By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s supply chain management program has a 100% job placement rate.
Graduates have no problem landing positions in the field, which offers starting wages that are frequently above $50,000 per year with the potential for six-figure salaries after advancement.
“There are a lot of opportunities,” said Greg Benson, an associate professor and coordinator of UNK’s supply chain management program. “Every company that exists has somebody, and often many people, carrying out the responsibilities associated with supply chain management.”
These jobs – in purchasing, planning, transportation, storage, distribution, sales and customer service – ensure companies can get their products to consumers. And they’re in high demand in Nebraska, where 1 in 11 jobs is in supply chain management.
“There’s such a variety of jobs for students who study supply chain management,” Benson said.
Yet, it’s a field many high school students and their guidance counselors know little about. Benson discovered that last spring when he visited schools in Columbus, Fremont, Norfolk, Lincoln and Scottsbluff.
“When I was talking to high school counselors, there wasn’t a single one who had ever heard of supply chain management,” he said. “That told me there was no chance they could suggest our program to students.”
Although enrollment is strong – around 80 students were part of the program last year and the graduating class was the largest since the emphasis was introduced about a decade ago – most students don’t learn about supply chain management until they’re already at UNK.
That’s a problem for Benson and the companies that rely on UNK to fill their positions.
The solution is a joint effort aimed at recruiting more high schoolers to the UNK program and creating a “destination major” that has name recognition across the state.
FREMONT STUDENTS VISIT
With financial support from 10 business partners, UNK kicked off the initiative Tuesday by bringing 45 students from Fremont High School to campus to generate early interest in supply chain management, as well as the industrial distribution program. Students from Norfolk are scheduled to visit in late October, followed by Millard Public Schools in November.
“Having students on campus gives them a first-hand experience of what UNK has to offer,” said Benson, who’s organizing the half-day events.
The Fremont students were able to tour campus, eat in The Market @ 27th dining hall and learn more about both UNK programs during presentations led by faculty and students.
Mark Williams, one of those school officials who didn’t know anything about supply chain management when Benson stopped by, was excited about the opportunity.
“I don’t think you get any better experience than being on a campus,” said Williams, the career technical education coordinator at Fremont Public Schools. “You really have to feel what a campus is like.”
By the end of the day, Williams had a newfound appreciation of the UNK programs and where they can take students.
“You have to be interested because the job placement is great and the opportunity to work with several types of businesses is great,” he said. “It’s something kids need to know about.”
Ben Brachle, a lecturer and coordinator of UNK’s industrial distribution program, agrees.
His program offers the same benefits as supply chain management – great starting salaries, high demand for workers and a job placement rate near 100% – but Brachle says the profession is often “hidden in plain sight.”
“People don’t think about the industrial side of things, and it’s a huge industry,” he said.
UNK’s industrial distribution program, which includes about 80 students, prepares graduates for careers in technical sales and management at manufacturers and distributors across the world that supply businesses with the inventory and tools they need to operate. You can find them in a variety of industries, from agriculture, automotive and aerospace to electronics, fluid power and health care.
“We attract students who don’t want to sit behind a desk all day. Our jobs are out there talking to people and managing territories,” said Brachle, a 2002 graduate of UNK who worked as a manufacturer representative for Black and Decker and DeWalt power tools before returning to his alma mater as a faculty member.
Many of these students have jobs waiting for them before they complete their degree.
Sara Sempek, who attended UNK for two years before discovering the industrial distribution program, accepted a position with Ingersoll Rand after interning with the industrial manufacturer this summer. When she graduates in May, the Omaha native will return to her hometown to join a one-year training program before taking over as an account manager selling the company’s air compressor systems.
The UNK softball player was drawn to industrial distribution because it’s not your typical 9-to-5 job inside an office.
“That just wasn’t the career for me,” Sempek said. “I have too much energy. In industrial distribution, your days are always different. You don’t fall into the same boring routine. If you like to talk and you like to be with people, it’s the perfect career.”
Benson, who spent nearly 30 years in purchasing positions at the university level and in the private sector, describes supply chain management the same way.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “No two days are the same.”
In addition to the on-campus events, supply chain management representatives plan to visit high schools in Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island this academic year. The industrial distribution program also invites high schoolers to its annual career day.
Both programs offer scholarships for incoming freshmen that are supported by their business partners.