by George Lorenzo
One of the newer National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Centers is The National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (SCTE), established in August 2011 under a four-year $3.5 million NSF grant. SCTE is being led by Norco College of the Riverside Community College District in California, in partnership with four other community colleges located along major national supply chain routes: Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky; Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois; Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio; and Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, Washington.
New Courses and Programs on the Horizon
SCTE ‘s overall goal is to increase the number of our nation’s “skilled” supply chain technicians. Its plans are to accomplish that by developing and disseminating new courses and programs that are currently being created through the collaborative efforts of its five community college partners, along with the input of a good number of business and industry partners that have a strong need and desire to enhance their supply chain employees’ skills well into the future.
Defining Modern Supply Chain Technician Skills Coupled with Positive Growth Projections for Jobs
The modern supply chain technician, according to SCTE, is someone who can install, operate, support, upgrade and/or maintain the software, hardware or material handling of equipment which supports a supply chain. Jobs in the field are expected to grow by 5% nationally through 2018 with the largest projected growth estimates located in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. The supply chain workforce in the California Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is projected to increase by 23%.
The 21st Century Warehouse
Norco College is located within a vital geographical region in which 40% percent of all goods begin their distribution journeys - between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles - to destinations across the U.S. Consequently, there is large concentration of twenty-first century warehouses located in this Southern California area, says Fleming. The twenty-first century warehouse is defined as “a technological marvel” with integrative technologies such as programmable shelving, unmanned robotic forklifts, web-based warehouse management systems, Bluetooth connectivity, geospatial systems and more.
The 21st Century Technician
“These types of companies are no longer hiring as many minimum-wage jobs (as traditional warehouses have in the past),” Fleming explains. “There are not as many $9-an-hour jobs unloading trucks, but there are $40,000- to $50,000-a-year technician jobs for maintaining sophisticated equipment. We are getting rid of the rote, manual labor jobs. We now have higher white-collar/gray-collar types of occupations that require technician skills.” SCTE Project Director George Walters adds that there is a definite need for supply chain technicians who have an interdisciplinary understanding in the areas of industrial maintenance, logistics management, information technology and total quality management.
In particular, companies that utilize e-commerce to take orders and ship individual packages – “the Target’s, Amazon’s and Kohl’s are using high technology,” says Walters. “This is where all the robotics, conveyor systems and tilt trays come into play. And there are other areas, such as in food distribution, where their margins are so tight that they have to use as much technology as possible. They have shelf-life issues; they have pricing issues; they have storage issues that are driving the technology.”
In short, the new technologies that support the nation’s supply chain are becoming more advanced and are being implemented to increase production and improve accuracy. As noted in SCTE’s literature, “the days of shipping full pallets of product to retail outlets are being replaced with single items shipped directly to the customer’s door. This business model is creating new challenges for companies. High-tech inventory control systems and material handling equipment are needed.
“Ample workforce to maintain these new technologies does not currently exist. Academically STEM-prepared students with an interest in using technology are needed to address the growing demand for skilled supply chain technicians.”
Supply Chain Education and Training of the Future
SCTE is addressing this growing demand by creating the next generation of education and training curricula for supply chain technicians. Through its community college partners and the support it is getting from an Industry Leadership Team, comprised of training and operations professionals representing such companies as Target, UPS, Converse/Nike, Toyota, the Port of Long Beach, Kroger and many others in the field of supply chain management, SCTE has been busy working on three major objectives:
- Conducting a gap analysis of existing technician training, identifying the technologies being used and developing training modules.
- Developing and delivering professional development training related to these technologies.
- Disseminating information to students, educators and industry.
“Our first training modules will probably be available for dissemination by the beginning of next year,” says Walters. “We are pretty much on a fast track and have identified a lot the areas in the gap analysis. There are things that change rapidly within this industry.”
The training under development by SCTE is being created for both large and relatively small businesses, adds Fleming. “It is also about up-and-coming e-commerce retailers that are expanding. We are seeing local companies that are looking at duplicating their operations (in other geographic regions across the country). This is an emerging need that is timely. NSF has had good foresight in planning this new ATE Center. It is starting to solve a need for today, and we are also training a new workforce for 2016 and 2018. That is when the companies are saying that more of their facilities will be upgraded. So this is really training for tomorrow’s workforce, not just today’s workforce.”