Look up career changes or high growth possibilities for new hires, and freight agent is likely going to appear in the top five choices. That’s because the career path offers an interesting blend of working independently in a people-type role that has a lot of constant demand and needs more staff in different parts of the country all the time. Why? Freight agents handle the arranging of shipping needs nationwide. So, whether it’s in California, Florida or Montana, someone is needed to connect clients who need shipping with companies that provide the transport. While it’s true that companies could just call a given shipper directly, that doesn’t mean the specific shipper has a truck available when needed or can handle the capacity. A freight broker solves this problem by connecting a client with a portfolio of shippers, one of which ends up being the match needed for that load at that time on that client’s schedule.
Starting A Career
The first step to become a freight agent starts with education. Initial candidates will definitely need a high school education to handle being able to process information quickly, know the general geography of the U.S. and some of Canada, and understand how to perform business math competently. It helps to have further education in business in general as well as to have a good grip on basic computer use and the Internet.
Prior experience in coordinating warehouse resources or fleet management helps a lot, but it’s not a necessity. Other experience that can help tremendously involves sales, communication, office support, and basic Internet research. Most importantly, having an understanding of the cargo or freight industry matters the most. While further higher education, depending on the topic, will add to a person’s knowledge and skill set, key areas provide the most benefit, including those in logistics, international business, supply chain management, and operations management. Geospatial information systems (GIS) can help to some degree in understanding maps and tracking/routing information, but it’s a bit like gravy on top of a main meal. Certification in key skills such as database management, technical customer service/marketing, and data visualization matters a lot more.
The entrance goal is, of course, to be hired as an agent to get started. All freight agents work for a freight broker, either as contractors or as employees. Once picked up, the agent gets trained on that company’s network and gets to have access to their client base to generate new business. They are also free to pursue new clients, highly recommended by the broker in charge to grow the business and the agent’s income base.
Once Hired, How To Grow
The end goal for many freight agents is to become freight brokers themselves, but it’s not a requirement. Many agents enjoy a very healthy career with an average income of $60,000 based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s data.
The key to career growth success comes in networking, pure and simple. Networking is essential for generating business from new and existing clients, and it’s also critical for finding leads to pursue as an agent. While a broker may provide an agent with some starting cases to get his or her feet wet, the agent proves their capability by quickly learning how to find clients and create new orders for transport. The broker then serves as the “backer” in terms of licensing, liability coverage, and review of the details before finalizing the agreement made between a client and shipper. No surprise, agents live and fall based on their ability to connect the two parties as needed. The more successful an agent is, the more business gets referred to them by their network.
Many agents are regularly adapting to new skills and industry demands. They find ways to work as partners for their clients and the shippers versus just earning a commission off the transaction. This “added value” approach has proven to be hugely successful in retaining accounts once started. Some have even crossed over into establishing websites to help the two sides connect 24/7 with the agent as the administrator and intermediary, running everything smoothly.
Who Is Hiring?
All types of companies need freight agents. Obviously, the most direct are freight brokerages themselves. However, logistics management firms, shipping companies, and big businesses that do a lot of shipping have roles for freight agents too. Good sources for tracking and finding opportunities include websites like Freightwaves, which taps into the latest issues in the freight industry, and American Shipper, a publication on lots of different resources for freight and freight agents.