the employee will readily define themselves as being involved in international trade, so it is no surprise that even today people will question whether international trade is an activity – or a profession.
We at FITT consider it to be both.
What defines a profession?
As Fred noted, a profession normally evolves over time. The medical profession began with an all-around medicine man who looked after all the illnesses and broken bones in his community.
Today, along with general practitioners, we have a regulated system of highly specialized doctors – feet, ear, heart specialists, and so on.
In its evolution, each profession begins by providing a service needed by society; and, initially, these services would be provided by self-taught practitioners.
Over time, common practices, or “norms”, within the field are introduced, then transferred to new entrants into the field as needed, usually on a one-to-one basis.
As the knowledge increases in a specialized area, teaching vehicles begin to be established and bodies of knowledge are developed.
Today, there are the standard characteristics that are commonly associated with a profession. These include:
• Having in place competency or occupational standards;
• Formal education and training programs;
• A governance structure;
• A code of ethics;
• A recognition program;
• An ability to accredit other training programs as meeting the standards of the profession;
• A credential renewal process including ongoing professional requirements.
International trade: A profession going global
Trade happens between people. In practice, it is one individual working with another individual in a different country, that ends in a sales transaction.
Like Fred Kruberg, I believe that today’s international trade professionals are what the medicine man was to the medical profession a few hundred years ago.
For all countries that rely on international trade to support economic growth, finding ways to enhance the professionalism of these practitioners is in everyone’s best interest.
When a company is seeking someone to balance their books, they go to an accountant; when they are developing a business contract, they go to a lawyer; and, when they are seeking to establish an HR division, they hire an HR professional.
Companies that rely on international business as a growth strategy are well-served, knowing that their employees making trade happen are professionals. And they have the credentials to prove it.