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Unlocking potential: latest news and testimonials about the Career Development Programme

By the WCO Secretariat

It takes time and dedication for Customs officers to become familiar with WCO tools, instruments and recommended practices in the course of their daily work. First, there are numerous amounts of them. Second, some are highly technical, and getting to grips with them requires training from WCO staff or experts. In addition, in some areas (such as leadership), benefiting from the work of the WCO goes beyond simply acquiring knowledge: officers are asked to participate actively through practical exercises and role play, and even to open up to others.

In 2009, with financial support from Japan Customs, the WCO Secretariat created the Career Development Programme (CDP) to enable Customs officers from developing countries to immerse themselves in WCO work, acquire as much knowledge and skills as possible, and grow at the professional and personal level. CDP participants, known as Professional Associates (PAs), usually work at the Secretariat for 10 months. Besides following tailor-made workshops, they also assist Secretariat staff in their daily tasks. This enables PAs to gain experience of working in an international environment and to build a network of Customs experts, which will be useful both for their own professional needs and for those of their administrations.

Since the Programme’s inception, 115 Customs officers from 77 developing Members have taken part. They usually maintain close links with the work of the WCO. Some former PAs have represented their administrations at various WCO meetings and events, and some have taken part in capacity building activities as experts. Remarkably, more than 10% of them have come back to Brussels to work for the WCO Secretariat and therefore serve the entire Customs community. The testimonial attached to this article is one of many which the Secretariat has received over the years[1].

Life after the CDP? It’s bright.

By Noor Syahira Binti Haji Hiri, Head of the Organizational Development Unit, Director’s Office, Johor Customs, Royal Malaysian Customs

The CDP enabled me to unlock my potential. I was to do things I never thought I could do and discover skills I never thought I had. In 10 months, I changed. I was an ordinary Malaysian girl with a rather limited vision of what her future could be. I am now a confident professional, aware of all the opportunities which are open to me and not afraid to take them.

On returning home, it took me some time to readjust to my environment. I was back at the post I had held for the last 10 years at the Customs Office of Johor, one of the 13 states of Malaysia, located in the south and linked to Singapore by causeways. But this did not last long. I was soon to head up an administrative division, with the mission of reorganizing and restructuring it. The way the division was working was rather chaotic. Together with my team, we introduced some basic management theories and injected order and efficiency into our processes. Within eight months, we managed to organize three external meetings, one Convention, and one trip to Sabah (another of Malaysia’s 13 states). The division became a benchmark for other divisions at Johor Customs. Colleagues started to look up to us, asking about our methods and processes and trying to learn from us.

Eight months after taking on that position, I was transferred to the Management Services and Human Resources Division of the General Administrative Branch at Johor Customs. I was the first and only woman to head such an important division. The Johor Customs Director was keen to see more women in senior positions and trusted me to lead a team tasked with rethinking policies and finding solutions to identified issues, with very limited resources.

In April 2021, I was reassigned to lead the newly created Organizational Development Unit, reporting directly to the Director. The role of the unit is to observe, analyse, conduct research, identify process bottlenecks, report on operational performance and suggest changes and improvements to the Director. The position is challenging and enriching.

On a lighter note, I am in charge of welcoming new recruits and motivating them to do their best. Speaking to a large audience was not easy for me before joining the Career Development Programme. Now, I really enjoy it, and it is a change at which I am surprised. I see every one of these talks as an opportunity to share my journey and to expand the outlook of new recruits. I tell them that at Customs they can have a career which will enable them to go on learning while serving their people, their country and maybe – one day – the entire Customs community through the WCO.