Avnet Tech Games Help Solve the Supply Chain Talent Shortage

It is difficult to find a supply chain industry magazine, blog or website that doesn’t have someone lamenting about the shortage of talent in this fast-growing field. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs in the logistics industry will expand by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, further increasing the demand for supply chain talent. Avnet and JDA Software decided rather than complain about the shortage, they’d do something about it.

“We created the Avnet Tech Games to help develop a more qualified workforce for the high tech industry,” says Teri Radosevich, VP of community relations and public affairs at AVNET. “The Tech Games is part of a private-public partnership to help students develop skills they are not learning in the classroom such as decision making, creativity and team building. With the help of our volunteers and sponsoring companies, participants are also able to network and find mentors.”

Avnet offers eight to twelve different Tech Games competitive events per year focused on the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and math. The competitive events are managed by Avnet employee volunteers who take pride in helping students learn new skills.

For the past five years Avnet has offered a competition encompassing supply chain issues and strategies, sponsored each year by JDA Software, called the JDA Supply Chain Challenge. The JDA Challenge is open to graduate and undergraduate students throughout the U.S. and offers a $1,000 scholarship to each member of the winning team. Competition is fierce as there are 100 teams competing. “We could have had 200 teams sign up this year,” notes Radosevich, “and we only limit registration because the costs would be prohibitive.” The competitive event is conducted virtually in real-time by the vendor Responsive Learning Technologies.

Brian Warsa, the Avnet employee volunteer managing this year’s JDA Supply Chain Challenge says the competition presents real-world manufacturing scenarios that participants have to solve using well thought out strategies and engineering principles. “It’s similar to the Beer Game students are familiar with, but more difficult,” says Warsa. “They have to consider factors such as efficient lot sizes, materials purchases, the number of machines to deploy and managing materials flow. The objective is to balance these factors to produce the greatest profit over the course of the game.”

This year’s winning team was an interesting collaboration across three universities. The team leader was Dr. Amilcare Gentili, a professor in the medical school at the University of California, San Diego and also an MBA student at the UCSD Rady School of Management. He was joined by fellow UCSD MBA student Ryan Scheidt and by his two sons, Marco Gentili, an undergraduate at Harvard, and Paolo Gentili, an undergraduate at MIT.

The team’s winning strategy used the best principles of supply chain planning. Dr. Gentili noted they used modeling and ran numerous simulations in advance to determine the best mix of supplies and production at various demand levels. Marco Gentili says this paid off because they were able to use funds saved by accurately predicting supply requirements to purchase more production machines needed later in the game to meet increased demand.

The Tech Games have proved successful in helping Avnet to address its talent shortage. They have hired several participants (and not just the winners, Radosevich notes). Radosevich says, “We have found these hires to be the cream of the crop. And they can be promoted more quickly, as well.”

Besides directly impacting the talent shortage, the Avnet Tech Games are also driving wider awareness of and interest in supply chain theory. Dr. Gentili says he is applying supply chain theory to the medical supply chain which tends to have very expensive equipment that must be balanced against patient flow and needs. He hopes to develop an operations management approach to healthcare.

Marco Gentili is studying computer science at Harvard. He says the competitive event interested him because it allowed him to apply the queuing theory he is learning in his coursework to real world situations. Although supply chain is only a side interest for Marco currently, bringing awareness of supply chain principles and applications to the IT world is another positive outcome of the Tech Games.

All team members indicated they would use the $1,000 scholarships to further their education, a worthy outcome by itself.

“We are proud to sponsor the annual Avnet Tech Games—JDA Supply Chain Challenge,” says JDA chief marketing officer, Kevin Iaquinto. “The supply chain is becoming an increasingly important component of business success across all industries and we need more bright young minds to help solve the supply chain challenges of the future.”

For more insights into the future challenges, access the JDA Vision 2015 Supply Chain Market Study.

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