Learning for Life

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Logistics professionals who pursue continuing education keep up with industry innovations and move ahead in their careers.

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Logistics and supply chain management is a rapidly changing landscape that will present increasingly complex challenges.

To meet those challenges, logistics professionals need to stay on top of trends and ahead of the curve. They need to understand their own corporate realm and the greater context in which they work. They need to be generalists and specialists, critical thinkers and problem solvers.

They need to be lifelong students.

Logistics professionals face career stagnation if they fail to keep learning. What's more, they could compromise the performance of their companies and the health of the U.S. economy, says Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of APICS The Association for Operations Management.

Ongoing training is so important that Eshkenazi ranks it first among his top five tips—before networking, developing expertise, sharing information, and taking pride in work—for how supply chain professionals can succeed in today's economy.

Continuing education is especially critical now that the economy is faltering, Eshkenazi adds. If businesses are to innovate and increase efficiency, they need educated professionals poised to harness new technology and implement new strategies.

"Professional development gives companies a competitive edge," he says. "Organizations that invest in training their employees tend to be more successful than those that don't."

Nonetheless, professional development budgets are often at risk when business declines.

"When manufacturing companies hit tough economic times, they tend to cut back on discretionary spending," Eshkenazi says. "They complain that trained employees become more knowledgeable, build their resumes, and go job hunting. But the flip side is, employees who are not trained, stay."

And that could subject the company to substandard performance. Like Eshkenazi, Frank Breslin, dean of the New Jersey-based Institute for Logistical Management (ILM) sees professional development as an imperative for the logistics segment, noting that ILM enrolls students from more than 40 countries.

Each of them will put their new knowledge and skills to work for their employers, making the marketplace that much more competitive.

"The thirst for logistics knowledge and skills is more critical today than ever before," Breslin says, "and it will continue to increase exponentially."

To quench that thirst, logistics professionals can dip into an increasing variety of opportunities. Their options range from hour-long brown-bag webinars hosted by trade associations to long-term university-level certificate programs that build expertise while providing resume credentials.

Students can take courses at night, on weekends, online, or in traditional classrooms—whatever suits their learning styles and accommodates their busy schedules.

Students can even mix and match, opting for what Eshkenazi calls "a blended learning opportunity," in which, say, an online course is complemented by an on-site workshop that affords the chance for students and teachers to troubleshoot scenarios.

Trade associations cater to those who need maximum flexibility, providing a wide array of schedule-sensitive education opportunities. Developed in response to member needs, much of the programming is application-based training that can be put to immediate use.

In contrast, university programs emphasize the theoretical foundation and big-picture framework necessary for strategic thinking and planning.

In classroom programs, students should look not just to their instructors but also to their peers for advice, insight, and access to opportunities. Continuing education classes are filled with working professionals whose on-the-job experiences are as instructive as any textbook.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

Greg Shelton, managing director of the University of Washington's global supply chain management program, encourages his students to rely on one another for information, and they often go beyond the classroom to do so.

For example, one student, a supply chain manager for Boeing, arranged a tour of the 777 aircraft assembly line for his classmates—a learning opportunity that didn't appear on the syllabus but translated into new insight.

Continuing education students sometimes make the mistake of delaying—by months or even indefinitely—the deployment of new knowledge and skills.

"Start applying some of the concepts while the training is still in session," Eshkenazi advises. That way, students can consult the instructor if they don't get the expected result or problems arise.

While professionals in logistics programs may not apply all their new knowledge right away, they will be able to contribute to discussions about company performance and strategies.

"They might be able to keep their company from repeating mistakes made by others," Shelton says.

Breslin reminds students that knowledge is power—power they can harness for the benefit of their careers and companies.

Read on to learn how logistics professionals Dana Regan, Joe Payne, and Thomas Jermann are making the most of continuing education.

Dana Regan: Certification Jump-starts a Budding Career

When Dana Regan graduated from Villanova University with a double major in accounting and marketing, her degree provided the perfect ticket to a decent first job.

Today, the 25-year-old is counting on a certificate in transportation logistics to pave the way for success in her second job.

That job—which she expects to keep indefinitely—is with the firm her father founded, TranzAct Technologies Inc., an Elmhurst, Ill.-based, privately held company specializing in logistics management solutions. At TranzAct, Regan divides her time between operations and sales in the truckload brokerage department.

With her father, Michael, serving as TranzAct's CEO and chairman of the board and her mother, Jean, as company president, Regan has had ample opportunity to boost her business expertise simply by attending family dinners. Fittingly, it was her parents who urged her to pursue additional education.

After exploring her options, Regan enrolled in a certificate program managed by the American Society of Transportation and Logistics (AST&L). The certificate is awarded to students who successfully complete six out of eight modules on international transportation, logistics, and supply chain management.

"My dad is involved in AST&L, and when I joined TranzAct, he encouraged me to earn this certificate," Regan says.

She has been working on the certificate for nearly two years and expects to finish in fall 2008. During that time, she says, she has acquired a broader view of the industry, one that helps her understand the context shaping day-to-day business realities.

For example, a study of the TranzAct books might reveal that truck traffic peaks in one season and slows in another. "But on the job," she says, "you don't learn what causes those peaks and valleys."

Regan opted to earn her certification by taking intensive all-day classes offered in weekend sessions at the University of North Texas, Dallas. She prefers this concentrated experience to the alternatives—night classes, occasional seminars, or self-paced sessions with textbooks and workbooks.

