New competition aims to build career interest in logistics industry

Logistics-industry executives are hoping that a new program built around competitionand cash prizescan help build more links between their industry and the state’s colleges and universities.

On Oct. 12-14, 72 students from 18 Indiana schools are scheduled to participate in the Conexus Indiana Logistics Case Competition. Each school will bring a team of four students who will work to solve a logistics problem. The top three teams will earn cash prizes of $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000.

In the bigger picture, the first-time event aims to build interest in what logistics executive Mark DeFabis calls a “vastly underappreciated” industry.

DeFabis is the CEO at Avon-based Integrated Distribution Services Inc. He is also chairman of both the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council and the International Warehouse and Logistics Association.

Conexus is an organization that works to strengthen the state’s logistics and advanced manufacturing sectors.

Indiana’s economy includes an estimated 375,000 logistics-related jobs, which pay a median salary of $74,000, according to Conexus.

Despite Indiana’s Crossroads of America reputation, DeFabis said, Indiana colleges and universities have just started to establish logistics programs over the past few years. As a result, he said, these programs need more exposure to grow.

One challenge, DeFabis said, is that the third-party logistics industry is relatively young and very broadly defined. It can include trucking companies, warehousing companies, distributors and logistics providers.

“It’s very hard to get your arms around the breadth of the industry,” DeFabis said. This means establishing an academic program in logistics can be tough—what part of the industry should such a program address?

DeFabis’ company is one of about 20 participating businesses that have come together to cover most of the cost of next month’s event.

Part of the students’ time will be spent meeting with executives from the companies.

“These students are really going to get an incredible and a valuable networking opportunity with our executives,” said Nick Hoagland, chief operating officer and chief people officer at Indianapolis-based logistics company Backhaul Direct LLC.

Hoagland, vice chairman of the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council, said building connections will help students understand the job opportunities that exist in the industry.

It might also help convince more schools of the value of logistics programs, Hoagland said.

Of the 18 participating schools, he said, only about half actually offer degrees in logistics or supply chain management. Learning more about the logistics industry might inspire more schools to expand their offerings in this area.

“We’re trying to let folks know of not just the need, but the opportunities, for folks in this sector,” Hoagland said. “We’re all [logistics companies] looking for talent that either has two- or four-year degrees.”

Case-study work sessions will take place at Indianapolis law firm Frost Brown Todd LLC. The final presentation and awards will take place at Rolls-Royce Corp.

In addition to the competition, students will attend a dinner and recruiting/networking event at the Indianapolis Zoo.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said David Holt, vice president of operations and business development at Conexus.

“We plan on doing this every year from here on out.”

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