October 2008 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Community Service: Supporting Logistics Education

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Manufacturing jobs are leaving American shores at an increasing rate. While this presents challenges for manufacturing companies, it also boosts demand for distribution and logistics professionals.

Because many products manufactured overseas are ultimately consumed in the United States, the need for warehouses and distribution centers to move those materials from port of entry to point of use continues to grow, creating demand for a new generation of distribution and logistics professionals.

To meet the need for these new employees, enterprises that hire logistics and supply chain professionals are getting more involved in programs that aim to educate students and parents about opportunities in the field.

Too many people think that working in a distribution center means performing a low-level job. Nothing could be further from the truth. Distribution and logistics careers are technically challenging, and well-trained workers will always be in demand.

In fact, the growing importance of technology in our profession means that the warehouse jobs of the 20th century are becoming exactly that—a thing of the past. Contemporary distribution jobs are exciting, fast-paced, and plentiful.

Capable, tech-savvy workers fill positions as facility managers, operations managers, shift supervisors, inventory control managers, purchasing managers, and dispatchers.

Most of these positions require at least an associate's degree, and, depending on the level of responsibility within the organization, can pay very well. The increasing reliance on technology makes these jobs appealing to students.

Get Them When They're Young

To spread the logistics education message, training and outreach programs increasingly look to younger audiences. Engineering, education, law, medicine, and other professions already have name recognition by the time students reach middle school. Distribution, materials handling, logistics, and other roles in our segment are not as familiar.

An in-school program can reach students when they are still forming ideas about their career paths. But the cost of creating a distribution course—much less a facility equipped with the latest technology—can be prohibitive to high schools and middle schools.

Where can these schools turn for support as they seek to offer logistics training? Industry. At little or no cost to schools, industrial partners can provide the resources and knowledge to develop effective and up-to-date logistics training programs.

These partnerships offer benefits that reach beyond the students and program sponsors and into the community.

For example, companies often locate large distribution centers in areas with low real estate values and wage averages. The jobs these centers bring are exactly the kind of work needed in those areas.

In some instances, the distribution centers established for education can have an impact on the entire county. One facility in Lehigh Valley, Pa., for example, handles all the purchasing and inbound freight for the county's nine school districts.

Not only do students get a hands-on education about supply chain and logistics, but the facility is able to leverage its buying power to negotiate excellent prices, thereby saving money for local taxpayers.

When forward-thinking enterprises realize the opportunity presented by sponsoring logistics education programs, the entire community can benefit—and the next generation of supply chain professionals will thank them.

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