Looking out at the faces of more than 200 students attending the recent Executive Connections event at Ball State University, I was encouraged by their interest and excitement in the presentations by faculty from the Ball State University Miller College of Business and senior executives from Indiana’s logistics industry.

Logistics is an essential piece of Indiana’s future, and we are poised to capitalize on our central location, significant infrastructure and the public and private assets that support the logistics industry. Freight is projected to double by 2035, which translates into increased career opportunities for those who want to ride the wave of industry growth. Building and maintaining our position as the “Crossroads of America” and a hub in the global supply chain is as important now as it has ever been.

Logistics industry leaders must focus efforts on educating and encouraging students of all skill levels to think about logistics as a viable, well-paying and rewarding career. Logistics and supply chain management professions include niches such as business sustainability and green operations, purchasing managers, warehouse supervisors, 3rd party logistics account managers, inventory planners, logistics automation specialists, transportation solutions analysts, and quality control analysts, just to name a few. I have found that many students are unaware of these career opportunities and, therefore, do not think about pursuing educational pathways that lead to logistics careers.

Indiana is fortunate that its Hoosier four-year institutions of higher education are offering logistics degrees and courses to ensure students are well prepared. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Ball State’s Miller College of Business, Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and Purdue Polytechnic Institute all offer degrees in logistics and supply chain disciplines.  

Our obligation as industry leaders is to ensure students take advantage of these educational pathways. We think the best way to accelerate that is to bring our executives to campus and allow students to soak up information about everything from the practicalities of working in logistics and supply chain operations management to resume preparation, and how information technologies and systems enable more efficient and effective planning, managing and evaluating information services.

Ball State’s Executive Connections was the third on-campus event sponsored and organized by Conexus Indiana Logistics Council’s Post-Secondary Workforce Development Task Force. Spearheaded by Conexus Indiana, the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative, the task force is made up of approximately 20 top executives at Indiana companies who designed the program to give students a head start on logistics careers. To date, the task force has held events at Ball State and Purdue University, with plans to continue and expand the program in 2016, reaching even more students at more educational institutions.

During these programs, industry leaders and educators provide a wealth of knowledge, with subjects including computer modeling tools such as linear and integer programming, regression, heuristic methods and other technologies. Software, computer modeling and simulation, and even business ethics are explored and students are encouraged to question and learn directly from the Conexus executives about the importance of building relationships and demonstrating excellent interpersonal skills.

The goals of the on-campus programs are two-fold. We want to open students’ eyes about the significant career opportunities in logistics. If we can reach them early in their post-secondary school careers and excite them about logistics they can pursue the classes that give them the skills to succeed in a logistics career. The second goal is to give college students face-to-face contact with Indiana’s leading logistics executives. They can ask them anything about the logistics industry, and get a head start on applying for a job or internship with the hope of staying in Indiana to work in a high-paying career for a Hoosier logistics company. Already, we have seen students involved in our on-campus events receive job offers with Indiana logistics companies.  

As a member of the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council task force and a participant in these on-campus events, I’ve been impressed with the caliber of students who attend these programs, and am more than pleased at the number of executives who find it worthwhile to spend their time on this effort.

We’ve all heard of the “middle-skills gap” Indiana logistics companies are finding in the talent pool, and that explains the many specialized high school and two-year post-secondary programs (such as Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University) Conexus Indiana and its industry A+ Partners are providing for students.

The college students who attend the task force programs are learning and developing the right advanced skills to lead these industries. We will return to Purdue University on Nov. 20 for our fourth logistics event. Our job continues to make sure these students see all the exciting directions they can take their skills, and are encouraged to discover all of the opportunities available on Hoosier soil – opportunities limited only by their drive, their talent, their determination and their preparation.

Nicholas Hoagland is Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer at Backhaul Direct LLC.

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