We interviewed Lucy Masters, the imports & exports compliance manager at the Co-op, about her career in customs and her experience studying with the Academy. This interview originally appeared in the Winter 19 edition of World Trade Matters – the quarterly journal from the Institute of Export & International Trade.
What sort of work do you currently do in relation to customs?
I work at the Co-op and we import wine from all over the world, toys and other non-food products from China and so on. We therefore need to make sure we’re following the necessary customs compliance procedures properly.
In my role as the imports and exports compliance manager, I work with a small team to ensure everything we’re importing is customs compliant. We also do a small amount of exporting, including to branches on the Channel Islands and in Iceland, but the imports account for much more than our exports.
Co-op also has the Nisa wholesale distribution network, which services Nisa partners all over the UK and also Ireland, so if the UK leaves the EU then servicing our Irish partners would be classed as exporting and will require any relevant customs compliance.
What are the main challenges you face in this line of work?
When we have new colleagues in the team, the challenge is to ensure the whole team understands all the current legislation we need to be following and how we can practically ensure we’re doing everything we can to follow this in our day to day work. When you go to the HMRC website, it can be a little bit difficult to read through and clearly understand all the documentation.
This is why I think the Customs Academy is such a great idea. It’s easy to read and learn from the materials and you learn from real life examples. Further, you’re getting knowledge from people who fully understand what you need to consider when applying the learnings in real life, and not just on a theoretical level.
Customs professionals have often learnt on the job, but how useful can qualifications and training be for people in these roles?
There’s always going to be an element of learning on the job but having some sort of formal training is good because you can capture everything end-to-end. When you’re just learning on the job, you might miss certain things or not see the whole picture as you’re seeing your role in isolation without seeing the wider context of how what you’re doing fits in.
Since you’ve been doing the course, have you been able to input more into the company’s broader strategy?
It’s enabled us to have a bigger understanding of what the legislation requires and that’s helped us to have better conversations with our freight forwarders about how we can enhance our compliance regime, what we should be looking out for, what pitfalls we need to spot and it’s helped us to mitigate and correct things, allowing us to be more proactive.
How have you found studying with the Customs Academy so far?
It’s good that it’s done in bitesize chunks so you can explore specific topics and then can come back to it later and easily review what you learnt. You take tests as you go along which encourages you to ensure that the knowledge properly sinks in. It starts at a good level too – it doesn’t require you to have loads of expertise beforehand as you can start from a beginner’s level.
What major tips would you give to fellow Customs Academy students?
Understand what learning styles work for you, whether you’re someone who needs to write everything down to learn it or if you’re fine to just read it through. Find a way for the content to properly sink in long-term. It’s one thing to remember it for 10 minutes for a test that you do later that day, but it’s not just a tick-box exercise, it’s knowledge that will help in the long run. You need to find ways to retain the knowledge and you should consider refreshers you can do at a later time to ensure you still know it.
Finally, how have you found balancing the course with your day-to-day work?
I’ve tended to do it at the weekends when I’m not at work because then I can properly concentrate on it. My colleagues have found times in the day at work when they’ve done it. Either way, whether you do it at work or at home, it’s really important to find clear periods of time to do it, without the distraction of meetings or colleagues asking you questions.