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An Interactive Experience

GTCC gives students a hands-on introduction to Logistics
By Steve Guglielmo

warehouse1Difficulty attracting young, skilled labor is a plight that all MHEDA members are familiar with. MHEDA’s 4th Critical Impact Factor for 2015 states, “The industry is facing a shortage of skilled labor and this trend will continue as existing employees retire. Additionally, skill sets for the technicians in all industry segments are changing with increasing reliance on systems and software diagnostic tools.”

Part of the reason that the industry is facing a shortage of skilled labor is an inability to attract students to the industry during their high school and college careers. It is a challenge that is shared by colleges such as North Carolina’s Guilford Technical Community College.

“It’s very difficult out of high school to get students interested in what is really a very viable and vibrant career,” says Sam Chinnis, an associate professor at GTCC. “I think there’s a disconnect with a lot of the parents of today’s youth who hear the words ‘warehouse’ or ‘distribution center’ and think of it as a dead-end job. We have to do a better job of demonstrating the many broad career paths available within the logistics industry. It’s an exciting field but our job is to generate that excitement within a broader population.”

For Chinnis and the rest of the Global Logistics Technology Department at GTCC, the challenge came from how to actually demonstrate those paths and communicate them to potential students. Beginning in 2008, the college started discussing a potential interactive teaching warehouse where students could get hands-on experience learning how a distribution center is run and the many different facets it involves.

By 2012, the details of the teaching warehouse began to take shape. GTCC is an active member of the North Carolina Center for Global Logistics (NCCGL). At a committee meeting in 2012, representatives from GTCC were participating in a roundtable discussion with Warehouse Design President David King.

“Many of these meetings centered around the education and training of much-needed people in the logistics and warehousing industry. Several colleges in North Carolina offer curriculums for logistics and warehousing but nobody had a fully interactive warehouse for hands-on training,” says King. “GTCC informed me that they had plans to build a global logistics training center. Over the course of our discussions at the NCCGL, I felt it would be beneficial to get involved with this project.”

King, a 30-year veteran of the industry, saw this as an opportunity to help develop and implement a true training warehouse.

“The original concept was a very simple design with standard classroom-height ceilings and a few bays of standard selective rack,” says King. “I suggested that they build a high bay building that would allow the installation of multi-tier storage.”

As the ideas took shape, the project’s scope continued to expand. Both King and GTCC saw this as an opportunity to promote logistics as a viable field and give the students enrolled a leg-up once they graduated.

warehouse2“Giving the students an atmosphere that is as close as possible to what they will be exposed to in a real live warehouse is priceless,” says King. “This experience is like having an internship without having to leave the campus.”

The warehouse, which debuted to students during the Spring 2015 semester, is grand in scope. Located on GTCC’s Donald W. Cameron Campus, the college’s fifth and newest campus, the architects designed the high-bay room to be placed in the center of the building, which allows onlookers to view the warehouse from the second floor through the windows. Because of the high ceilings, the warehouse can have 12-foot high multi-level rack that gives the warehouse an authentic feel without blocking the wrap-around view.

Though the training warehouse, which is connected to a traditional classroom, is built into the center of the warehouse, it extends to one end of the building, which allowed the installation of real dock facilities to service the training warehouse, complete with dock levelers and safety equipment. A local trucking company donated a closed trailer so that students can get the experience of loading and unloading the trailer with a forklift, giving them the total cycle of a warehouse environment.

“The most unique aspect of the GTCC Cameron Campus warehouse is its true resemblance to an actual warehouse,” says King.

In addition to the functioning loading dock, the 5,000 sq. ft. teaching warehouse comes equipped with: selective pallet rack, carton flow, pallet flow, push back rack, static shelving, rack safety netting, a powered sortation conveyor system complete with zero pressure zoned accumulation and 90-degree sort, a stretch rack machine, guard railing and rack labeling capability.

GTCC and Warehouse Design couldn’t make this fantastic dream a reality without the contributions of several MHEDA members who either donated product or sold product to the college at a significant discount. Contributing companies include: Speedrack Products Group, Nashville Wire Products, The Kennedy Group, InCord and Hytrol Conveyor.

Capitalizing On This Opportunity
Both King and GTCC recognize that the Cameron Campus is a wonderful opportunity to recruit and train the next generation of leaders in our industry. While the teaching warehouse debuted in 2015, Chinnis and the rest of the GTCC Global Logistics Technology Department have plans to fine-tune the curriculum to capitalize on this unique program.

“With this program, students will have the advantage of understanding the entire business process,” says Chinnis. “Somebody coming into a warehouse from another program may only be trained to do picking. We’re going to train our students in every facet of the business process so that they understand what function they are doing and what impact that has on the overall process.”

Other college teaching warehouses throughout the country have started to actually do charitable work out of the labs as a way for the students to experience first-hand the real world impact the supply chain process can have.

“There’s a school in Pennsylvania that is sorting the area’s school supplies and a school in South Carolina where the school is having students sort snack foods out in different packages for disadvantaged students who need lunches over the weekend,” says Chinnis. “I believe that would be a very meaningful teaching moment for students and something we may consider down the line.”

For now, Cameron Campus operates as part of the Logistics program and also offers a flexible lab space to accommodate training for new and expanding industries.

“There are so many people who don’t understand the products that we sell and tools available for their warehouse,” says King. “You can give brochures and talk until you’re blue in the face, but the ability to take customers there and actually show them the product in action, you can see the recognition on their face and the wheels start to spin for how these processes could benefit their company.”

King loves the finished product so much that Warehouse Design has enrolled one of their engineers in the GTCC Global Logistics Technology Program and plans to build a training warehouse of their own. Together, Warehouse Design and GTCC are doing their part to find and prepare the next generation of industry leaders.