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Young People and International Trade: Two Perspectives

Posted March 02, 2015

A couple of opinion pieces appearing in the last few days focus on young people, a topic discussed with surprising infrequency in the context of international trade. Although viewing the matter from quite different perspectives, pivotal to both are the communications challenges associated with reaching out effectively to this particular demographic. 

Writing in The Parliament Magazine, Emma McClarkin, a member of publication’s trade committee, wonders why despite being international traders in their own right, capable of buying and selling virtually anything from anywhere in the world, and having the ability to communicate easily across borders and form global communities with similar interests, young people today still “know very little about the intricacies and benefits of world trade.” Even so, she points with hope to recent polling showing that people in the 15-24 year-old range were more positive about trade than any other age group; certainly much more so than older generations which tend to oppose free trade, often strongly so.

Policymakers, she suggests, have to be more attentive to this generation of “future entrepreneurs” – not just in listening to their concerns, but more importantly in selling the tangible benefits of trade to them in real terms “such as poverty reduction and new jobs, not in statistical GDP growth figures.” In this regard, she feels that the World Trade Organization (WTO) should be at the forefront of making this pro-trade argument “in a more robust, confident way” using “tomorrow’s communication tools, not yesterday’s.” This was the message McClarkin took to the WTO’s interparliamentary meeting in Geneva recently, telling the international trade body that “young advocates for trade” are needed, preferably “human faces, not technocrats.” She told the group that it has “an idea to sell to a competitive market,” and just like any other ambitious young person, “it should have faith that it has the right ideas to change the world for the better.”

The second article by Laura Heywood, an editor with Retail Week, tackles a more down-to-earth problem, but one of vital importance to all companies involved in international trade logistics and that is how to attract the best young talent to the industry. Unfortunately, when it comes to young people, the trouble according to Heywood is that many are “quick to dismiss a career in logistics and supply chain” because they regard it as “unsexy or boring” – go figure. Heywood doesn’t fault them for holding this attitude, but feels rather that “many young career-seekers are simply unaware of the opportunities open to them in logistics and supply chain.”

To get young people interested, a team effort involving “businesses, careers advisers, schools and parents” working together is needed, Heywood says. Most importantly though, the logistics industry itself needs to take the leading role in getting the word out, especially to advisers who “generally have little knowledge of the logistics and supply chain sector, or the skills required.” Citing a U.K. educational initiative The Novus Trust, young people need to know that: “Today’s logistics and supply chain sector is sophisticated, intellectual and technology-led. Managers are supporting omnichannel retail, globalisation, sustainability, collaboration and mitigating supply chain risk to ensure the right product is in the right place at the right time. It’s a career with great prospects, where top supply chain directors can earn a six-figure salary.”