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Midvale Journal

Brick by brick, Hillcrest students learn first-hand about global supply chain

Feb 03, 2022 03:22PM ● By Julie Slama

Through a game, Brigham Young University Associate Professor Scott Webb taught Hillcrest High entrepreneurship students to understand global supply chains and management. (Cher Burbank/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Hillcrest High entrepreneurship students recently experienced a hands-on lesson in understanding global supply chain management, thanks to Brigham Young University Associate Professor Scott Webb.

As part of the global supply game, Webb set up nine tables for students as part of the supply chain and used small plastic bricks to indicate the supply. Then, students took roles at the tables, trying to get supplies to manufacture products to retailers to sell products to consumers.

“They were trying to get supplies from Botswana, Zambia and South Africa or from Europe such as Greece and Belgium, to sell as raw materials at one table and then, they would turn it around to a manufacturer, which was another table in the supply chain,” said the students’ teacher Nick Pappas. “Then, there was a table in the supply chain that represented distributors who then sold it to the retailers, and they in turn, sold it to the customers. We had a shipping team that worked individually, just trying to move product and there were retailers who would buy the finished product from the distributors and sell it to the rest of the class, or to the customers.”

Pappas said students learned the process using brightly colored bricks—including red and blue.

“He called the red bricks, Utes, which was a less premium product, and the blue, or the premium bricks, for the Cougars,” Pappas said, indicating Webb’s humor with his allegiance.

Students would create a combination of brick colors they needed, but they were limited to 25 bricks.

“They negotiated the amount to ship their product and then another person would then sell that product to the warehouse who assembles it. So, they would pay for the product, and they’d always have to pay the shipping company to ship it to their table,” he said. “Then, they’d sell it to the distributor or wholesaler who would have to pay the factory or warehouse for the product and pay for shipping. They’d also negotiate with the retailer as there were two supply chains and retailers who were trying to get the best price on the product.”

Customers started with $1,000 in pretend cash and received a certain amount of points for how much product they purchased during the 35-minute game. 

“Any inventory carry over, it cost them and it would be deducted from their points. We had winners for each group—so supply chain total, the shippers who had the most money, the retailers who had the most money and whoever cashed in the most points as a customer,” he said. “They were trying to buy as much product at the lowest price and then, they’d cash in for points.”

The game gave students a visual and hands-on learning opportunity to understand global supply chains and they made the connection to the real world, Pappas said.

“We’ve talked about supply chain crisis with COVID-19,” he said, adding that students have experienced it indirectly with delays in construction at Hillcrest High and likely, with items unavailable for purchase. “They realize that a lot of factories shut down because of COIVD, and that was really harmful to the supply chain because products were not being produced. Now, they can see it’s not going to get better anytime soon with the shipping container shortage.”

He said that fact came into play with the game as some product got bottlenecked and discrepancies came along in groups’ tracking their expenses.

“We had one of our retailers actually down like $60 and another one was $160 in the positive, or something like that, so it was good to see what’s frustrating in the supply chain and how you get them moving smoothly,” he said. “Just like that experience with the game, and what we all are experiencing now during COVID, there’s so many moving parts to any product in the supply chain that we’re all seeing it come into play.”

Webb came to Hillcrest at the invitation of the school’s career and technical education coordinator Kevin Wood, who ran across a paper Webb wrote, describing the game he uses to teach supply chain management.

“We’re starting a new transportation pathway next year, so I was doing some research and universities that teach it, trying to find ways to prepare our students,” he said. “When I realized this article was by a BYU professor, I emailed him, and he came to show it to us and have our students run through it. I think this took on more meaning as most of us haven’t heard the term supply chain until recently in the news. One student even commented on how they didn’t realize how many steps there were until they were able to take an active role in it through this game.”