Skip to content

Future of supply chain management getting review in Metro East

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH, Illinois Business Journal

If you’ve wondered why car dealers are suffering inventory problems or why your favorite restaurant suddenly ran out of steak, welcome to Supply Chain 101.

Pandemic-driven shortages mean problems for producers and consumers.

“A lot of people, including those in business, have taken it for granted for many years that supply chain management issues would always work themselves out. When you see that get interrupted, you see what kind of impact that has,” said Mike Conley, director of Workforce Engagement & Career Services at Kaskaskia College in Centralia.

The jobs that make up the supply chain around the world were waylaid for the last 16 months because of prolonged work-related shutdowns. The result has been shortages of all sorts, from the raw goods needed by manufacturers to the final products those same manufactured distribute to consumers.

It’s important to have a well-oiled chain throughout the process of moving goods — and that point is not lost on Metro East officials, who recognize the importance of logistics in their own back yards. Supply chain jobs may well number close to 20,000 in just the warehousing area of Edwardsville and Pontoon Beach alone in the next few years.

Now, several Southwestern Illinois economic development and education officials are attempting to get ahead of job needs via a long-range, coordinated plan that focuses on attracting young people and others to careers in logistics.

The partner-driven plan, which could be bolstered by an anticipated state grant, has the potential to be a pilot project for other communities in Illinois.

The keys will be stepping up training and recruitment and enlisting a buy-in by employers.

The new efforts began with a conversation in January at the height of the downturn. Tony Fuhrmann and Matt Jones were concerned with the supply chain logistics in the surrounding nine counties and the ever-growing demand for workers.

Fuhrmann, director of Madison County Employment and Training, and Jones, program coordinator, St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department – Workforce Development Group, broached the idea of drawing in higher education to see what could be offered in a coordinated training program.

Since those first conversations, several others have joined the discussions. In addition to Fuhrmann, Jones and Conley, members of the group include:

– Dr. Gertrude P. Pannirselvam, an associate professor in management and marketing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

– Val Harris, associate dean of Adult Education at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey

– Traci Masau, dean of Career & Technical Education at Kaskaskia College

– Robert Tebbe, executive director of Enrollment Development and Institutional Planning at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.

– Dr. Ashley Becker, dean of Business, Health Sciences and Homeland Security at Southwestern Illinois College; and

– Lee A. Reese, regional apprenticeship navigator at St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department – Workforce Development Group

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Harris said of the collaboration.

Members see this as the big picture: With anticipated development in Edwardsville, O’Fallon, Dupo and Jerseyville, the area must start now to train its future work force. That realization is not new, but the meeting of minds between workforce executives and educators is.

Early on, Fuhrmann talked to Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, who has been leading logistical collaboration efforts across the bistate area the last few years. She is supportive of drawing together the educational assets in Metro East.

The first meetings with the educational institutions looked at general ideas. Among guests were David Branding, managing director of St. Louis-based of JLL, a broad-based logistics firm, who talked about what site selectors are seeking in a trained workforce.

“Since then, we’ve been meeting about what each of the educational institutions currently offers,” Fuhrmann said.

SWIC, for instance, offers a five-day supply chain certificate. Lewis and Clark College has robust truck-driving and welding training, and SIUE now has a specialization in supply chain in its management program.

There is a way, proponents believe, to step up the cross coordination of these resources so that even a person without a GED can find a bridge to, say, a warehousing management job.

The goal would be to have employers, potential employees and higher ed all thinking about supply chain opportunities, Fuhrmann said. And, attracting high school students — perhaps those even younger — to post-graduation opportunities.

Fuhrmann said he has had preliminary conversations with Kaleb Smith, who is director of the Madison County Career & Technical Education System, a regional body charged with administering career and technical education programs. CTE programs include agriculture, business, family and consumer science, health occupations and technology education and engineering. The policy making body of the system is made up of representatives from the region’s high schools and area vocational center.

The supply chain is basically defined as any part of the production process, and the human capital component is its biggest resource.

But, added Pannirselvam, the SIUE associate professor: “It’s also about the collaboration.”

Conley, of Kaskaskia College, pointed out that his campus has much to gain.

“Kaskaskia has the least robust supply chain program right now, so we look at this as a good opportunity to start building a program ourselves. That’s what’s intriguing to us, a beginning rather than an end,” he said.

Becker, of Southwestern Illinois College, said she has been working to build interest among high schools. Getting businesses to bring in high school workers during the summer gives everyone a head start on employment.

“It will almost become like an endless pipeline for these employers. But it starts early on,” Becker said.

Colleges can work with employers on such things as training students in soft skills, robotics, big-truck and forklift simulation, and the possibility of a tugboat simulator.

Harris, of Lewis and Clark, said the college has been surveying employers and will take the next step to personally talk to them about training on a “customized menu of options.”

Pannirselvam said by working together the group hopes to coordinate with all components of the supply chain —among them trucking, shipping and rail.

Members of the group feel they are somewhat ahead of the game, despite manpower challenges.

Said Becker: “We are four different institutions working together, and that’s not always seen across the state. We’re after the same students, but I think this is also a partnership that could be a very good model for the rest of the state.”

Jones, of St. Clair County, said the counties already partners on regional issues, such as apprenticeships and COVID-19 grants.

Fuhrmann said the two counties are seeking a training grant for approximately $300,000 from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“As part of this grant application, the deputy director from DCEO said he wanted us to include that we would coach another local area on what we’re doing,” he said.

Some $200,000 would go to the educational bodies to develop and provide the training.

“It works out to $1,000 per participant,” Fuhrmann said. “In addition, we are hiring what we are calling a sector recruitment coordinator who would work as a go-between with the workforce areas, the educators and the employers.”

This first phase would have the collaborators working on a short-term training program for “incumbent workers,” those who are already working in the industry. There would be eight classes, with four-or five-day training sessions, and each of the institutions would have a piece in the training.

“The reason we started with the incumbent worker programs, is it would give us an in with the employers, give us credibility,” Fuhrmann said.

The hope is to have the short-term training running by October.

Employers wanting more information are invited to contact Fuhrmann at or Jones at

IMAGE: A joint venture led by developer TriStar Properties recently sold a 176-acre, 2-million-square-foot, build-to-suit campus it completed in 2019 for tenant World Wide Technology. The facility is located within TriStar’s Gateway Commerce Center, a 2,300-acre regional logistics and bulk distribution park in Edwardsville and Pontoon Beach. The growth of such local business parks has prompted a panel of education and economic development experts to strategize ways to better prepare for Metro East’s logistics job growth.

This story appeared in the July issue of the Illinois Business Journal. For more such stories visit the Current Edition archive at




Leave a Comment