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May 31, 2022 2:12 PM, EDT

High School Prepares Students for Transportation Careers

Ana Gonzalez and Jim DowdingAna Gonzalez and Jim Dowding by Dan Ronan/Transport Topics

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LONG BEACH, Calif. — When several hundred delegates to the recent Metrans International Urban Freight Conference met just a few miles from the sprawling Port of Long Beach, there were more than a dozen young invited guests watching the transportation leaders, and pondering what the industry will be like when they’re running things, quite likely in a few years.

The students are from Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo High School, where about 25% of its 2,000 students participate in the school’s acclaimed Academy of Global Logistics program.

“Ours is a unique pathway that is part of the Long Beach Unified School District,” Cabrillo teacher and academy co-pathway lead Jim Dowding told Transport Topics. “Eighth graders choose to investigate careers in global logistics and the supply chain and what we do is — through a period of classroom instruction and work-based learning — expose them to what the industry is all about, what career opportunities are ahead of them and how they can find a place in the industry after graduation.”

Cabrillo students

Students from the Long Beach Unified School District’s Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo High School. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)

The academy has a long-standing partnership with the nearby Port of Long Beach, Long Beach City College and California State University-Long Beach.

“There are opportunities to go directly into the industry after high school graduation, or to continue their education at Long Beach City College or go directly into the four-year program at Cal State-Long Beach,” Dowding added.

He pointed out Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero is a big supporter of the program and that he meets regularly with the students, several of whom have already been hired at Port of Long Beach and other nearby transportation and logistics companies.

Ana Gonzalez, 16, attended the Metrans conference with some of her classmates. She is planning for a career possibly with an international shipping company and looking at the prospect of traveling the world as a logistics professional.

Metrans logo

“I’d like to have a career helping manage trade between many countries,” Gonzalez said.

As part of the program, Dowding said one of the annual exercises is taking a particular product, such as an ice cream sandwich or a hamburger, and reverse-engineering it to the original source. In this case, the students determined where the manufacturer buys the raw materials, whether it was meat, eggs, grain, milk, sugar or preservatives. They then look at how those items got from the farm to the factory where the product is made and then how it’s transported by refrigerated truck to a warehouse and eventually to the local grocer or restaurant for sale.

“If it’s a hamburger, what states are the biggest for the production of beef? Where does the wheat come from for a hamburger bun? What about the tomato, the cheese? They have to find out what are the elements with it and where does it come from, so they have to trace it all the way back to the source,” Dowding said. “They start to get a bigger picture how they fit into the world and what their role could be within global logistics and the supply chain. Then we talk about the bigger issue of how it gets here and what are the challenges and obstacles there.”

Gonzalez said for her classmates interested in logistics, attending a conference such as the Metrans event and getting the chance to stand side by side with transportation professionals for several days is like an athlete getting an opportunity to play in a high school championship football game.

“It’s important for us to meet these people and ask questions,” she said.

At one of the lunches Dowding told students to vary which adults they sit with and gave them a challenge: the one who brings back the most business cards from the event gets a gift card.

“People are the keys to success in life. Talk to someone you don’t know,” he said. “It’s important for the students to find out how they got into the industry and get out of your comfort zone.”

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With an aging workforce and the U.S. Department of Labor reporting 468,000 open jobs in March in the transportation, warehousing and utility sector, Dowding and Gonzalez see a bright future for the students in this program.

After 42 years as a teacher, Dowding said he still looks forward to interacting with his students. “I’m thrilled every single day,” Dowding said. “Seeing their energy and enthusiasm and the potential is just fabulous.”

Added Gonzalez, “I know I’m going someplace great and this program is giving me a start.”