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There's more to logistics than forklifts and sweat: Colleges offer degrees for white-collar jobs in the field

October 31, 2005

It's not sexy, but it's where the jobs are.

Ivy Tech Community College will offer an associate's degree in logistics management, the latest effort in Indiana aimed at cultivating a work force for the transportation-distribution-logistics sector, known as TDL.

Meanwhile, the University of Indianapolis is preparing a concentration in supply chain management that will have key applications in logistics careers.

Experts say the educational push is sorely needed, yet it's still a challenge to get young people interested in the management side of an industry associated with forklifts, cardboard boxes and people who sweat for a living.

"They think about Bubba loading a truck," said Leslie Gardner, a professor of productions and operations at the University of Indianapolis who has struggled to get her seniors to consider the white-collar side of TDL.

Interest or not, the industry is growing and Ivy Tech is trying to get ahead of employer demand.

"It really is in direct response to the growth of the logistics industry," said Carol D'Amico, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Central Indiana.

Students who complete the two-year logistics management course will be eligible to then seek a bachelor's degree in industrial technology-distribution at Purdue University.

Ivy Tech's curriculum will focus on areas such as supply chain management, purchasing, and project and cost management.

"You do need an associate's degree for these jobs. It's not only driving trucks," D'Amico said.

While economic development officials don't see much problem filling entry-level TDL jobs, "the companies are much more concerned meeting the needs for front-line supervisors and managers, and employees with high-tech skills," said Joanne Joyce, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Private Industry Council, which is conducting a study on skills that will be needed for the state's TDL industry.

Besides Purdue's bachelor's degree in industrial technology and distribution, the University of Indianapolis and Indiana University already have programs in place involving logistics. Purdue President Martin Jischke said last year that he wants to open a logistics distribution and research center on campus. IU wants to set up a "supply chain control center" near the airport to help companies improve sourcing, production and product distribution.

"The new [program] at Ivy Tech will be appreciated. But much more is needed," Joyce said.

TDL is one of four economic pillars Indiana should pursue, found a 2002 Battelle Institute study commissioned by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. The others: life sciences, advanced manufacturing and information technology.

Indianapolis' wealth of interstate highways and its centralized location that makes it a day's drive to 82 million people gives it a natural advantage in TDL. "You're looking at a rapidly growing industry that's expected to grow 65 percent by 2020," said Jody Peacock, spokesman for the Indiana Ports Commission, which operates the state's three maritime ports.

"All the indications are every component of the industry is going to grow ... it's staggering the number of workers that will be needed."

It would appear management jobs are already in hot demand.

"There are jobs that are paying $40,000 to $50,000 a year that are going begging because we don't have enough people," said Carletta Sullivan, school-to-work coordinator at the McKenzie Career Center at Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township.

"Logistics itself, as a field, is not broadly understood, broadly recognized as being a captivating career path," said Sheela Yadav, a U of I professor of supply chain management, or the management of everything from sourcing of raw materials to production to distribution to sales to the end user.

Yadav's associate, Gardner, last spring invited representatives from three logistics-related professional societies to come to campus to discuss internship possibilities with her students.

None of her students showed up.

"I was embarrassed," said Gardner, who, when class resumed the next week, "ripped them up one side and down the other."

One student replied that he would ply his skills toward being an accountant and declared to the class there wasn't any future in logistics despite its being responsible for shipping goods worldwide.

"The students have no clue. They don't even know this [logistics career] exists," said Gardner, a mathematician who is on sabbatical at Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, looking at supply chain management issues at that company.

Supply chain management skills not only fit into transportation, but "crosswalk" into the life sciences and other areas, Sullivan said. "It's a broad-based skill set."
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