In Frederick, Maryland, Students at the CBP Agricultural Academy learn about pests which can enter the United States via imports from other countries. Photo by James Tourtellotte

Dossier: Managing Knowledge

Nurturing the next generation: promoting a culture of knowledge-sharing and professional pride in Customs

2 March 2023
By Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General

Each year, the WCO Secretariat invites the Organization’s Members to focus on a theme it considers relevant to the Customs community and its partners. In 2023, under the slogan “Nurturing the Next Generation: Promoting a Culture of Knowledge-sharing and Professional Pride in Customs”, the Secretariat is inviting Customs administrations to look at how they support newly-recruited officers, facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and heighten the sense of pride in being part of this institution and of the global Customs community.

This is about placing human capital, and especially the new generation, at the heart of the transformation of Customs – an approach the WCO has been advocating for a number of years. Young Customs officers often have particular strengths, but they need to acquire specific, and often tacit, knowledge and know-how. This approach to learning must be rooted in the culture of the administration, holding true throughout an officer’s career. It requires not only dynamic inter-generational relationships, but also an outward-looking attitude, characterized by exchanges with the actors engaged in the movement of goods and passengers, as well as with service providers and with academia.  Such an approach will enable an organization to support the creation of knowledge by individuals, by offering them the opportunity to learn, share and create.

However, it has to be recognized that certain Customs organizations do not have the processes and methodologies in place for managing knowledge and ensuring that it is transmitted. In 2023, Customs administrations are therefore being invited to focus on this issue and develop a knowledge management system which fosters the identification and provision of knowledge and know-how in all their forms: reports and other documentation, training courses (whether online or in-person), forums, mentoring programmes, work placements, exchanges between services, magazines and newsletters, among others.

By creating a stimulating work environment and offering learning opportunities to their officers, Customs administrations can not only attract and retain talent, but also enhance their officers’ sense of professional pride. It is often said that the new generation are searching for meaning; working in Customs is a noble mission, whose fulfilment is essential for the well-being of nations.

Some thoughts on knowledge and its management

Knowledge management is an interdisciplinary area of studies and is closely related to information science. It comprises a collection of processes that govern the capture, storage, creation, dissemination and utilization of knowledge in an organization.

Researchers Maryam Alavi and Dorothy E. Leidner establish a relationship between the concept of knowledge and the definition of its management. If knowledge is perceived to mean access to information, knowledge management should focus on establishing systems to store knowledge. If knowledge is perceived as a process, then knowledge management is more about flow and the focus is on creating, sharing and distributing this knowledge. If knowledge is seen as a capability, managing knowledge means building skills and intellectual capital.

In the ranking of key success factors in knowledge management established by researchers Jennex and Olfman in 2004 based on the literature, four factors are considered critical:

  • a knowledge strategy that identifies users, sources, processes, storage strategy and knowledge itself;
  • motivation and commitment of users, including incentives and training;
  • a technical infrastructure that includes networks, databases/repositories, computers and software;
  • an organizational culture and structure that supports learning and the sharing and use of knowledge.

The WCO has not yet developed any specific guidance material on knowledge management, but this topic was on the Agenda of the Capacity Building Committee’s most recent session, held in February 2023. The objective was to provide delegates with an opportunity to share information about their organizations’ foresight activities and policies in the area of knowledge management, and to reflect on avenues for enhancing the WCO’s support to Members in this area by developing dedicated tools or deploying relevant activities.

Dossier contents

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience” said American philosopher and educator John Dewey. To move forward with our theme for this year, in the Dossier for this edition of the magazine we have invited various people to tell us how they nurture the next generation and how they manage and share knowledge, and let us know what they have learned in the process. The idea, as always, is to highlight any challenges faced, showcase initiatives that will inspire others, and – of course – to communicate best practices.

To start, we asked PwC to present the outcomes of a survey it conducted to identify the concerns of today’s workforce and give us insights into how leaders of organizations today can address workforce-related challenges such as retention or skill scarcity. Knowing the current concerns of staff members – their fears, hopes, aspirations and expectations – is indeed critical to any administration when it draws up programmes and policies intended to support the development of individual capabilities and institutional capacity.

Next comes an article by Qatar Customs which explains how the Administration developed its knowledge management strategy and the various initiatives contributing to its implementation. Among other things, this article highlights the need to set clear goals and objectives, and to ensure that all employees understand what knowledge management means.

Two articles then address opportunities for Customs officers to develop skills and competences through the provision of training and other learning opportunities. Such activities are warranted if employees have inadequate skills for the roles in which they would ideally be placed and if the newly-acquired skills will actually be put to use immediately after the training, or if specific skills are needed for the career advancement of the individual or for the educational upgrading of a work group. In the first article, the International Network of Customs Universities presents interesting trends in Customs university programmes, highlighting the evolution in the types of topics covered and the learning models used. In the second article, China Customs introduces its training strategy and outlines recent initiatives for identifying, collecting, creating, sharing and transferring knowledge across the Administration.

Due to demographic evolution, some countries will see about a third of their civil service retire in the next 10 to 15 years. This creates serious risks for the continuity of the service and the performance of the public administration. Faced with this issue, Serbia Customs explains the measures it has taken to connect employees, build their sense of belonging and pride, and create a knowledge culture. The objective is to ensure that experienced officials are recognized and their knowledge valued, as well as encouraging the new generations to feel they are contributing to the building of institutional memory. Together, they decide on what should be preserved and passed on to generations to come.

Finally, the Dossier includes two articles which look at the practices used by brokers when it comes to collecting and sharing knowledge to deal with the hugely complex, demanding and risk-laden field of Customs knowledge. Their thoughts and considerations are relevant to all Customs practitioners and trading businesses.

I would like to end by conveying my sincere thanks to all those who have contributed to this Dossier, and to the other contributors to this edition of our magazine who have taken the time to share their thoughts and experiences on various Customs and international trade issues. Together, they are helping to make the WCO an environment for creating and sharing knowledge.