"I'm a classroom person. I like having access to an instructor and resources," she explains, noting that the out-of-town location allows her to escape the demands of her job and concentrate fully on the course content.

At a recent computer-based session on logistics analysis, for example, she was able to ask the instructors to help her over some hurdles.

"It was great because the resources were at my fingertips, and the instructors walked me through my questions," she recalls. Because the session lasted several hours, Regan was able to absorb and process the information thoroughly.

And that meant she was able to put her new knowledge to work almost immediately. In fact, Regan says, her freshly honed data-analysis skills make her a more confident and informed sales associate.

When she can analyze a potential client's logistics data and show, numerically, how a partnership with TranzAct can increase profitability, decision makers take notice.

"People are motivated by numbers. Presenting hard data is more persuasive than vague offers of cost-savings," she explains.

As much as she has benefited from the instruction, Regan has also learned from her classmates, many of whom have more experience and are willing to stay in touch by email. That translates to networking opportunities and troubleshooting resources.

Thanks to her instructors and classmates, Regan believes she has a better grasp of the family business and a deeper understanding of the logistics world. Armed with that knowledge, she's ready to make the most of her second job.

Joe Payne: Educational Resources Help Meet Expected and Unexpected Challenges

Joe Payne of Birmingham, Ala., started his career at a sizable retail chain. "That ballooned into warehousing and supply chain management," he recalls.

Since then, Payne has consistently continued his education. He's had to because, "every day I'm challenged with something new," he says.

Currently, the 40-year-old Payne works as an operations quality representative in Alabama and Mississippi for CHEP, an international firm that issues, collects, repairs/washes, and reissues more than 250 million pallets and containers from a global network of service centers.

Before joining CHEP, Payne worked as a senior account representative for a trucking company. While there, a number of career opportunities surfaced, and he knew that if he wanted to take advantage of them, he needed to supplement his bachelor's degree in logistics and his associate's degree in liberal arts with additional education.

To help him better understand the ever-changing nature of the logistics business, Payne turned to the Institute of Logistical Management, where he completed the coursework to become a Certified Logistics Practitioner (CLP).

"I needed textbook knowledge as opposed to hands-on knowledge," Payne says. What's more, he wanted to understand the methodology behind his company's practices.

The ILM certification program requires that students complete instruction in four core areas: transportation systems; transportation management; business logistics systems analysis; and business logistics principles. Elective courses cover the gamut from warehousing management to global transportation.

Payne completed the self-paced correspondence program in about 18 months, poring over study guides and workbooks at night and on weekends.

Given the number of questions that arose while studying, Payne would have preferred the one-on-one contact and peer exchanges associated with classroom instruction. But the program's distance and format didn't stop him from seeking out interaction with his instructors.

When he had a question, he e-mailed or called ILM. Generally, an instructor contacted him within 24 hours, and over the course of a phone call, Payne could pose his questions and get answers. Payne still calls ILM with questions. As an alumnus of the program, he's referred to experts and resources that can help him research current issues.

Over the years, Payne has made continuing education a habit. A member of the American Society of Quality and the Society of Industry Leaders, he relies on professional organizations to provide the courses and materials that add to his knowledge and understanding.

"Education is an ongoing process," he says, one that helps him meet the expected and unexpected challenges of his job.

Payne's next challenge? If there's a course on converting pallet construction waste into an alternative fuel, sign him up.

Thomas Jermann: Going the Distance With a Certificate Program

More than 20 years into his continent-spanning career in transportation, Thomas Jermann decided it was time to complement his extensive on-the-job experience with some classroom time.

To acquire in-depth insight into the changing nature of the global supply chain, the Seattle-based Jermann enrolled in a certificate program offered by the University of Washington's extension program.

With two classes under his belt and the third required course currently underway, Jermann considers the effort a career-enhancing, perspective-expanding experience.

A native of Switzerland, the 47-year-old Jermann got his start in the transportation business with Basel-based Danzas Corp., an international 3PL specializing in logistics solutions.

With Danzas, Jermann developed expertise as a traffic and tariff analyst and as an internal auditor, working out of various European offices and soaking up the intricacies of transportation and logistics.

"When Danzas bought a company in the United States, it sent me here to do due diligence," Jermann recalls.

That was in the early 1990s, and since then, Jermann has lived in the Seattle area. In 2001, he left Danzas to work for American Fast Freight Inc., where he stayed until March 2008, when he joined Expeditors as an internal audit manager.

Operating under the assumption that the broader his view of the industry, the better his ability to do his job, Jermann sought a way to expand his knowledge base.

The best way to do so—"short of switching jobs," he jokes—proved to be a program that would address the complete global supply chain—from forecasting and procurement to inventory management and lean manufacturing practices.

The University of Washington extension program has given Jermann the mix of general and in-depth knowledge he wanted.

"From a professional point of view, the benefit is more than acquiring a broader base of knowledge," he says. "It's understanding what a supply chain manager faces and why so much emphasis is placed on transportation quality. That was an 'aha' moment for me."

Other insights will help him execute his responsibilities at Expeditors. The program's analysis of data security and data integrity questions, for example, ties directly to Jermann's auditing role.

The program also offers an overview of sustainability and resilience topics, as well as insight into the challenges posed by global warming. Logistics professionals mindful of these issues regard their businesses as key components of larger systems that are vital to the economy and to the societies in which they operate.

Perhaps the best benefit, Jermann says, is the education environment's emphasis on openness to change and adaptability. His months in the classroom have reminded him to keep his antenna tuned to new possibilities.

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