Local logistics companies are hiring at fever pitch. Steam Logistics alone has grown from 30 people five years ago to 600 and counting. Teaming up with those businesses, area schools and colleges are crafting career-track programs to prepare would-be logistics professionals for increasingly data-driven jobs getting goods from one place to another. Chad Jaynes, the interim business dean for Chattanooga State Community College leads the school's logistics and supply chain program and industry advisory committee. Bo Drake, the vice president of workforce development for Chattanooga State leads the short-term freight brokerage program as well as the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, which houses programs including the diesel technician training and commercial drivers licensing tracks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Some of these programs are new or still in development, but others have been around for years. How are they different?
Bo Drake: Chattanooga State plays an important role in transportation and logistics, and some things the college has been involved in for a long time, including the TCAT [Tennessee College of Applied Technology] programs for CDLA [Commercial Drivers License, class A] and diesel mechanic programs. TCAT is looking to double the number of CDLA drivers we produce every year from 150 to 300-plus, and diesel mechanics are in very high demand and we are out of space to expand our program, so some of what's coming will allow us to do that. On my side of the house, primarily workforce development, we want to create short-term training opportunities to get people skilled in a short period to take jobs in high-demand fields, freight brokers in particular. We are well on our way to establishing a freight broker training program, and one company has told us, 'If you can train 40 freight brokers, we will hire every single one of them.' It'll be a couple weeks training program, an indoctrination into the industry to bring people up to speed and cut the amount of time they need to train once they get there.
Q: What else are you cooking up?
Chad Jaynes: A two-year associate's degree that's a business degree that has a concentration in logistics and supply chain. We started working with a number of the larger players in this field last fall, and through those conversations I'm building out a concentration for that industry. We have an associate of applied science degree in business with multiple concentrations, and this one is logistics and supply chain. There are other existing concentrations, as well. Hospitality and hotel management is another one out there, and there's an entrepreneurship concentration. People want to start their own businesses and do their own things. The most popular is the management concentration. When we started these conversations last year we specifically want our offerings to be industry-driven. This has been a customer-designed concentration based on that feedback. To Bo's point, there is so much demand that I don't know that we could produce too many graduates.
Q: What are the challenges to getting folks into these programs?
Bo Drake: This is a huge industry locally that is ripe to continue to grow, but I'm not sure how deep an understanding the layperson has of the opportunities that are there. This has been such a collaborative process – we've got Tranco, FreightWaves, U.S. Xpress, Steam Logistics, Trident Transport, Reliance Partners, Kenco, Hamilton County Schools, McKee Foods, Thrive Regional Partnership. It's a pretty neat time for this industry coming out of the pandemic.
Chad Jaynes: There are hundreds of these jobs filled by our local employers each year that the local community is not aware of, not to mention the wages that are being paid.
Bo Drake: On the freight broker side of things, you can come in at a thriving wage locally, you can start in the mid- to upper-30s and have an unlimited commission potential, so on the freight broker side you almost go into a support system but grow your own business simultaneously. There are many people in our community enjoying six-figure incomes in these roles.
Q: The industry has evolved in the last 20 years into a data-driven and technology-oriented field. How does that change your role?
Chad Jaynes: I think part of what we have heard is all over the news the last couple years, we've heard about these supply chain issues. People don't know what that means behind the terms when we talk about that broad umbrella. That can be everything from operating a forklift or a commercial drivers license to the data analytics behind all of this. So many people are unaware of what those opportunities are and how they exist and how to access them. Any time a product leaves some place on the other side of the planet from the time it's delivered to your front door, you know to a fraction of a second. These companies are tracking thousands and millions of [packages] and products, and they have have to be efficient.
Bo Drake: Times are changing. With the rapid advancement of technology, it's critical that we work hand-in-glove with partners in that private sector doing the work on a daily basis so our training and curriculum is relevant to their needs. That's a duty we have to our business partners and to our students. It's helpful for the community to know just how responsive higher education can be to their needs. We're willing to move at the speed of business.
Q: What are the next steps to expanding and implementing these programs?
Bo Drake: The CDLA training program and diesel mechanic [expansion] will take a little time – it will require some expansion on our part, and we're in the planning stages still. With freight broker training, that could be ready in a matter of weeks, ready to deploy. What we do for any program we build like that is try to find industry experts that have either recently left the industry or those individuals that have a teacher's heart and have wanted the opportunity to impart that wisdom to others. We're looking to expand our roster of available adjuncts to help us teach this program.
Chad Jaynes: We've posted a faculty member position for the associate's program, but it's a tough job market for everyone. We will market the opening, and we're asking advisory committee members to help us share those opportunities. We also have to get the word out to students what these opportunities are. Some current students may want to move to another concentration when they learn about these programs.