Indiana Maps Way to Logistics Success

This state is developing a formula to prepare its workforce for high-skill, high-tech logistics careers.

Today, a high school diploma just isn't enough preparation for high-tech jobs in manufacturing and logistics. However, success doesn't hinge solely on a four-year bachelor's degree, either. Half of all U.S. jobs today are considered “middle-skill,” and one of every two new jobs will fall into this category over the next five years.

Conexus Indiana, an initiative to grow the state's advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, is addressing this issue by working with industry and higher education to ensure future workers are prepared for increasingly high-tech logistics careers. As a result of these efforts, an industry approved advanced manufacturing and logistics skills template has been created and is being used to help guide future curricula in these sectors.

By bringing together industry leaders - representing all facets of the logistics sector from trucking to waterborne shipping, advanced manufacturing and material handling - Conexus Indiana is tackling the current and looming workforce gap issues. The initiative is also developing and publishing a strategic plan that helps move Indiana into the next century, focusing on infrastructure and public policy as well as workforce development.

Skilled Workers in Demand

Unlike the warehousing or assembly line jobs of a generation ago, today's logistics careers demand an understanding of complex technologies and integrated steps in the supply chain. Logistics tends to mirror the business environment around advanced manufacturing, and clearly both industries have become increasingly high-tech. A Federal Reserve Bank of New York study looks back over the last 20 years and notes that high-skill manufacturing occupations have grown 37 percent while low- and medium-skill jobs declined 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively. High-wage careers are available in the manufacturing and logistics industries, but these positions are very different from the traditional jobs of the past. They require more advanced training than ever before.

Because these jobs demand more education, advanced manufacturing and logistics jobs pay 30 to 40 percent more than the average median income in Indiana. Advanced manufacturing and logistics could be promising fields for students who aren't sure about their plans after high school, have a mechanical aptitude or just a knack for figuring out how things work. This generation clearly has an edge — technology is already a huge part of their lives.

Human resource and operations executives from nearly 20 companies gathered to determine the best way to prepare today's and tomorrow's workers for careers in the logistics industry. They identified the skills needed for successful middle-level logistics employees and set out an ideal pathway for an employee to learn the information for success in the logistics industry. If the pathway is completed , the employee would earn an associates degree that would ensure their proficiency in export/import control laws; regulatory compliance; lean principles; Six Sigma tools; Total Quality Management (TQM); and safety and environmental compliance.

Logistics: A Good Fit Anywhere

Stan Hill, logistics leader, Engine Business Unit for Columbus, Ind.-based Cummins Inc., says a broad base of skills helps today's logistics employees work effectively with professionals across all levels of the supply chain. “I personally look for individuals with strong problem solving, process development and cross-functional team leadership skills,” he says. “Those will lay a strong foundation for any role within logistics as we work with suppliers, customers, internal manufacturing and purchasing departments to solve supply chain problems. On that foundation, specific logistics skill sets will bridge the gaps that are inherent between these groups.

“Our end goal is to delight our customers in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. If that goal is met, the revenue will be there to create new business and jobs.”

Mike V. Brown, vice president, operations, for Indianapolis-based Redcats USA, firmly believes today's worker needs to be able to adapt to new technologies that businesses are continuously implementing in their operations.

“Wireless scanners, hand-held computers and voice technology are just a few examples of how operations have converted to paperless environments,” he says. “A workforce that can navigate in such an environment is critical.” (Redcats USA is a division of Redcats Group, a global leader in home shopping for apparel and home furnishing.)

Mark A. Sell, principal of 3PL firm, MD Logistics, agrees. “The ability to work within a fully paperless environment with regard to warehouse functions and tasks is vital,” he adds. “Associates need to understand that all tasks that are physically performed in a warehouse are also confirmed on an RF gun and are actually real-time computer entries into an enterprise-wide warehouse management system. The accuracy by which employees perform these tasks affects the overall inventory accuracy for the customer and everything we do is being continually scrutinized by our customers. We don't have a lot of room for error.”

A Map to Success

The skills to which Brown and Sell refer are reflected in a template, or skills map, that identifies the skills required for a successful middle-level advanced manufacturing or logistics position. The template outlines six skill levels, from introductory to mastery.

Learners following the skills map begin with general industry information, then specialize in either advanced manufacturing or logistics, receiving a certification upon completing the intermediate level or an associates degree when completing the mastery level. Conexus Indiana is calibrating the identified skills with current high school and post-secondary courses and is working with educational partners to create new or revised programs to meet the needs of industry.

During high school a student would begin with an introduction to logistics, including material handling, shipping/transportation and value added services. This level also includes fundamental mathematics and computer skills as well as lessons on work ethic and accountability. Upon completion of the introductory and basic levels, a student can select to specialize in either advanced manufacturing or logistics.

Upon graduation from high school, students will move on and then delve into subjects such as inventory accountability, regulatory compliance, outbound shipping and processing, material requirements planning and order management systems, earning a portable certification. At the mastery level, as mentioned above, the student will have earned an associates degree and become proficient in six areas needed for today's logistics industry.

Key to Competitive Health

“Our industry needs people who have the ability to think on a broader scale,” says Sell. “They need to have an innate understanding of the local four walls requirements that our business demands but also understand the broader supply chain challenges that our customers face globally. They must grasp the entire process from the point of inception to the point of consumption. Everything in between is the supply chain. If we are going to increase our value to our customers as supply chain professionals, we need to be able to consult on all aspects of the distribution channel. Today's and tomorrow's employees must be prepared to continue to dig in and learn all they can for their companies to remain viable and competitive.”

David Holt is vice president of operations and business development for Conexus Indiana, a statewide initiative charged with capitalizing on emerging opportunities in logistics and advanced manufacturing. For more information on Conexus Indiana and to see the skills template, visit www.conexusindiana.com.

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