For decades, supply chains have clandestinely performed anonymously and unrecognized in spite of their criticality to delivering the goods and supplies we rely on to live our daily lives. As far as the general public was concerned, supply chains weren’t something to be, well, concerned about.
Until they were.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing cascade of disruptions: the shutdowns, the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, the e-commerce boom, global port congestion and then the shortages of what seemed like everything else. Suddenly everybody was discussing the supply chain. But they still didn’t really understand the complexity, or the technologies, or the people that make supply chains work.
“Supply chains have certainly taken center stage in terms of the general public’s awareness and focus,” explains John Paxton, MHI CEO. “In this critical time, we wanted to demonstrate how the COMindustry has truly become high-tech, as well as to introduce a broader audience to the career opportunities that exist in this field.”
As part of MHI’s ongoing mission to increase awareness of and educate about the supply chain and material handling industries, MHI is always looking for new tools to reach a broader audience. With the increase in at-home video streaming and viewing across a growing number of platforms over the past two years, the time was right to explore a new medium: the docuseries.
Inspired by other shows that explain how the world works, MHI and its media partner WorkerBee.TV sought to lift the curtain and spotlight the unique value and essential skills of those working in the supply chain, said Paxton.
“Like many industries, supply chain is facing workforce shortages with more job openings than there are people to fill them. This docuseries is intended to demonstrate the opportunities for advanced careers in the field, as well as to explore the different types of technologies in warehousing and distribution facilities, and products they handle,” he continued.
To that end, the inaugural 12 episodes of the resulting “Jobs of Tomorrow” docuseries were developed and produced. Hosted by Kristin Marand, each 22-minute episode in the series features interviews from industry leaders, as well as from academics, educators, current college students and others working in the field.
Through the insights of the featured leaders, each episode showcases the latest technologies in action, and they include footage from multiple warehousing and distribution facilities. The viewers are engaged through a storytelling format. Individual episodes cover different aspects of the industry and its impact on the economy and society: from e-commerce to cold chain handling and the innovations and evolving technologies that are addressing today’s challenges. They highlight the broad range of current and future career opportunities. (See the sidebar for a brief synopsis of each episode.)
“What’s truly unique about the ‘Jobs of Tomorrow’ docuseries is its focus on what happens inside supply chain facilities, a behind-the-scenes view.” Paxton added. “Most people have never seen the inside of a distribution center, so they often associate them with the low-tech warehouses of the past. This series shows, in action, how technologically advanced these operations have become and what the future holds for careers in the supply chain.”
In addition to raising awareness of the industry and its innovative technologies, the docuseries is designed to inspire greater interest in careers in this field. The target audience for the docuseries is middle, high school and college students (and their parents), as well as persons employed in a different industry who are looking for a career change. The “Jobs of Tomorrow” docuseries can be viewed on MHIView (videos.mhi.org). Then, to ensure a broad audience, the 12 episodes are slated to start streaming on multiple streaming platforms in the first quarter of 2023.
“There’s the potential for more than 125 million viewers through those channels,” noted Paxton. “It’s a great opportunity to generate more interest in and attract more talent to our field.”
Sponsors excited to showcase career, innovation opportunities
Four MHI members signed on as sponsors of four of the 12 episodes. All cited the prospect of introducing the latest developments in supply chain and material handling industry and their benefits to a new audience as being a primary motivator for their participation.
Marin Tchakarov, CEO of Kindred—which sponsored episode 4, “Collaborative Automation: Your Future Coworkers in an E-Commerce World”—felt compelled to share how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are helping to solve complex problems for businesses in e-commerce, while simultaneously creating new opportunities for human workers in fulfillment operations.
“We thought it was important to share the exciting new ways in which humans can collaborate with robots in unstructured, dynamic environments, and how these robots can actually elevate associate roles in fulfillment,” he explained, noting that Kindred’s AI-powered robotic systems are 99.8% autonomous, but still require human supervision.
“That opens up a wide array of new technology skills to them. In short, workers go from performing repetitive tasks to collaborating with an AI-powered robotic coworker—which improves associate morale while increasing productivity for the business,” continued Tchakarov.
The docuseries’ approach of acknowledging the challenges the industry is facing—such as workforce shortages and increased e-commerce demand—in addition to spotlighting a variety of innovative solutions and their impact on evolving career paths had particular appeal to Kindred. “AI-powered automation is a nascent but growing field that is helping to alleviate these challenges, while at the same time providing compelling new opportunities in technology for human workers,” added Tchakarov. “We hope to bring a new awareness and understanding of AI-powered automation, and what that actually means in real world environments. There are a lot of assumptions and misconceptions in the field, and we hope that by telling our story, we challenge those—and at the same time, drive interest and engagement to the industry.”
Likewise, SSI SCHAEFER—sponsor of episode 12, “How the Supply Chain is Keeping it Cool”—sought to expand awareness of how automation not only solves labor shortage issues, but also how it makes warehousing jobs and the end consumer safer. The company has extensive expertise in building sustainable, heavily automated, high-bay warehouses in the cold chain food and beverage industry. With that segment’s growth during and after the pandemic, the company felt it was important to showcase the complexity and skilled workforce involved in moving a refrigerated or frozen product from manufacturer to consumer.
“Supply chain is more than just careers in the warehouse,” said Sharon Wahrmund, corporate marketing director for SSI SCHAEFER’s North America Region. “We want to draw attention to the behind-the-scenes career opportunities that make automation a reality.”
Wahrmund pointed specifically to job opportunities for software developers, mechatronic technicians, programmable logic controller (PLC) engineers, and application engineers who design and plan warehouses and distribution centers. “People don’t necessarily realize that our industry is an exciting field that’s both broad and continuously expanding,” she said. “There are numerous, great opportunities for people to make lifelong careers.”
Additionally, SSI SCHAEFER’s cold chain episode ties in the role of software in keeping the foods and beverages consumers enjoy safe. With the industry increasingly moving toward tighter track and trace regulations similar to those in place for pharmaceuticals, Wahrmund added, leveraging software and automation will become more critical than ever before.
“We hope that the next generation of college and high school students will become more interested in supply chain and seek out these fields of study as a result of the ‘Jobs of Tomorrow’ docuseries,” she continued. “I believe this is the first time that MHI—or any association—has done a television series to help drive a larger message. We’re all working really hard to help attract talent, and this series really delivers on getting newcomers interested.”