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December 15, 2017
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Supply chain's youth problem

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A Brookings Institution report suggests that distribution and logistics companies need to do a better job of bringing young people into the industry.

When it comes to talent and human resources, companies worldwide are facing a basic supply chain problem: supply does not match demand.

Supply chain organizations are facing the dual challenge of an aging workforce that is rapidly approaching retirement age and an increasing demand for people with supply chain-related skills. These companies are eager to find young employees who can grow and develop into the supply chain, logistics, and distribution professionals of tomorrow.

Demographic information suggests that there should be a ready supply of people who can meet this need. Unemployment among young adults (18 to 24 years in age) in the United States exceeds 20 percent, and people in this age group report struggling to find full-time employment that can lead to a meaningful career. In fact, "Unemployment Among Young Adults: Exploring Employer-led Solutions," a recent report by the Brookings Institution, identifies distribution and transportation as two of the most promising fields for 18- to 24-year-olds without a bachelor's degree—a group that is particularly challenged when it comes to finding full-time employment.

And yet, the same report says that employers cite a wide variety of behavioral, attitudinal, and skill barriers that prevent them from hiring young workers. These range from an inability to solve minor workplace problems to work ethic issues to academic skill deficiencies, particularly in math. Many young people, meanwhile, say they feel an aversion to the "industrial" nature of these jobs.

To discover ways to solve the problem of young adult unemployment, the Brookings Institution's researchers focused on two U.S. job markets: Chicago, Illinois, and Louisville, Kentucky. The researchers carefully analyzed the dynamics of the young-adult labor market in these two areas and also reviewed workforce development and human resources practices among area employers.

The report challenges companies to stop being "passive consumers" of personnel. Instead, they must integrate workforce development into their business strategies. This includes providing a clearer description of the skills and abilities necessary for entry-level jobs as well as working closely with training and education providers to teach those skills to potential new hires. The report further suggests that companies should be more willing to recognize that a bachelor's degree may not be required to perform certain jobs. Companies could also do a better job of assessing potential employees by using such tools as aptitude tests or a Predictive Index assessment (a skill and behavior test that can help companies evaluate how a potential employee might respond to workplace situations and management practices).

The report also recommends that employers develop stronger relationships with community colleges, both as a pipeline for talent as well as a way to improve the skills of current employees. One innovative example cited was the UPS Metropolitan College program at the logistics giant's Worldport facility in Louisville. Program participants work part time at Worldport while earning free tuition to Jefferson Community and Technical College and the University of Louisville.

While not everyone can replicate UPS' program, smaller companies can partner with economic development and industry associations to create similar types of initiatives, says the report.

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