The advanced manufacturing and logistics (AML) industry has an image problem; that’s the theory driving a new effort to convince college students to choose careers in the industry. Conexus Indiana leaders believe college students—even those in degree programs related to AML—have an inaccurate perception of the industry. The organization’s logistics and automotive councils are taking the wheel by spearheading a new event-based strategy that breaks the mold for traditional case competitions.

“We struggle with filling the jobs we have available,” says Full Beauty Brands Director of Supply Chain Nick Hoagland. The company operates 1.5 million square feet of highly-automated fulfillment center space in central Indiana and ships domestically and internationally. “The challenge is real, and that’s why we’re part of the charge to address it moving forward.”  

He says the strategy centers on creating the “Cadillac of case competition events” that puts a much greater emphasis on networking and building awareness of AML careers. Unlike traditional case competitions, each event—one for logistics and a second for manufacturing—spanned three days in October and November and put a heavy emphasis on students rubbing elbows with high-level AML executives in the Hoosier state. In addition to working on the case and presenting solutions to a panel of five judges, students had multiple sessions with industry executives: networking opportunities, a career fair and one-on-one meetings.

“The only real weakness in our state is workforce, whether that’s associate level or management level; we need to retain our Indiana talent,” says Hoagland, who is also vice chairman of the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council. “With unemployment rates as low as they are, [Full Beauty Brands] and other logistics companies continue to struggle to find great talent.”

Despite the challenge, Hoagland believes the growing number of logistics and supply chain programs at Indiana colleges is a sign of progress. Indiana State University and Ball State University added bachelor degrees in recent years, and the University of Evansville and Valparaiso University will launch a logistics and supply chain management program in the fall of 2018.

“In addition to working with the students, the [case competitions] are an opportunity for us to connect with academics and administrators to showcase how important this industry is to the state,” says Hoagland. “Some folks clearly don’t understand what we do. We want to make sure these students understand the environment they’re going to work in.”

The executives at each event are members of Conexus Indiana’s logistics and automotive councils. It was the second year for the logistics-focused competition and the first for the automotive-focused event.

Indiana ranks second in the nation in automotive-related Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has more than 500 automotive companies doing business in the state. While Indiana’s legacy in automotive manufacturing is strong, industry leaders say developing skilled talent is critical for continued industry growth. The 2017 Indiana Manufacturing Survey, published earlier this year, listed the ongoing workforce shortage as a top concern for employers.

Likewise, in logistics, Hoagland says tomorrow’s workforce needs to be bigger than it is today.

“We continue to see huge development on I-65 in Whitestown and Greenwood—third-party logistics providers and warehousing facilities are continuing to be built around our city,” says Hoagland. “We need to keep our talent here. Making these connections between students and executives are hopefully keeping them in the state.”

While the winning teams walked away with thousands of dollars, industry leaders are hopeful students also left with a desire to launch a logistics career in Indiana.

Hoagland says enhancing students’ soft skills is equally important as developing their technical acumen.

Hoagland says the event also reaches students who are not enrolled in logistics-focused degree programs and universities that may not be aware of the career opportunities.

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