Mercer Center Supplies Logistics, Supply Chain Learning

MERCER, Pa. – Mercer County Career Center’s addition of logistics and supply chain management to its career program offerings three years ago came after personnel reviewed labor statistics and market projections.

“At Mercer County Career Center, we look to see where the needs are,” said Anthony Miller, administrative director for the center. “One of those ways, we look at department of labor stats – where are the jobs? At that point, logistics jobs were anywhere from 7 to 10% of the job availability in Mercer County.”

Since the program started, FedEx Ground has opened a distribution center in Hermitage, creating another employment opportunity for the students. 

“Living where we do at [Routes] 80, 79 and 376, there’s a lot of opportunity for other potential companies to come in who do warehousing. … We’re seeing that begin to grow here. And then I think as a result of the pandemic, everyone is ordering more.”

While the program is open to secondary students, the director of the center said they’re open to working in the future with businesses who want to train adults in the industry.

Mike Whalen, the program instructor, came to the career center after years of working in all facets of the logistics industry.

He built the program, teaching the students skills they’ll need in that industry.

“We’re like a warehouse, and students need to know what we have and where it is in the event that someone orders it,” Whalen said. 

When he explains what logistics is, he uses a familiar example. He asks if they like to order from Amazon.

“‘Oh, I sure do,’” Whalen said. “It’s a good way to describe it, so we’re going to explain how that product gets from Amazon’s warehouse and how it eventually ends up in your hands: shipping, receiving.”

That means those supplies are packaged in a warehouse, loaded onto vehicles and delivered. Someone tracks inventory, ensuring enough items are in stock to meet demand.

Upon arrival, items are unloaded from vehicles, unpacked, logged and placed in assigned areas.

That all involves logistics and supply chain management.

But it’s not just warehouses, Whalen said.

“Every company – retail, schools, health care – they all use logistics.”

At the career center, the students in the program get hands-on experience working with supplies and materials delivered to the school, Miller said.

“In carpentry for example, the screw and nail bins have a barcode on them,” he said. They check them to see if they have enough screws in them. If they get low, they reorder them.

About 25 students, grades 10 through 12, from the member schools are enrolled in the logistics program. Students attend morning or afternoon sessions, depending on their home schools.

Patty Womer, a Hermitage student in the logistics and supply chain management program at Mercer County Career Center, uses a barcode scanner to track inventory.

Patty Womer, a senior from Hermitage, is in her second year in the program. She studied in another area but didn’t like it.

She learned about the logistics and supply chain management program and decided to try it instead. 

“And I’ve never looked back,” Womer said.

Womer enjoys the program, saying it “scratches my brain.”

“I like organizing things and inventory,” she said. “I’m probably the only one here who actually likes inventory. … As I do more and more forklift driving, obviously, the easier it gets. It actually is helping me figure out how to drive a regular car.”

A class trip to Joy Cone Co. in Hermitage last year persuaded Womer that that’s where she wants to work. It’s a place where she can use the knowledge and skills in class for a job.

“I’m organized everywhere but my room,” Womer said. “I’m the type of person who would fix shelves in stores.”

Kolton Shelatree, an 11th grader from Keystone Charter School, is in his first year in the logistics program, too. He started in welding, but it didn’t make the most of his strengths, so he switched to logistics.

He likes inventory and operating the forklift simulator best.

“It’s like the real thing,” Shelatree said, referring to the simulator.

The warehouse at the center receives all of the supplies used at the school – from pens, paper and cleaning supplies to medical equipment used in the health care careers program.

“These are real items, and some of those items can be expensive,” Whalen said.

The students unload them all.

“We simulate some things, but they’re given the opportunity to get their hands on the real thing,” the instructor said.

Anthony Miller, administrator director of the Mercer County Career Center, and Mike Whalen, logistics and supply chain management instructor, pose in the warehouse at the center.

The center does an annual community service project with Toys for Tots. Logistics students help the Mercer County Toys for Tots with distribution, Whalen said.

The toys collected and ordered are brought to the career center. Students also help sort the collected toys by category.

“It just adds to the experience for them,” Whalen said. “They get a lot of toys, and we use the expertise that we have, how to identify things and where they should go. … A lot of that stuff comes in here, and it will come in pallets. [Students] have to open it up and break it down, and we give Toys for Tots a detailed list of what came in.”

The class also learns technology. Students use a barcode scanner to log items into a computer to track supplies that go in and out, as well as management software.

“We’re trying to make the experience with the student as real as possible so they’re using tools and equipment they would use out in the workplace,” Whalen said.

A forklift simulator, which resembles a video game, allows students to learn how to use the equipment, and they can earn certification.

The school’s overall placement is about 60%, although some secure jobs not directly related to the programs they studied at the center. About 10 to 15% go on to post-secondary education, and another 10 to 15% go to the military. 

The center also added electrical occupations and networking and computer programming to its slate in response to industry needs.

“I really have a philosophy of trying to make sure our kids are placed when they leave here so that, hopefully, they step into good-paying jobs, put down roots and stay here and help make our smaller communities and towns that make Mercer County so great stronger and better,” Miller said. 

The Shenango Valley region has lost population over the past several years.

“The best way we can [address that] is to make sure we are placing kids in good-paying, quality jobs that are certainly out there,” the director said.

Pictured at top: Kolton Shelatree, a third-year student at Mercer County Career Center, practices on a forklift simulator.

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