Brian Addington is a logistics management professor at TMCC, which five years ago launched the only four-year logistics degree offered in Nevada.
Logistics — the science of making Thing A and delivering it to Point B — has become a national art form, an operating system that’s upgraded itself so regularly one could argue its design and endless enhancements were taken for granted.
Now, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, the heart of the great American logistics machine is beating slowly and erratically, and in some places, it has gone into full-on cardiac arrest.
The early shortages of the pandemic — hand sanitizer, toilet paper, ventilators — were a foreshadowing, not an aberration.
For the past 20 months, amid factory shutdowns, cargo ships run aground and closed ports, the pandemic has thrown a wrench in well-oiled inventory systems that have buckled under the weight of massive, simultaneous disruptions of supply and demand.
“I think companies are getting more aware of their supply chain impacts and how important it is to have plans in place,” said Brian Addington, a logistics management professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. “And not only have plans in place, but be able to test those plans, and then be flexible enough to make sure that those plans are actually going to meet the needs.”
At the same time, the turbulence has forced companies to heap more attention on their supply-chain professionals, positions some might not realize exist until disaster strikes.
“These companies are really focused on the type of people that they need during this kind of uncertainty,” Addington said. “You’ve got to really have strategic and critical thinkers that can look at the supply chain and make decisions, such as, ‘do we have the backup suppliers that we need? Do we need to bring some more of our supply chain from overseas to the country?’ And making those kinds of business decisions effectively, and in this case, quickly.”
U.S. employment of logisticians — those who analyze coordinate an organization’s supply chain — is projected to grow 30% from 2020 to and 2030, more than triple the growth rate for all occupations (8%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
CREATING WORKFORCE SUPPLY
TMCC is one Nevada institution working to make sure the next generations of logistics managers are prepared for crises, now and in the future, in booming Northern Nevada.
Since fall 2016, the Reno-based community college’s Frank N. Bender Center for Applied Logistics Management (CALM) has been offering the only four-year logistics degree in the state.
The program launched in part thanks to a $600,000 gift from the family of the late Frank N. Bender, known as the “Dean of Distribution,” who headed the Bender Group, a Reno-based third-party logistics company.
The funds allowed CALM to create an endowment for student scholarships, distributing roughly $10,000 a year in scholarships.
Under the program, students can earn a one-year certificate, a two-year associate degree, and a four-year bachelor of applied science in logistics operation management.
Addington said because many community college students have to balance time between full-time jobs and classes, it can take as much as 4-6 years to complete the bachelor’s program.
Still, the degree can be particularly beneficial to employees looking to move into upper-level management or supervisory roles, he noted. The positions pay well, too. In greater Reno-Sparks, for example, there are 160 logisticians making an annual mean wage of roughly $69,000, according to the latest BLS data.
“We’re trying to take those workers that are on the warehouse floor, the distribution center floor, and help them take the next step in their career,” Addington said. “They want to get out of being a material handler — a packer and picker — and become the shift lead or shift supervisor or eventually they want to become the fulfillment manager over the DC.”
BIG GROWTH, FIVE YEARS LATER
TMCC is finding many Northern Nevada workers in the logistics and fulfillment field are looking to move up the chain. Starting with less than 50 students in fall of 2016, the program’s enrollment quickly grew to 140 students by 2018.
The student interest has not wavered during the pandemic, either. Enrollments for TMCC’s logistics management program in the fall 2020 semester and the current fall semester were 150 and 149 students, respectively, according to Addington.
“Our program broke even, so we consider that a win,” said Addington, noting the program is supported by an advisory board consisting of local logistics businesses like ITS Logistics, OnTrac, Arrow Electronics and more. “They would like us to have more students and we would like that, too.
“We’re not growing as fast as we’d like, but we’ve also hit the same challenges as the rest of the colleges in recruitment and getting people during this time with all the uncertainty and students not sure what they want to do.”
He’s not kidding. All told, the number of students enrolled in community colleges was down 9.5% in the spring, with about 476,000 fewer students than in spring 2020, according to National Student Clearinghouse data released in June. TMCC, for one, has seen its overall enrollment drop only 4%, according to Addington.
“We are fortunate to have solid enrollment in the TMCC Logistics Program, from the certificate of achievement through the Bachelor of Applied Science degree,” TMCC President Dr. Karin Hilgersom said in an email to the NNBW. “The Frank N. Bender Center for Applied Logistics Management has continued to attract motivated students to this dynamic field.”
Though demand for logistics professionals is showing no signs of slowing down, Addington is not sure when the high demand will turn into significantly higher enrollments.
“I think we’re gonna have to see the peak of the Delta variant go down and I think we have to see students willing and wanting to get back into the classroom,” he said. “There’s just too much uncertainty right now.”
One thing he does know: The logistics industry in Northern Nevada and beyond is eagerly waiting for the next generation of logistics leaders.
“The demand is out there,” he said. “I’m putting out job openings in my class announcements and on my Facebook posts. EDAWN will tell me, ‘Brian, we’ve got companies coming in and they’re begging for your students.’”