The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has launched an apprentice program to train and certify technicians to work in the logistics and warehousing fields, thus becoming one of the few states attempting to tackle the growing problem of finding qualified supply chain technicians.
The initiative, announced April 18 in the central Pennsylvania town of Camp Hill, is aimed at providing apprentices with training in forklift certification, truck driving, fleet maintenance, warehouse safety and electronic warehouse management systems, Pennsylvania officials said. The 18-month apprenticeship program, approved by the Department of Labor & Industry’s Apprenticeship and Training Office (ATO), will provide on-the-job training and other opportunities for apprentices to develop their skills, the agency said. Apprentices will also receive related technical instruction from classroom and e-learning through two community colleges, it added.
The apprenticeship is part of a broad initiative begun by Governor Tom Wolf, called “PAsmart,” to invest in lifelong job training, and science and technology education, for Pennsylvanians. Wolf has proposed $10 million this year for PAsmart in a bid to bolster career and technical education for adults, and to enhance the skills of all Pennsylvania workers.
The governor’s office also recently created the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, a public-private sector partnership to address the barriers, skills gaps and worker shortages that exist across the commonwealth. There have been numerous efforts in recent years to reduce the yawning void of skilled technicians to install, service and repair increasingly complex equipment. However, most of the education and training initiatives have come from schools and corporations, with the two often together towards a common objective. Few, if any, states have been proactive in recognizing the need for skilled technicians, however.
The task is daunting. Equipment being utilized in warehouses and distribution centers is more advanced and technical than ever before. What’s more, relentless improvements in technology mean new equipment comes on line every year, making skill sets that were mastered two or three years ago may become obsolete. The latter issue is of utmost concern for stakeholders because of the risk of training technicians to service certain equipment only to find that, once they are ready to work, the equipment is no longer being used.
“The role of the supply chain technician has evolved from that of a general mechanic or industrial mechanic…to a role that combines traditional skills with the knowledge to maintain automed systems as well,” Steve Harrington, industry liaison for the National Center for Supply Chain Automation” said in a March 2017 article published in a newsletter by MHI, the leading trade group for the material-handling industry.
The article cited an MHI forecast that there would be 770,000 technical-level job openings over the next 10 years, a combination of new workers entering the field and worker turnover; about 22 percent of technicians employed in 2017 will not be in the industry over the next 8 to 10 years, MHI said.
In a separate MHI white paper also published in 2017, Phil Jones, director of vendor relations & business processes for supply chain engineering at retail giant Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT), said that the “nature of automation is expanding faster than the skill sets. We’re not keeping pace with the demand we have. We’re going to be maintaining many, many robots in the future, and the demand for technicians is growing exponentially.”