How Industry and Academia Can Work Together to Build the Workforce

The National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (SCTE), an Advanced Technology Education Center funded through the National Science Foundation, is holding a series of industry and education workforce forums across key national markets.

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The National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (SCTE), an Advanced Technology Education Center funded through the National Science Foundation, is holding a series of industry and education workforce forums across key national markets.

The objective of this “Ecosystem Development” work is to introduce industry partners with demand for supply chain technicians to academic leaders at colleges with established programs that have key similarities to the SCTE model program. At these events, industry attendees include senior representatives from major retailers, large package shipping companies and materials handling equipment suppliers.

Together, the firms participating in this forum have an annual need for more than 1,000 skilled supply chain technicians and currently employ more than 8,000 nationally. These supply chain technicians play a critical role in installing, maintaining and updating automated systems in 21st-century warehouses or distribution centers.

The format of the forums includes a tour of an automated logistics operation. The tours provide meaningful context of the technician occupation to academics who are unfamiliar with automated logistics operations and help all attendees learn more about advanced materials handling systems.

In aggregate, the industry partners have enough regional demand for technicians to justify dedicated community college or technical school programs focused on this occupation. Colleges with existing programs such as mechatronics or advanced manufacturing, industrial maintenance, and integrated systems technology are well positioned to add supply chain technician training to their existing programs.

As part of this “Ecosystem Development” initiative, direct competitors came together in May at a UPS facility in Chicago to discuss collaborative ways to grow the technician workforce pipeline rather than continuing to “steal” talent from one another. A key strategy for the event was to demonstrate significant industry involvement to the academics, which—along with the automated warehouse tour and SCTE research data—builds a strong business case for the expansion of programs to support the supply chain technician workforce.

I began the industry and educator forum in May with a presentation highlighting the center’s progress, Web-based resources and industry research data on why warehouses are now installing automated materials handling equipment and systems. This trend is driving the need for more technicians, as every new system that is installed requires people to keep it operational. In the presentation that followed, UPS provided an overview of the plant engineering program they developed in partnership with Moraine Valley Community College to address their short and long-term technician needs. This program is a best-in-class successful model the SCTE wanted to highlight. Many firms are working to develop programs similar to the UPS program in their communities across the country.

In addition, one major retailer gave a presentation about their workforce development strategy of partnering with community colleges and technical schools to grow their technician workforce. The presentation included a forceful call-to-action message to the industry highlighting 10 different ways companies can work with colleges and the SCTE to further this mission. In addition, Kieran Ryan from Intelligrated made a presentation focused on the technician shortage and challenges firms have nationally with ongoing turnover due to internal promotions, staffing changes and baby boomer retirements. Together, these three factors create an industry-wide annual turnover averaging 15% annually.

Following the industry presentations, academics highlighted programs on their campuses that contain elements of the SCTE model program. The objective of these presentations was to make industry partners aware of the programs taught at each school and to identify potential partners for their workforce development needs. Elaine Gaertner, SCTE educational liaison, concluded with a presentation to the educators about SCTE resources while the industry group attended campus tours at Moraine Valley Community College and Joliet Junior College.

As a result, companies are now in direct dialogue with area colleges regarding how they can work collaboratively to address the technician shortage and grow the future workforce pipeline

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Education · MRO September 2016 · · All Topics
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