MRO Academic Insights: The changing tide of corporate- university relations

Demographic shifts pose challenges as well as rich opportunities for supply chain companies that engage with institutions of higher education.

Education Insights in the News

Partnership between university and industry solves real-world problems
MRO Academic Insights: The changing tide of corporate- university relations
Education Insights: The talent supply chain

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U.S. higher education institutions and corporate America need closer partnerships today than ever before. News and government outlets have noted the fast-changing demographics in the United States. In particular, Millennials and Generation X and Y comprise the largest sector of our current and future working-age population now that many of the Baby Boomers have retired. For colleges and universities, this is changing how education curriculum is being designed and delivered.

For industry, talent identification and selection has become more challenging. The old paradigm of only interacting with college campuses when your company has an immediate talent need is increasingly less relevant to those entering the workforce. We live in the “experience economy” where current and prospective employees seek deeper engagement in work and education. Therefore, large and small companies must re-imagine the management of their talent pipeline beyond attending career fairs and interviewing students.

Higher education institutions, meanwhile, must reinvent the education process by providing more hands-on and interdisciplinary learning experiences. The industry-university partnerships formed in the Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lubar School of Business are examples of alliances at the nexus of real-world, relevant student experiences with exposure to many industry sectors.

Collaborative involvement

Every year, thousands of new students arrive on college campuses, and you should expect that many of them are not familiar with your company. A traditional starting point is to contact the career placement office at the university to connect you with the correct student talent pool. Some universities have a centralized career placement office for all majors while other universities have multiple offices specific to certain majors. Typically, the top spring graduates begin seeking full-time positions in the fall of their senior year. So if you’re looking to attract top talent, it’s best to identify students in the fall for positions that need to be filled the following spring.

While typically companies engage with universities through traditional on-site interviews and career fairs, recruiters and hiring managers must be proactive. The next level of involvement builds your brand on campus by getting your company into a classroom or inviting the students to your facility. Offering to guest lecture lets you share real-world experiences and stories with students. Contact the course professor directly, or if you are unsure which course would be the best fit, contact the dean’s office. You’ll want to do this at least a month before the semester starts to secure a date. Consider building rapport with professors directly.

Hosting a plant tour is a great way to get students out of the classroom. Contact the president of the university’s supply chain or logistics student organization to schedule a date. Plant tours aren’t typically a fit during class hours, but many student organizations coordinate site visits to local facilities. If you don’t have a facility close to the campus, an office environment can still be interesting for students if given the chance to shadow someone at your company during the visit.

Sponsoring a scholarship is a third-level opportunity. Some scholarships require the student to write a short essay or provide written answers to questions. Others give the student a problem the company is facing and ask the student to describe how it should be addressed. Give students at least two months to apply, but expect most applications will be submitted the week of the deadline. Also, make sure to avoid deadlines that coincide with finals week. By going through the process to identify your scholarship winners, you may have also identified strong candidates for internship or full-time positions.

Creating further engagement opportunities

For an even deeper level of engagement, industry should be identifying opportunities to collaborate with a university on a company project. Depending on the nature of the project, it may be suitable for undergrads or may require the more advanced knowledge of a master’s student or university faculty.

The university can help you identify the resources necessary for the project. Some projects are conducted with a class of students and some are conducted outside the classroom. Projects that can be divided into separate product lines, regions of the country, suppliers, and then assigned to teams of students are a good fit. Since each team has a unique data set, the company will be presented with multiple recommendations from one classroom engagement.

At the Supply Chain Management Institute, the types of projects our students complete for our member companies are typically either analysis-based or research-based. Analysis-based projects either result in cost savings recommendations or a new tool that the company uses to make better business decisions. Research-based projects typically result in a paper and formal presentation to the company executives highlighting the key findings from the research study.

Examples of analysis-based projects:

  • A logistics strategic forecasting tool for Goodwill that recommends the number of forklifts, warehouse workers, trucks, trailers and drivers needed over the next five years.
  • An inventory model for Children’s Hospital to determine how much inventory to have on hand for each SKU at the warehouse.
  • An analysis of truckload, LTL and parcel rates for orders shipped from Briggs & Stratton’s Mexico distribution center.

Examples of research-based projects:

  • Best practices for the evaluation of Harley Davidson’s service providers.
  • The impact the widening of the Panama Canal will have on break-bulk shippers (for Bentley World Packaging).
  • Best practices for internal orders at Rockwell Automation.

As U.S. demographics continue to change, higher education institutions and industry must adapt. Tremendous benefits exist for all parties involved. The Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee partners with large and small companies at all levels of engagement described here.


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