With its inaugural South Florida Logistics Industry Career Fair, Florida International University’s Enterprise and Logistics Engineering (ELE) unit at the College of Engineering and Computing is leading efforts to solve global supply chain issues and address the talent gap that exists in the logistics industry. The collaboration of industry and academia is particularly crucial as South Florida’s logistics and supply chain sectors expand, creating a demand for workers skilled in advanced analytics, AI, innovative technologies and contingency management.
“We turned to industry to help develop our curriculum for the MS in Logistics Engineering (MSLE) program knowing that there was a gap between theory and practice. It’s a partnership that is very beneficial for both students and employers,” said Interim Director Shih-Ming Lee. The FIU Enterprise & Logistics Engineering unit includes the MS in Logistics Engineering and the MS in Engineering Management degrees.
The pandemic was a wake-up call, Lee said, drawing the world’s attention to supply chain problems. FIU’s MSLE program, graduating its first master’s degree students at the end of this year, following its relaunch in January 2023, will help strengthen the sector. “There is a high demand for new talent and our students are well-positioned to meet the need,” he said.
The career fair, held Oct. 5 at the Graham Center Ballrooms, was a South Florida-wide collaborative initiative that was also open to students from the University of Miami, Barry University, Florida Atlantic University, St. Thomas University, Miami Dade College, Broward College and Palm Beach State College, as well as interested students from Miami Springs Senior High School. Representatives from 13 companies connected with students to discuss job openings, internships and apprenticeships and other career opportunities. Companies included Tropical Shipping, A Customs Brokerage, Keurig Dr Pepper, Bolloré Logistics, ttg Talent Solutions, WTDC and others.
“FIU has been very good at listening to our needs and then preparing students who meet those needs,” said Mario Stecher, senior vice president, regional head of Seafreight, Americas at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics.
From the start, FIU established the MSLE Advisory Board, said Lee, bringing some of the world’s ― and South Florida’s ― industry experts to the table. “These leaders, with companies like FedEx, Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, Port Everglades, Miami Dade Beacon Council, Del Monte Foods and others, provide valuable guidance on emerging trends and are true partners in our shaping a new generation of problem-solvers,” Lee said.
“We are an old-school industry in need of innovation,” said Stecher, who is an Advisory Board member. “Just look at what happened during COVID when a cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal and then in L.A., where there was a back-up of 100 ships trying to get into the port.”
“Nobody knew what supply chain was until they couldn’t get toilet paper,” said Gary Goldfarb, chief strategy officer at Interport Logistics and past chair of the Miami Dade Beacon Council. “Moving product all over the world requires engineers. The more complex business becomes, the more talent you need.”
Goldfarb, who is chair of the MSLE Advisory Board, said that with one of four jobs in South Florida being related to supply chain, the FIU MSLE program is key to continued growth and success. “It’s 2023 and technology has changed, attitude has changed, and you want employees who already know how to run the software systems and understand the flow of the business. It used to take a year to bring new graduates from theoretical to real-world work. Today, they hit the ground running.”
The companies are also working with FIU and other universities to create stronger internship and apprentice programs. In addition, they are coming to the classroom and bringing students to their offices to work on specific projects while they are still in school, eventually hoping to hire the best candidates for fulltime positions.
“Miami is a hub for cargo and logistics,” said Murat Erkoc, associate professor and graduate program director for the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Miami’s College of Engineering. “In terms of cargo volume, Miami International Airport is tops in the U.S., and PortMiami, Port Everglades, Jacksonville and Canaveral are significant players in shipping.
As a Beacon Council member, Erkoc chairs a subcommittee on the trade and logistics talent pipeline. “A career fair focused on logistics and supply chain is a brilliant idea,” he said. “We need more of these. It’s a great way to match the supply and demand in talent and we want to attract students who are already here in Florida and encourage them to stay.”
For Aldiris Nicasio, North America trade compliance and operations director for Cargill, the fair brought optimism. “One of the biggest challenges in the industry now is finding talent,” she said. “There has been a disconnect in the past. We know talent is there, but we might have job postings for months. This career fair was amazing, and we are going through dozens of resumes right now.” Cargill has a position open for a contractor currently and in January will have an internship available.
Students also left feeling hopeful. FIU engineering management student Jahelly Maxwell came to the fair “to gain a little more insight today on how the industry is progressing nowadays and what’s available in terms of relocation opportunities, looking toward my career post-graduation.”
Broward College cybersecurity student Gerardo Gomez had a similar goal. “What I hope to accomplish today is to explore the opportunities available at the organizations and also getting the chance to network with all of the employees and other students here.”