Want to know where the world leader in retail logistics is investing into its future workforce? Look no further than San Bernardino County, California.
At Cajon High School in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, Amazon is responding to increasing job demand by launching the first Amazon logistics pathway in California. The innovative program will equip high school students with the insights and skill sets needed to compete in the rapidly growing business logistics industry.
By teaching skills that are related to supply chain management, leadership development, ecommerce, information and decision technology, safety standards and transportation, Amazon hopes the program that begins in 2018 will serve as a model for the development of future Amazon logistics pathways nationwide.
“San Bernardino was home to our very first fulfillment center in California,” says Zeshan Kazmi, public relations specialist for Amazon in Southern California. “We want to do everything we can to make sure we are a good neighbor to this community, and we wanted to stay local. We are partnering with the cities where we are located and where our associates live and work. A lot goes into the shipping and receiving of a product, and the goal of this program is to provide these students with the skills they need to succeed in business logistics.”
Amazon is not alone. Throughout San Bernardino County, about an hour east of Los Angeles, businesses are teaming up with educational institutions to provide apprenticeships, mentorships and other programs designed to expose young people to rewarding careers.
On October 17, 2017, the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards approved an apprenticeship program for Chaffey College and county industry partners in Fontana for the occupations of industrial maintenance electrician and industrial maintenance mechanic.
“The InTech Center at Chaffey College is thrilled to be one of the few community college Local Educational Agencies [LEAs] in the state to partner with industry to provide a performance-based apprenticeship program,” said Sandra Sisco, Chaffey College director of economic development and the InTech Center. “The curriculum, combined with on-the-job training, provides a direct response to employers who are experiencing a lack of skilled workers in the region.”
Through the program, apprentices will be required to attend a minimum of 144 classroom hours per year and perform a total of 4,800 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training over four years. The program is unique to many employers because it allows each industry partner to establish performance criteria for every apprentice’s level of advancement.
“There has long been a negative stigma associated with apprenticeships, but this unique process allows an employer to establish when a performance level has been met and provides an added accountability factor to both the company and apprentice,” said Steve Tyrell, maintenance manager of Mitsubishi Cement Corp. and chairman of the Inland/Desert Non-Union Unilateral Multiemployer Apprenticeship Committee. By engaging in this program, he adds, employers can see a reduction in turnover rates, increase in productivity, and a stable and reliable pipeline of qualified workers.
An Incubator That Saves Lives
Other local institutions of higher learning are getting involved on the ground floor as well. At Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, the new “n3EIGHT” (pronounced “incubate”) center will help students, researchers and businesses work together to convert laboratory discoveries into commercial products and services.
“We have plenty of faculty who come up with new innovations that are at a very early stage,” says Dr. Michael Samardzija, associate vice president for research development at Loma Linda University. “The university will try to license them at various companies. In many instances, these life-saving innovations would otherwise die on our shelves. Our goal is to get money from the government to develop the technology further, create jobs for the local community and make sure that patients benefit from these breakthrough discoveries.”
Eight firms have agreed to be the initial small businesses to be incubated, Samardzija says. They include a firm that makes a device that diagnoses eye disease, a company that makes improved screws for back surgery, and a firm that makes better devices for crowns and dental implants.
“We have eight startup companies and another three firms waiting to join,” he adds. “Two have already applied for and received SBIR grants from the National Institutes of Health. Both are dealing with products around oncology. The NIH believes that those companies have products that are worth investing into.”
Samardzija frankly admits that some of these startups will succeed and some will fail. “There is a high turnover rate in the life sciences,” he notes. “If we provide an ecosystem where we continuously have startup companies, we will be able to develop a pool of talented individuals for the local community.”
Tyler Rand, president of Spray Enclosure Technologies in Rialto, says that this commitment to equipping and developing talent is pervasive throughout San Bernardino County and is a big reason why his company thrives in its current location.
“Until very recently, I was considering moving to the Midwest because of my perception of a more trained employee base, lower cost of living and a more central location for shipping product,” he says. “When I met InTech, my thinking started to change. We have just started using their internship program, and we have already received help that makes a difference.”
Teaching Soft Skills Isn’t So Hard
InTech at Chaffey College trains the forklift drivers for Spray Enclosure Technologies. “We have hired a couple of employees through this program,” says Rand. “We get the opportunity to see how they perform and they get the opportunity to see if this is something that interests them. InTech vets them and ensures that they have the basic skills we need. They understand the mechanics. When we get them on site, their training is easier and faster.”
Rand says he also likes the fact that InTech provides training to interns on soft skills. “For example, they teach them how to get through a difficulty with a fellow employee or boss,” he says. “Plus, they have offered us this training at no cost. Training is everything now, and it represents the future. In fact, it is one of the things that keeps us here.”
Amazon’s Kazmi concurs, noting that San Bernardino County’s exceptional labor pool is the No. 1 reason behind the company’s success at its fulfillment center.
“We have grown to 11 fulfillment centers in California, but the associates that we have right here in San Bernardino are some of the most caring and hard-working people I have ever met,” Kazmi says. “A valuable leadership principle at Amazon is to hire and develop the best. The people we have hired from this community are amazing. We have had people start as entry-level workers who are now leading as managers. The county has been very supportive in our growth in this location.”
The new Career Pathways program at Cajon High School will only enhance Amazon’s ties to the area, he adds. “We are extremely excited about the Pathways program,” he says. “It is the first of its kind in California. It includes things like information technology, finance and engineering — all routes that you can pursue at Amazon. And it will serve as a model for the future.”
Samardzija says that he can see a bright future for San Bernardino County. “I could see us getting up to maybe 20 startups in here at one time,” he notes. “Most venture capital firms are in San Francisco, Silicon Valley or San Diego, but our goal is to get VC funding for our exits. And we want to have a VC firm based right here in our market.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of San Bernardino County government. For more information, contact the county Economic Development Agency at 909-387-4700. On the web, go to www.sbcountyadvantage.com.
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.