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Priming the Pump: Supply Chain Education for Students and Teachers

By Leslie Gardner, PhD, CPIM | N/A 2011 | 6 | 8

With its strong agricultural and manufacturing base, growing warehousing and distribution industry, central location, and convenient access to various modes of transportation, Indiana is uniquely positioned to become a strategic player in supply chain management. According to the Indianapolis Private Industry Council, manufacturing companies employ 14 percent of all workers in central Indiana, and thousands more work in industries that provide services to manufacturers. Indiana's logistics providers employ more than 41,000 workers; moreover, a 20 percent increase has been predicted for logistics jobs in central Indiana over the next five years.

State government and various economic development organizations have focused much effort on promoting manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and logistics, as well as developing the people to work in these enterprises. Universities and community colleges in Indiana have supported this effort by creating or updating related degree programs, but they struggle to recruit undergraduates. Unfortunately, the terms supply chain management and logistics either mean nothing to most students or make them think of low-paying jobs and driving forklifts.

To prime the pump and help create future supply chain leaders, teachers and administrators from several high schools and career centers__in partnership with university professors, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and the Indiana Department of Education__have begun supply chain education as early as middle school. Some of their accomplishments follow.

In the high schools
Indiana's programs of study at the secondary level were designed by state-appointed work groups. The supply chain and logistics work group was chaired by an administrator from a high school career center and included three secondary teachers from two high schools, four postsecondary faculty representing two community college systems and one comprehensive university, and six employer and business representatives. The work group's objectives were to

  • develop a program of study that includes core academic courses and specialized courses in supply chain management and supporting disciplines
  • develop course descriptions, course content topics, standards, objectives, assessment measures, recommended end-of-program assessments, and a sample syllabus for each new course in the program of study
  • identify postsecondary courses aligned with the secondary courses and develop statewide dual-credit agreements for these courses.

In preparing to design the program of study, the work group analyzed the needs of employers and business, high school diploma requirements, workforce market data, bodies of knowledge and skill standards, and postsecondary certification and degree programs. They compared postsecondary programs of study in supply chain management, first focusing on courses in supply chain management and business (particularly accounting); technology requirements; and math, science, and English entrance requirements. Ultimately, they selected objectives from these inputs that were achievable at the high school level and synthesized a conceptual design for the program of study.

The work group chose business degrees as the target for the secondary program of study. Jobs in supply chain management and logistics in Indiana are very diverse, but many of the manufacturing and logistics management, planning, scheduling, and purchasing jobs have similar degree requirements. The specialized degrees tend to be in packaging and technology, but the jobs are also fewer.

The work group decided that students should meet Indiana's standard college preparatory course requirements. In addition, they selected accounting, computer applications, and business law as foundation courses to be taken at the ninth- or tenth-grade levels. Introductory supply chain and computer applications courses from Indiana's two community college systems would be taken for dual credit at the eleventh- or twelfth-grade level. The work group included courses with equivalents in both of Indiana's community college systems to make it possible for students with dual credit to go to either institution. These courses incorporate many components of the APICS Certified in Production and Inventory Management designation and the APICS body of knowledge.

Instructional modules
Recruiting students for the secondary level program of study is almost as challenging as recruiting them for undergraduate degree programs. For this reason, math teachers from McKenzie Career Center and Speedway High School partnered with a faculty member from the University of Indianapolis to develop instructional modules in mathematics that teach the Indiana standards while introducing students to concepts and careers in supply chain management.

Mathematics classes are an effective way to introduce students to supply chain concepts because math is the unifying discipline behind engineering, business, technology, and advanced manufacturing. The math modules had the additional benefit of exposing a wider audience of students to supply chain concepts, including those on a traditional academic track who go directly to four-year universities instead of community colleges.

Supply chain camp
Another strategy for recruiting students into the supply chain program of study is to reach middle school students through a summer enrichment program. Young Executive Camp was piloted at McKenzie Career Center in 2007 and 2008. Each of the camp's five days featured a stage in the supply chain:

  • Monday was manufacturing day. The students simulated a Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing system, led by a past president of the Central Indiana Chapter of APICS, using poker chips and dice. They also designed a snack made of graham crackers, bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate chips, which would be "manufactured" later in the week.
  • Tuesday, packaging day, featured campers making foam-lined, corrugated boxes for eggs and dropping them to test the box's ability to protect an egg. Package design is a mathematically rich experience, as it involves geometry and the use of fractions.
  • Wednesday was distribution day. The students visited the Redcats distribution center in 2007 and FedEx in 2008. These field trips were the highlights the camps.
  • Thursday, retail day, involved a computer simulation of a convenience store and a field trip to Roche Diagnostics, which was led by another past president of the Central Indiana Chapter of APICS.
  • Finally, on Friday, the campers manufactured the snacks designed on Monday and were judged by classmates and adults from local businesses, who also brought prizes. The students participated in quiz games as part of the competition.

Young executive camp was funded by a grant from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. It proved to be a rewarding experience for students, teachers, and businesspeople alike.

Professional development for teachers
Enlisting teachers to introduce supply chain educational and career opportunities to high school students has proven to be a viable strategy. Two workshops in supply chain management were piloted in 2009 and 2010 at the University of Indianapolis for high school and middle school math, science, business, and economics teachers, as well as guidance counselors, and were funded by the US Department of Education.

The workshops incorporated a mix of slideshows, hands-on activities, field trips, and guest speakers to demonstrate concepts in real-world applications. A field trip to the machine shop Garrity Tool was followed immediately by a rapid prototyping lab, giving teachers the opportunity to design and prototype an object as they had seen it at the machine shop. And a field trip to Subaru to see JIT manufacturing in action complemented a poker-chips-and-dice simulation of JIT manufacturing practices.

Members of the Central Indiana Chapter of APICS played key roles in these workshops by hosting field trips, leading learning experiences, and speaking on supply chain topics in which they had expertise. The workshops culminated with participants designing lesson plans integrating supply chain management principles and careers into the topics and standards the teachers discuss in their classrooms.

Getting involved
In spite of global economic challenges and a slow road to recovery, the demand for top-tier supply chain management talent remains strong. Industry and education collaborative efforts such as the ones described here are essential to identifying real-world skills requirements and getting young people motivated to enter the supply chain profession. What can you do in your community to help build a stronger future for the profession?

Leslie Gardner, PhD, CPIM is a professor of operations management and mathematics at the University of Indianapolis, with a joint appointment in the Department of Mathematics and the School of Business. She may be contacted at lgardner@uindy.edu.

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