Expert Insight: Thinking Outside the Box
By David Schneider
Date: July 16, 2009

Supply Chain Perspective: A Career in Seed Crops or Supply Chain? (Part 2)

Innovative Program at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute Well Prepared Workers for Jobs in the DC

Where are you hiring your next generation of truck drivers? How about warehouse workers?

OK, there are plenty of applications flowing into the inbox.  Times are tough and people are looking for jobs.  But are the applicants qualified?  Do they know how to drive a reach truck?  Do they understand what a cycle count is?  Could they do a “blind tally?"  How many of the applications that you looked at in the past month were really qualified for a position in your distribution center?

While the current economic conditions have relieved the “qualified and desirable” labor pressures some, the pressures are still there.  And as the economy improves, the demographic trends will still remain, with the population getting older and the younger generation looking for a different kind of job.

Companies report issues with finding qualified management and labor at the local level.  A distribution center manager has a constant challenge to find qualified labor to work within the facility. That challenge is compounded by employment competition where there are other warehouses or distribution centers or manufacturing facilities that are all competing to find people out of the same labor pool. Often 90% of the eventual applicants to any distribution center get filtered out for some reason or another leaving only about 10% of the potential pool worth interviewing.

Another challenge is that almost all qualified applicants learned their warehousing skills working at some other warehouse. That knowledge comes from OTJ (on the job) training. I'm not bad mouthing OTJ, but when you have somebody who has experience from another facility, you still have to put effort into training to build up that associate’s experience and fill the gaps in their past training.

Let's think of a different way. In other industries, there are dedicated vocational schools that focus on the basic skills needed for specific vocation. There are cosmetology schools for hairdressing, truck driving schools, auto repair, electronics, many different location-specific training programs that teach the students the basics of the industry so that either they can obtain a license to practice the vocation or have the prerequisite skills to be successful in the job market.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a comprehensive vocation program was available specifically for logistics, distribution and warehousing?

Guess what; one exists!  And the idea is spreading!

Innovative Program at Lehigh Career and & Technical Institute

I learned about Lehigh Career and & Technical Institute (LCTI) located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania this past spring. I met David Rubright, the LCTI training coordinator, at my local WERC Board meeting.  I was fascinated to hear about the material handling and logistics technology course curriculum and the facility that the students get to use for their training.  Imagine a fully-functional distribution center with just about every type of maternal handling and management system that is in commercial use today in a high school setting.

LCTI is a vocational technical high school.  But when I visited the facility in April, my impression was that it is a vo-tech high school on massive steroids.  Located 10 miles north of Allentown Pennsylvania, the school services students in grades 9 through 12 from the 9 Lehigh County school districts.  LCTI offers 50 programs in a competency-based format, which focuses on national skill standards and rigorous academics. Over 3000 secondary students attend the school and follow specific career pathways they elect when entering the school in the 9th grade. The curriculums for any of the 50 programs are rigorous and comprehensive. Course work instructors come from the respective industries and have relevant experience.  This is a serious place.

Specific to our industry are two programs that focus on Material Handling/Logistics and Transportation/Logistics.  Each curriculum program is defined by a comprehensive task list of specific skills that develop a course of four years of study for the student. The approach is more like a college degree than a high school education, where there is specific career-based education on a foundation of general education topics.

Each one of the career programs can be customized by the student for the level of employment that they wish to obtain. For example: every single task needs to be completed if the student is interested in becoming a storage and distribution manager, but only about half of the tasks need to be accomplished if the student only wishes to become a freight stock or material mover. The idea is that the student can choose what they wish to become and then tailor the curriculum to that level.

The curriculum for each program is divided into major functional areas and then further broken into functional tasks. The curriculum tasks are comprehensive and very detailed.  For the material handling logistics technology program, there are 23 specific functional areas in the curriculum, each area with a minimum of three tasks, some up to 10 tasks. While some students who elect lower-level career goals do not need to take all of the functional areas or tasks, a student that desires a management-level education basically “punches the ticket” in every single area and task in their education.

This is not a light-weight program. I compared the LTCI curriculum for material handling and logistics technology to the career and course catalog material for a couple of universities offering logistics technology or supply chain programs. The LTCI curriculum is much more comprehensive and detailed than any of the university-level courses that I reviewed. Granted the LTCI curriculum is not as heavy on theory and is more practical in nature, but you would expect emphasis on the practical for a vocation-based training program.

While the program includes operations-based focus such as safety and economics, inventory management, receiving, put away, order selection, replenishment, material handling equipment, there is also a great deal of focus on management and customer relations areas that sometimes get glossed over in the college-level curriculum. The LCTI curriculum includes customer-relations focus on order management systems, direct communication with customers and analyzing customer requirements.  The management areas include communications, employee relations, key responsibilities for planning and organization, managerial direction control and a comprehensive view of supply chain management.

Each one of the areas is made up of specific tasks of study and a significant amount of time is dedicated to each one of the tasks. To give you an idea of the comprehensive and detailed nature, let's look at the function area of receiving.  In the list below are the specific tasks that the student will complete to master the receiving component and the hours of time that they will spend in each of the tasks:

Effectively complete process of accepting inbound shipments
Receive and verify product
Update inventory records with received product
Perform value-added packaging of received goods
Complete customer returns process


The total time spent in receiving training is 70 hours!  In total, a student following the storage and distribution manager track will end up taking a little over 1100 course hours in their four years of study. The time includes not only classroom instruction, but laboratory training in the real, operating distribution center located at the school. 

Yes, I said an operating distribution center. LCTI provides procurement and distribution services for consumable supplies used at the seven-member school districts.

The participating schools are able to go to an online website and order the supplies needed at the classroom level. The orders are picked from the inventory maintained at the LCTI distribution center and than are shipped either UPS or on school district transportation.  And the students “run” the operations, providing the labor and supervision for all functional areas under the directions of an adult DC manager.

And yes, I said a real distribution center. You name the material handling equipment or system and you will find an example of it at the LCTI facility. 

There are the basics of pallet rack and carton flow shelving. But you also find horizontal and vertical carousels, reach trucks, powered pallet trucks, sit-down forklifts, stand-up counterbalanced forklifts, order picker trucks, conveyors, and a small sorter.

The facility uses paperless R/F technology and the Sky-Trax location technology. Product is tracked using barcodes to understand not only on put away, but also for order selection. Supporting the entire operation is a real WMS. LCTI was fortunate to receive some grants and donations of new equipment from UPS supply chain services and some other corporate sponsors. The school also invested significant capital funds into the development of a state-of-the-art distribution laboratory.

On the day that I visited, I observed learning-impaired students in their laboratory forklift operation training. These kids had some sort of learning disability or were deaf.  I watched them negotiate a reach truck with a pallet load through a difficult floor exercise. Sure, some of these kids made some mistakes, but some students operated at a skill level equal to experienced lift truck operators.

The idea of a warehousing and logistics-based vocational training program that focuses on high school students to prepare them for careers in logistics and distribution is so simple that I am amazed we don't see more examples of the LCTI program. 

Guess what! The idea is spreading. 


Agree or disgree with Schneider's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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About the Author
David Schneider is founder and president of David K. Schneider & Company, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm. Prior to that, he was Director of Logistics for Pep Boys Auto and a consultant at Keough.

Schneider Says:

 In total, a student following the storage and distribution manager track will end up taking a little over 1100 course hours in their four years of study at LCTI.

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