Taking the Lead in Supply Chain Talent, Tri-State Region Creates Partnerships to Build Capability

Painting the picture of what supply chain management encompasses and then creating a vision of a career in this field in the minds of young people is part of what is making the career pathway initiative, Supply Chain OKI, successful. Another key contributor to the initiative’s success comes from the numerous collaborative partnerships created across the region. Supply Chain OKI is building programs that develop skilled supply chain professionals and help retain that talent within the industry. Led by Partners for a Competitive Workforce, the initiative represents adjacent areas of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, a tri-state region from which the initiative gets the “OKI” in its name.

Though Supply Chain OKI began fairly recently—in the early months of 2015—the initiative already has plans to expand. Jesse Simmons, director of the program, said the initiative’s primary goal is to increase awareness and preparedness for people potentially interested in supply chain jobs. In 2017, they plan to reach four times the students as they did in 2016, mostly through creating more personal connections. An internship program will also be launched next year.

“Our focus is on workforce development across the supply chain, and this includes many different functions,” Simmons said. “Our goal, is to get people ready for those different supply chain opportunities.”

He went on to say that even though the initiative has only just completed its first year, it is an absolute success, so far.

“The fact that we had zero awareness in supply chain opportunities is astounding,” Simmons said. “Now, thousands of people have the opportunity to make a choice when they previously had no idea.”

A career in Supply Chain Management can encompass a lot of different jobs. Many people understand that a logistics coordinator works in Supply Chain Management, but not everyone immediately sees that the field includes sales people, account managers, quality control managers, truck drivers, and warehouse managers among many other roles.

Supply Chain OKI has been collaboratively designed—by Simmons, business leaders, and other key partners—to include the practices that yield the best career pathway workforce results. The initiative includes business members, government agencies, chambers of commerce, community organizations, port authorities, and educational institutions. It focuses on talent capability building so employers will have the talent they need to fill positions. Ultimately, the goal is to establish a process for potential employees to gain the skills they need to get good paying jobs with career advancement opportunities.

“We’re focusing deeply in all of those areas,” Simmons said. “Our work focuses on having people ready to meet business needs of our region’s employers. The employers define what the needs are, and we—as a team—work collaboratively to meet those needs.”

Supply Chain OKI is directed by Simmons, former Director of North American Physical Distribution at Procter & Gamble, who is the only staff member. The initiative’s mission is carried out through the work done by the following Business Partner Teams: Educational Team, Regional Training Team, Community Team and Regional Connections. These teams bring together representatives from various organizations and businesses throughout the community to design and deliver best-in-practice results.

Supply Chain OKI created opportunities to reach high school students in 2016, including a large career fair. At the career fair, they reached more than 1,300 high school students from eight different school systems. Simmons said the goal for next year is to reach more than 5,000 students, almost four times the 2016 figure. To achieve this, people from Supply Chain OKI have been working directly with superintendents of school districts. Forming these types of personal connections with other key players is integral to the success of the program, according to Simmons.

“We’ve found that developing relationships with folks takes time,” Simmons said. “You have to be consistently on-point with that person. You have to understand what their needs are and get to know the leaders at the school. That is what makes it successful.”

Another strategy used by Supply Chain OKI is to connect a business leaders with high schools by doing career fairs. This allows employers to be involved with students and make them aware of supply chain career pathway job opportunities. In addition, they make students aware of programs like the tuition reimbursement program. The program allows students, who decide to work after high school graduation, to continue their education and get financial help from employers through tuition reimbursement. Thus, they can get an education without accruing a lot of debt.

Moving forward, Simmons said he is going to be focusing on crafting more college partnerships. Supply Chain OKI is planning to launch an internship program in 2017, which will help cover a lot of different business partners. Simmons said this program will not only provide real-life work experience, but will also lead to many students being hired immediately out of college.

The community outreach team at Supply Chain OKI includes Urban League, Easter Seals, Rahman Center, YWCA, Cincinnati Works and Talbert House. Simmons said they have been working with these groups to focus on how they approach and help their communities, as these organizations know the local communities’ needs better than any outsider could. These partnerships also greatly expand Supply Chain OKI’s reach.

“We feel that, based on our community connections, the number of people we can reach becomes pretty limitless,” Simmons said. “We’re taking on more power as we engage other organizations. It’s like training a trainer, they get connected and they connect to other people.”

Simmons said he got involved in Supply Chain OKI because it’s an opportunity to improve people’s lives.

“I have a passion for supply chains,” Simmons said. “I think folks should have an opportunity to be made aware of it and to be able to make choices. It’s a great opportunity for our community and for people that need jobs.”

Personal connections are key to the initiative’s success, according to Simmons. He said the initiative already has plans to grow due to the excitement he’s seen from these partners.

“I think it’s a worthy cause, and all of the feedback I’ve gotten from the schools says that they think it’s great, too. There is a lot of excitement in the area, and it’s only increasing.”

To learn more about this model career pathway initiative, visit the #SupplyChainOKI website at www.supplychainoki.com.

This story is from our regular series of articles highlighting efforts being made here in the Midwest to address transportation workforce issues.
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