09/12/2012 12:56 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Help Keep America Moving: Join the TDL Industry

As the U.S. economy has become increasingly globalized in recent decades, millions of laid-off Americans have become all too familiar with a handful of words: "offshoring," "outsourcing," "downsizing." In recent years we have seen the elimination of nearly 9 million jobs, many of them middle-class, mid-skill positions.

But the good news is that some things can't be outsourced -- like the transportation of the myriad goods we buy and consume every day. That basic, unchangeable fact is why the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that over this decade, employment in transportation and warehousing will grow by 20 percent, or 856,000 jobs.

In the Chicagoland area, where I lead Olive-Harvey College, one of our city's community colleges, there will be around 100,000 job openings in the transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL) sector during the same period. Many people here, however, are unaware of the growing opportunities in the TDL field, which encompasses road, air, rail and maritime subsectors. Even in our global economy, geography still -- to a significant extent -- influences one's destiny. Chicago remains a major transcontinental and intermodal transportation hub and gateway just as it was when it began as a rail hub in the 19th century.

Mindful of Chicago's skills gap, the state of Illinois and City Colleges of Chicago are investing $45 million to build the state's only comprehensive, multi-modal TDL education center at Olive-Harvey College, which will train students for the industry. The new facility, part of City Colleges' College to Careers program, will play to Chicago's economic strengths by offering students unique training opportunities in areas like supply chain management, warehouse, commercial driving, and forklift operations.

Of course, state-of-the-art facilities alone can't close the city's rail, trucking and logistics skills gap. Skilled faculty and up-to-date curricula are essential. That's why we're modernizing our programs with the help of TDL industry partners like Coyote Logistics, Schneider National, UPS and Union Pacific. But these leading companies won't simply advise Olive-Harvey College faculty as they augment programs (although that's important), they'll play an active role in connecting students to the skills necessary to getting ahead. That means company representatives will also offer our graduates first pass at internships and job opportunities.

All of our new and enhanced TDL programs are being designed within a framework of what we call "stackable credentials." To start, we'll teach all students in TDL-oriented programs -- regardless of which modality, road, air, rail or maritime -- hard and "soft" skills that we know employers are seeking, like basic math, critical thinking and safety. Because we want every student to continue to advance throughout his or her career, each certificate or associate's degree program is a gateway to further education, such as a bachelor's degree in supply chain management or air traffic control management.

To help solve America's jobs crisis, every city around the country should soberly assess its economy and -- allied with community colleges and other educational institutions -- double down on its strengths to arm citizens with in-demand skills. That's what we're doing by positioning one of the City Colleges at the leading edge of the TDL industry. By understanding our past and anticipating the future, we can prepare our citizens to seize the jobs of today and tomorrow.