Schools, Private Sector Teaming Up to Address Freight Workforce Training Challenges

September 5, 2018

In an effort to address occupational and skills gaps in the freight transportation industry, ports and private entities are teaming up with schools to help bring more young people into transportation and logistics careers.

On a webinar hosted by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) last week, two universities and one corporation presented their efforts to address freight worker shortages by bringing more freight-focused educational and training opportunities directly to students.

At California State University-Long Beach, the Center for International Trade & Transportation (CITT) has partnered with the Port of Long Beach and Cabrillo High School to establish the Academy of Global Logistics. The goals of the academy, according to CITT Director of Trade and Transportation Programs Angeli Logan, are to prepare students for college and other higher education opportunities and entry-level career opportunities in global trade and logistics.

They are accomplishing this, according to Director Logan, by linking the school’s academic curriculum with applied, real-world opportunities. Ninth-graders take a harbor tour to get them excited about the industry, while upper-classmen can take advantage of career workshops and mock interviews, as well as attend presentations on topics ranging from trucking to rail and warehouse operations. Students in the program who complete the minimum college prep requirements are guaranteed admission to CSU-Long Beach and a tuition-free first year, known as the Long Beach College Promise.

The idea is for students to ‘catch the fever’ early and become interested and involved in transportation and logistics while they are making higher education and career choices as high schoolers.

A similar concept is at play at the University of Houston. The University has teamed up with the Port of Houston and the private sector on a number of programs meant to provide students, particularly those who are low-income or for whom college may not be the right fit, with pathways into transportation, distribution and logistics careers.

Notably, the Texas Career Cluster Project of the Greater Houston Partnership created vertical alignment between high school and community college career and technical education courses. One of these clusters, identified by Instructional Assistant Professor of Supply Chain and Logistics Margaret Kidd, is Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Careers.

School districts throughout the Houston metropolitan area offer career pathways to help focus students’ education toward particular sectors. In the Houston Independent School District, three high schools offer a logistics track, with classes ranging from maritime logistics to deck operations to oceanic shipping. The schools also offer dual credits with Houston Community College.

Finally, Darrin Mellinger, Corporate Responsibility Senior Leader at Cummins Sales and Service-Gulf Region, presented on the corporations’ Technician Apprentice Program (TAP). Cummins established TAP to address a shortage of diesel technicians. According to Mr. Mellinger, diesel technicians are not available in the same numbers, or at the proficiency level, as they were 10-20 years ago. He linked the shortage to fewer high school technical programs as a result of less funding and the stigma associated with not going to college.

TAP is a four-year program (with a two-year service agreement upon completion) that offers apprentices full-time paid employment while earning an Associate in Applied Science degree part-time. This includes providing apprentices with five paid hours per week to complete online courses like math and English. Candidates are hired from two-year trade schools, the military, and high school vocational/technical programs.

Prior to TAP, which began in 2015, Cummins’ Gulf Region had a Mid-South Apprenticeship Program. The company hired candidates directly out of two-year post-secondary programs with the opportunity to work for three weeks per month in a shop, while spending the fourth week in training. Upon completion of the one-year program, apprentices had all of Cummins’ current (at the time) certifications.

The problem with that program was one of attrition; Mr. Mellinger said a 20 percent retention rate was on the high end, as there was no service agreement following completion of the program and so apprentices would take their certifications and find higher-paying work with competitors.

But hiring apprentices out of trade schools and high schools is only one facet of what Mr. Mellinger called a “K-12 pipeline.” Cummins interacts with potential employees as early as elementary school, providing them with basic exposure to their brand through feel-good events like a solar eclipse viewing party. In middle school, students are given more hands-on projects like functional lego kits, and in high school students can enroll in “highly technical programs” for dual-enrollment credits. The aim is to expose students to the brand—and the wider industry—early on and keep them engaged while they are choosing a career path to follow.

Involving the private sector

Where universities and university-based research centers are leading the workforce training efforts, it is important to engage the private sector early and often: this emerged as a best practice in both Director Logan’s and Professor Kidd’s presentations.

Director Logan enumerated several key functions that CSU-Long Beach’s business partners serve, including serving on the advisory board where they help shape work-based learning opportunities, volunteering as guest speakers for classes, arranging site visits, and acting as a resource for the university as it develops its curricula.

Professor Kidd’s list included many of the same functions and added providing internship and scholarship opportunities, coaching teachers, and providing equipment and materials for labs.

Ports are a major player

Another common theme between CSU-Long Beach and the University of Houston was the importance of the local port because of its access to resources and ability to convene various business interests.

Director Logan emphasized the ability of the port to make upfront investments; the Port of Long Beach, she said, spent time and money on the branding of the Academy of Global Logistics and arranging transportation for harbor tours.

Professor Kidd said the Port of Houston is a “major player” through its Partners in Maritime Education program. That program introduces high school students to maritime career opportunities, encourages them to pursue higher education in the maritime field, and also aims to develop partnerships between port employers and education institutions.

Ultimately, all three presenters agreed that close collaboration between schools and the private sector, and the creation of vertical alignment between high school classes and higher education opportunities focusing on trade and freight careers, are both key to getting more students into those careers. As Mr. Mellinger said, “We cannot leave it solely to educational systems to prepare our children for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

View the three webinar presenters’ presentations here.

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