Supply Chain and Logistics 101: Companies Connect with Undergrads

“Driving a forklift in a warehouse” and “moving stuff with trucks”—that’s how the average college student describes logistics and supply chain management, say two Indiana business executives. Two Indianapolis-based companies—Allison Transmission and Backhaul Direct—are boosting efforts to connect with college students, spark their interest in logistics and supply chain careers, and ideally, groom future employees. Both operations are gaining traction with their efforts, but are further tweaking their strategies as logistics companies express a collective need for more employees.

“I want to make sure we have enough talent in the pipeline, so my competitor and I don’t have to get into a bidding war over talent,” says Backhaul Direct Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer Nicholas Hoagland. “It benefits everyone by exposing these kids to logistics and supply chain careers, so all of us have a better chance of filling the spots for the positions that we need.” (LISTEN Hoagland1) 15102 TEMPLATE

Allison Transmission Global Supply Chain Executive Director Greg Chaney says the company will be hiring a large number of new employees over the next several years.

“Allison is a growing company, and there’s increasing complexity in the supply chain every day; we just keep getting more and more global,” says Chaney. “We have a lot of folks nearing retirement age, so one of the difficulties is finding enough qualified people to fill those positions. We all have the same issues with finding enough college graduates for our positions.” (LISTEN Chaney1) 15104

Both Backhaul Direct and Allison Transmission have traditional internship programs, but realized a need to connect with college students more directly, within the first year or two on campus.

“[College students] really don’t have an understanding of the complexity of what the modern supply chain really looks like and the sophisticated tools and skillsets that are required to effectively manage it,” says Chaney. (LISTEN Chaney2)  15105

Allison Transmission and Backhaul Direct are combining efforts with other companies on the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council, a group within the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative. The businesses are plotting the course for capturing future workers. In addition to internship programs, both companies are increasing campus visits, having students spend time at their operations and working with faculty to deliver a realistic view of logistics and supply chain careers.

“We’ve taken a very aggressive boots-on-the-ground approach with universities,” says Hoagland. “I compare it to what you see in sports, where college coaches are recruiting kids from high school. We’re doing that at the business level; going into the colleges, being aggressive trying to get candidates early in their college years to start thinking about a career in logistics at Backhaul Direct.” (LISTEN Hoagland2)  15103

Hoagland says, because the company is smaller—about a 70-person operation—it focuses on recruiting students from smaller colleges and universities who might be looking for a similar feel in their work environment.

Both companies are also working with colleges throughout the state to increase the number of logistics and supply chain bachelor degree programs and update the curriculum for existing ones.

“We’re seeing a lack of logistics and supply chain [degree programs], and we’re hoping to get those numbers to grow,” says Hoagland. “I think the universities are figuring out this is a great area of growth for them if they do it right. We’re trying to get as many programs in place as possible.”

The companies are working directly with Indiana University, Purdue University and Ball State University, which launched a major in logistics and supply chain management a few years ago.

“While we compete against each other for the best talent, we also want to make sure the pool that we all have to draw from is as deep as possible. Unless we grow that pool, we’re all going to be in trouble,” says Chaney. “We’re stepping this up now that we’ve gotten interest from the universities, because they’re all looking for their students to get good jobs when they graduate. We’re seeing increased interest and more applicants, but we’ve got a long way to go.”