Supply Chain Series – Import Operator (Air & Sea)

Hunter Campbell’s Supply Chain Salary & Employment Forecast Series profiles jobs within the Supply Chain job family including jobs in demand, salaries, and employment prospects.

In this instalment, the role of Import Operator (Air & Sea) is in the spotlight.

Purpose of the role

Import Operators are the engine room for international freight forwarders. An Import Operator tracks and traces cargo and coordinates all relevant releases from overseas agents, airlines and shipping lines to ensure seamless delivery to their clients. An Import Operator will work for a freight forwarder and usually specialise within Seafreight or Airfreight although they could do both areas depending on the size of the forwarder.

An Import Operator’s responsibilities are to track and trace shipments and waybills ensuring the cargo is on track and all relevant documents and releases are received. Import airfreight is a faster pace of work as typically, if a shipment is urgent it goes by air but has a significantly higher freight cost, whereas import seafreight moves at a slower pace but typically comes in higher volumes. Based on cost and volumes, seafreight is generally most importers’ preferred way of shipping and companies will rely on adequate demand planning and forecasting to ensure their stock accuracy can deal with the shipping lead times.

Some Import Operator roles can also include looking after a shipment from receiving the purchase order right through to delivery to the client, including landside transport operations and delivery.

Key Skills Required

Import Operations can be a busy role there are many moving parts to keep track of. Having the ability to juggle multiple consignments at once and attention to detail is a must. Working in freight can be challenging, things do not always go to plan and if they do it is a win! Shipments can get caught up at ports or with the airlines, have schedules changed, or be placed on hold. A forwarder’s clients are working to their own deadlines and there can be a lot of pressure to meet their deadlines, therefore having the ability to work under pressure and to think outside the box to solve issues that arise are key skills which are highly valued in these roles.

Career Prospects

International Freight Forwarding is a diverse industry and once you are in the industry it can open up many opportunities. Pathways from here could be to gain experience across the likes of exports and customer services or through to sales. The other pathway is to progress into leadership roles such as an Imports Team Lead or Manager. An Imports Operator can also open up opportunities to move across to an import/distribution or manufacturing business and into a shipping role there using your freight forwarding knowledge.

Recruitment forecast

New Zealand relies heavily on the importation of goods and an Import Operator will continue to be a key role for any freight forwarder to manage their inbound shipments accurately and effectively. While the market will go through peaks and troughs, forwarders will always need to ensure their operations run smoothly of which an Import Operator plays a vital part.


Salary Guides

Salaries will vary depending on experience and the scope of responsibilities you have in your role. Examples are: whether you specialise across both Seafreight and Airfreight, the volume of freight and the number of consignments you are moving.

Senior Import Operators tend to take on more responsibility including complex shipments, training of other staff or stepping up into team leadership.

Below is an approximate salary guide of what we are currently seeing in the market at present.

Entry/ Junior Import Operator 0 – 2 years’ experience  – $55,000 – $65,000

Intermediate Import Operator 2- 5 years’ experience  – $65,000 – $75,000

Senior Import Operator 5+ years’ experience – $75,000 – $85,000 +

Back to Insights