By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools
Adults often wish they could give advice to their younger selves, especially when it comes to career and education choices.
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce is hoping to accomplish this feat, in a way, through its industry-specific camps for area high school students.
These camps are being held throughout the summer and are intended to expose students to the variety of career options available to them locally, especially those options that are high paying and in high demand.
It's newest camp -- Supply Chain Management -- was held last week.
It included 10 students and five teacher participants who spent the week touring, problem-solving and completing hands-on activities at some of the largest manufacturers in Rutherford County, including Schneider Electric, Schwan Cosmetics, Nissan North America, Yoplait and Ingram Content Group.
"If they would have had this while I was in high school, I would have been all over it," Dr. Cliff Welborn, the lead instructor of the camp and a supply chain management professor at Middle Tennessee State University, said of the camp. "So you guys have experienced something most of my college students have not experienced."
The Chamber has been working with industry representatives the past few years to assist with workforce needs. Simply put, many local companies are having difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill critical jobs.
To that end, the Chamber helped organize five industry councils -- Advanced Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management, Information Technology, Health Science and Construction -- which are led by industry representatives and include members from Rutherford County Schools, local higher education institutions and the Chamber. The purpose of these councils is to develop education programs and career pipelines to help attract students to these high-need sectors.
Supply chain management -- which involves every step in manufacturing a product and delivering it to consumers -- has been identified as one of the most in-demand jobs in Middle Tennessee.
"Middle Tennessee is a distribution mecca because you can get products to 200 million people within eight hours," said Tyra Pilgrim, Career and Technical Education coordinator for Rutherford County Schools.
To help meet the demand for skilled workers, the school district is launching a supply chain management program of study at two high schools -- Blackman and Stewarts Creek High School -- for the upcoming school year.
After high school, these students will then have the option of entering the job market immediately or pursuing a degree through one of the higher education institutions.
In fact, some may be able to do both simultaneously.
Jason Lozada has one semester to go at MTSU, where he is pursing a degree in supply chain management. He's also interning at Ingram in LaVergne while completing his degree.
He originally started out as a nursing student before he learned about the supply chain program and the benefits available to those graduates -- including high wages and competitive hiring.
"There's so much potential in the business," Lozada said. "I've always felt that if I'd known about it before, I would have chosen it sooner."
Two RCS students who attended the camp are Aliya Elzarad, a senior from Blackman High School, and Jonathan Womble, a sophomore from Central Magnet School.
For Elzarad, she learned that supply chain management is much more than logistics, which is a common misconception.
"That's what I thought it was going to be but I've learned there's so many different positions you can do," Elzarad said. "The salaries are way higher than I thought it would be and the factories are different than what I thought they would be too."
Womble's father works in the industry and encouraged his son to participate in the camp, he said.
"He wanted me to do this camp to learn more about what he does," Womble said. "It's been really interesting."
Professor Welborn provided information to the participants about the salary ranges available for those in the Supply Chain Management program. He said the salaries rival that of some medical professions and typically require only a bachelor's degree.
Depending on degree and experience, salaries in supply chain management range from about $45,000 to $136,000 annually.
Those salaries reflect the demand for quality candidates. For every supply chain graduate, he said, there are six to nine unfilled openings.
"The employers are the ones really driving this," Professor Welborn said. "The employers are saying, 'we need supply chain help and we can't get it.'"
Ingram Human Resources Director Monica Winter said the company values and participates in programs like the Supply Chain Management Camp to both support the community and to cultivate a future generation of dedicated and qualified associates.
"We believe in investing in the communities where our employees are," Winter said. "It will help us down the line."
She added: "We know our business is going to be different (in the future) and we need associates who understand that. There's going to be a compilation of print and digital content."