APICS bridging the talent gap

Case competition is one way to engage the next generation of supply chain talent

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Earlier this month, APICS and Deloitte announced the Regional winners in the 2018 case competition. The regional teams will compete for top honors at APICS 2018 in September in Chicago.

I had a chance to talk to Dean Martinez, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel at APICS about the history behind the Case Challenge Competition. Before getting on the phone, I did a quick search of our archives, and was struck by the number of articles we've published in recent years about initiatives from APICS designed to address the supply chain talent gap. Of course, APICS is not alone in this. Just yesterday, I posted a story about this year's 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars nominees from ISM and Thomas. And this weekend, I'll fly to Charlotte where I'm on the board of the Material Handling Education Foundation, or MHEFI, which is focused on the next generation of materials handling professional. Clearly, all of the leading supply chain organizations are working to address what is probably the most pressing issue at all levels of the supply chain.

According Martinez, this isn't a first. APICS has been sponsoring case competitions on its own for at least 15 years. Those, however, were done on “a decentralized” basis as networking events at APICS's 200 some chapters in North America. That changed around 2015. The first step was to centralize the case competition process by entering into an agreement with an online provider, meaning that all competitors would be addressing the same supply chain problem. “This was a way to expose our 10,000 student members at four-year institutions to opportunities in supply chain,” Martinez said. “It also allowed us to go international.”

The next step was to partner with Deloitte, which sponsored its own case competition as part of its recruiting efforts. “We went to Deloitte because we wanted the cases to be based on real issues that a firm like Deloitte had to deal with for clients,” Martinez said. “The company names had to be changed, but the scenarios are real.”

The case competition takes place in phases. The first is electronic, using the online capabilities, which allows for as many participants as possible – any school is eligible to participate. This year, over 200 teams participated in round one. Competitors sent in a five-minute presentation with their answer and supporting documents.

Round two winnowed it down to 17 teams that competed in seven regional locations around the globe, including Mexico City, Toronto, Parsippany, New Jersey, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Chicago and Costa Mesa, California. APICS subsidized travel costs so that none of the 17 teams was excluded because their school couldn't afford to get them there. And, all that happened on the same day and with the same case problem. As teams worked on their cases, curve balls were thrown at them. When time was up, each time had 7 minutes to make its case for why a company should take specific actions, followed by 2-1/2 minutes of questions. “We moved away from the electronic tool for round 2 because leadership skills are important,” Martinez said. “This allowed participants to convey their ideas on why a company should do X,Y or Z.

One of the things that surprised me from the list of regional finalists was most were not from marquee supply chain management schools. No offense to Harvey Mudd College, but…Harvey Mudd? Martinez was also surprised by some of the winning schools. “The great equalizer was the soft skills,” he said. “All of the teams could do the problems, but not everyone could sell their solutions.” The best teams worked as a team, instead of working independently. “The teams that were constantly talking to one another were typically the teams that won,” Martinez said. “Their presentation were not just sound and solid, they were presented as a team.”

Going forward, Martinez is hoping that future employers will want to watch the finals competition, much like attendees at robot competitions, and to participate. “I'm hoping that next year, it'll grow to 350 teams and that the teams that lost this year will be back,” Martinez said. “From APICS' standpoint, if we benefit the supply chain, we benefit our members, and create a great future for these kids to consider.”

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, MMH Executive Editor and SCMR contributor
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Bob Trebilcock is the editorial director for Modern Materials Handling and an editorial advisor to Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered materials handling, technology, logistics, and supply chain topics for nearly 40 years. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at 603-852-8976.

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