Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

What Does Supply Chain Need? More Boomerangs

Supply chain management talent

In the grand scheme of professions supply chain is not exactly a show stopper. How many times have you told a fellow partygoer what you do for a living only to receive a vacant smile in return? And if you try to explain how supply chains are managed the smile will probably give way to nervous glances around the room. Similarly, have you ever attempted to extol the virtues of freight movements to a ninth-grader? At least the turn-off is short-lived; a fleeting look of puzzlement before the kid goes back to texting.

Supply chain management is not the only livelihood that enjoys the popular appeal of the income tax code. But you don’t need to be a zealot to appreciate that it can be a compelling occupation that offers a boat load of career options. Communicating this to high-schoolers has become very important.

Supply chain urgently needs new talent (see my last blog Building a Pipeline for Talent), and the wellspring is high school kids who have yet to make a career choice. Persuading these young people to put supply chain management and its many component roles on their list of possibilities is an uphill battle if they are largely oblivious of the opportunities.

It does not have to be a hard sell. An executive of a global corporation who is actively involved in promoting the profession to educators underlined this in a recent conversation. He was exhibiting supply chain as a career at a national conference of high school counselors. As he explained the wealth of career routes that supply chain offers, the penny dropped and the counselors showed real interest in presenting these options to kids.

Promoting the profession at such events is an effective way to spread the word, but we need more platforms that break through the boredom thresholds of the Twitter age.

Here is a great example: the Boomerang Box program. It originated in Seattle and was adopted by the shipping company APL. The Boomerang Boxes were real freight containers. There was a 20 ft “Junior” box equipped as a mobile classroom for teaching kids about international trade. A companion, 40 ft container carried goods between the US west coast and Asia (hence its name, because the unit boomeranged between ports in respective regions). Kids could track the movement of the box on the Internet. They could also access details about the cargo it was carrying such as why, say, aircraft parts were being shipped from China to Seattle.

The bright blue boxes adorned with the Boomerang logo brought international trade and hence supply chains to life. I know, because APL shipped the junior unit to my daughter’s middle school for a day at my behest. I remember the students’ look of expectation as they climbed into the container and saw me standing at the head of this unorthodox classroom.

I gave a talk about global commerce and supply chain management to many kids that day, and tried to be as imaginative as APL’s wonderful program. Since I am from the UK and have a British accent I decided to use this foreign connection as an introduction to the topic of trade. “Where do you think I am from?” I began. A hand in the front row shot up. “The BBC?” replied the kid. At least it was gratifying that a young person knew of the British Broadcasting Authority’s existence.

Actually the intro proved effective and after talking about my home port of Liverpool, England – and fielding questions about why I was not best buddies with The Beatles – I moved on to the United States and the challenges of shipping all manner of stuff around the globe.

In all probability no professional careers were launched that day. Still, the experience introduced the kids to the countless skills that make it possible for them to buy their favorite imported game when they want to make a purchase. Perhaps I even managed to plant the seeds of an enduring interest.

As far as I know APL discontinued the Boomerang Box program. Now we need creative educational tools like this more than ever. How about a trailer that doubles as a mobile classroom? Or maybe a national supply chain challenge where kids have to ship a product from a foreign supplier and the team that gets to the shelf first wins.

Supply chain management might not be the kind of profession that kids dream about, but we can capture their imaginations. If we don’t, where will future practitioners come from? And imagine a party where people nod enthusiastically when they discover your line of business, or a ninth-grader who pauses long enough to listen to your musings to miss a handful of text messages. OK, that’2013-05-22 19:24:20’s a stretch, but you catch my drift.

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