Job: Freight broker
Role: Freight brokers act as an intermediary between companies that need to transport goods and the transportation providers themselves.
When companies need to ship large quantities of goods to multiple locations with various specifications concerning how those items need to be handled, they employ a freight brokerage to handle the logistics. The freight broker – or dispatcher as the position is referred to within the industry – is responsible for managing multiple shipping orders while attempting to secure the most affordable and reliable ground transportation options for their clients.
"The fact is that virtually no carriers can do everything for everybody," said Larry Cox, president of Polaris Transportation Group and chairman of the National Transportation Broker Association (NTBA). "The freight broker has knowledge of the capacities and capabilities of various carriers; they're selling on behalf of the shipper and buying the services of the carriers."
Salary: The salaries of those working as freight brokers can range widely, depending on their employer. Mr. Cox estimates that salaries range from $60,000 to $90,000 a year, depending on the reputation of the employer, adding that his "higher end" brokerage pays between $80,000 and $85,000 annually.
"A good dispatcher is worth a lot of money," he said. "It's a very valuable job."
Education: Only Quebec and Ontario have licensing standards for freight brokers in Canada, something Mr. Cox says the NTBA is hoping to change. In the meantime, most land the position by way of other jobs in the transportation industry, making experience the greatest asset for potential employees.
"You'd like to see [postsecondary education], given a choice, but it's not a deciding factor. More important than that is character," Mr. Cox said. "We have to make sure we bring people in that tell the truth to customers. They have to understand the industry. We don't let them deal with customers until they have a fundamental understanding of how freight moves, and generally speaking, that's a result of experience."
Mr. Cox adds that many freight brokers work their way up from other positions in the industry, either within the office or as truck operators themselves.
"In the transportation industry, there's all kinds of points of entry," he said. "It's surprising when you talk to people who have moved up what their backgrounds are."
Job prospects: Mr. Cox describes the industry's current employment landscape as "steady" as it grapples with problems that both flood and drain the job market. He explains that margins in the industry are getting thinner as companies attempt to undercut their competition, leading to fewer available jobs. At the same time, local manufacturing and shipping has increased along with the recovering economy, and an aging workforce means new blood will soon be required to replace retirees.
"Anybody that's good at what they do and is motivated to do it will be fine," he said. "There's money in it if you're dedicated to learning."
Challenges: The greatest challenge a freight broker will face is the lack of direct control they have over the services they offer. Poor weather conditions, mechanical problems, traffic delays and accidents could threaten vital business relationships should orders not be filled on time. While this can be frustrating for brokers, Mr. Cox believes it is also an opportunity to strengthen relationships with clients.
"No matter what you do, no matter how good your carriers are, something bad is going to happen eventually," he said. "Freight brokers have the position of having to explain to customers that a truck broke down. The customer might be skeptical because they've had problems with brokers in the past, but when you build a long-term trusting relationship, you can work through these problems."
Mr. Cox adds that the job isn't contained within the 9-to-5 workday. Such problems often arise at the least convenient times, and brokers need to be on call 24/7.
Why they do it: Mr. Cox explains that freight brokers enjoy solving problems, for which they gain an acute sense of accomplishment at the end of a long day.
"Of all the jobs you can do in life, there's not a lot where at the end of the day, you can have a sense of completion," he said. "Every aspect of it, there's a start, there's a process, and there's an ending. There are many days where, in the middle of the day, you have no idea how you're going to solve these problems, but at the end of the day, if you've got a good company and you're good at what you do and you're able to put it all to bed, that's a really good feeling."
Give us the scoop: Are you a freight broker? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to email@example.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.
Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.