This week it is my honor to interview Caroline Tompkins, President & CEO of the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). For anyone unfamiliar with FITT, this organization is growing into a world standard of international trade training and certification. In a business discipline like ours that is rapidly evolving, FITT works closely with practitioners in the field to stay current and most relevant in our changing environment. Caroline is a pioneer in the movement to develop a strong global professional standard. Here was our conversation:
The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Can you briefly describe the role FITT plays in international trade
Caroline Tompkins (CT): Since 1992 FITT has been focused on the human resource element of international trade talent. We build international trade competency primarily among those working for small-and-medium-sized enterprises that rely on global business as a growth accelerator. FITT does this by providing a hands-on, practical approach to international trade training. Our content is designed by business, for business. And from that foundation we have created the world’s first professional certification for international trade practitioners: the CITP/FIBP designation.
TIE: You certainly have an important position in the world of international trade training. I’m curious – how did you come lead FITT as its President and CEO?
CT: I was hired by FITT in 1996 on a 9-month program development project. In coming to the end of my assignment, I was asked to stay on full-time. And in August 1997 was offered the role of President.
TIE: Caroline, what changes have you seen in the market for international trade training and certification since you joined FITT almost 20 years ago?
CT: In the early 1990s, you would be hard pressed to find practical training in international business. Today, it would be very challenging for any business program in a post-secondary institution not to incorporate global business as part of the curriculum. But perhaps the most significant change is how international trade is now becoming a profession – a field of practice.
TIE: Why did FITT create the CITP/FIBP professional certification for international trade practitioners?
CT: The CITP/FIBP is more than a professional credential – it is about defining and supporting the creation of a new profession for those who practice in global business. It is in the best interest of all countries that rely on international trade to find ways to enhance the recognition and professionalism of the individuals who are making trade happen. Trade doesn’t occur between countries – or even between companies. It happens one transaction at a time by trade experts.
International business talent development is one of the most critical building blocks of a complete export solution and growth strategy. FITT wants to continue to support businesses and governments by cultivating the competencies and professional status of those practicing international business.
TIE: How do your staff and advisors ensure FITT’s training content is reflective of the needs of business?
Here at FITT, we continuously undertake research with businesses to identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities are most needed to support successful international trade programs. Our approach is to design and develop content specifically to meet the current and future needs of business. We work directly with professionals that make trade transactions happen. Everything we create is designed by business, for business.
TIE: How would you like to see FITT play a part in standardizing global business and reducing some business risks?
CT: International trade is still a challenging aspect of overall growth for many companies. To succeed globally, company owners and their staff need a broad skillset to undertake the multitude of tasks at hand. FITT’s job is to broaden their international business intelligence – their international business savvy – so that it is easier to support the company’s export growth.
Going forward, we want to expand globally developing talent to streamline trade. We want to continue doing what we are doing – evolving trade competencies as the world around us changes, and up skilling employees and training new entrants in the field. And, we want to ensure those practicing in international business are recognized in their field of expertise.
In business, knowledge is power. In international trade, knowledge is survival. And while the decision to trade or not to trade involves many complex factors, to get involved in exporting and importing businesses need competent staff. Companies need people with talent who can recognize international trade opportunities, and who know how to act on them while mitigating the company’s risk. We at FITT want to support the capacity of SMEs to go global – by making trade easier.
About Caroline Tompkins, CITP|FIBP, CAE, President & CEO, Forum for International Trade Training
Caroline’s experience in the educational sector began more than 25 years ago at Simon Fraser University’s Public Policy Programs division in the Continuing Education department. Over the years she has honed her understanding and passion of cross-cultural environments through her work and travels, including working for the United Nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1994 to 1995.
“Working with individuals from different backgrounds and regions of the world is one of the aspects I enjoy most about my role at FITT,” she says. “I’ve found that success in international trade really depends upon taking the time to learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully with those around you.”
Caroline has been with FITT for nearly two decades. She is steadfast in her commitment to its continued growth as a thriving organization for international trade professionals, and has cultivated relationships with the many industry and government partners fundamental to its success.
Caroline serves as a Director for the Trade Facilitation Office of Canada (TFO) and the National Association of International Trade Educators (NASBITE) in the United States. Caroline has been a member of TEC Canada (Vistage International) since 2013. In 2012 she was presented the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee Medal for her outstanding contribution to Canada’s trade community.