Until COVID-19, few people gave any thought to supply chain logistics, especially in an era where shoppers ordered products online and those goods were often delivered in a few hours or the next day.
But as the pandemic caused the global economy to shut down, it wreaked havoc on supply chains. We witnessed demand for certain products grounding to a halt leaving producers with nowhere to send goods, empty grocery store shelves, and even skyrocketing prices for goods that became scarce; consumers quickly learned a hard economic lesson of what happens when supply chains break down.
These ripple effects continue two years later, and manufacturers are responding by substituting materials, changing packaging sizes, or are using other methods to meet consumer demand while trying to procure sometimes limited supply.
A Supply and Demand Lesson
High school students, too, are learning about how supply chains work, both in the classroom and in their personal lives.
Jacqueline Collins, business teacher at Mansfield High School, in Mansfield, Massachusetts, incorporates teaching about supply and demand, and supply chain logistics and disruptions in her entrepreneurship class, using hot topic activities from Econ Essentials , a partnership between Futures Fundamentals and Discovery Education that provides free digital resources for educators.
Her entrepreneurship class includes students from grades 9 to 12, where students create a business. Mixing current events and the Econ Essentials activities are a “great way to explain supply chain issues in real time and not just as a theory,” says Collins, who has been using Econ Essentials lessons in her classroom since 2016.
The class has a mix of grade levels, so the lesson is self-paced, allowing students to learn as they go. She lets the pupils choose from two Econ Essentials interactive learning modules, “Fueling the Future,” which challenges participants to predict the future of gasoline prices for an imaginary business, and “The Facts About Food,” which explains how food prices are set. Both modules cover the concepts of supply, demand, prices and hedging for producers and end users.
Supply Chain Disruptions Come to the Classroom
Once students understand supply and demand, Collins moves on to Econ Essentials’ video on supply chain disruptions featuring several entrepreneurs describing their business operations pre-pandemic, and how the COVID-19 supply-chain disruptions affected their respective businesses, and how they pivoted to adapt to the changing environment.
“It has made them more aware that, wow, we do have to buy supplies to make XYZ, and if one component in that product doesn't show up on time, it halts everything,”
— Jacqueline Collins, business teacher
To relate these disruptions to the students’ experience, Collins introduced the idea of shrinkflation – how a company reduces the amount of product it creates while keeping the price the same.
“They heard about shrinkflation in the video and how supply chain disruptions are causing entrepreneurs and business owners to make up the money that they're spending on higher shipping costs and delays in other ways,” she says.
Many students explained how shrinkflation was affecting their lives:
- “The moisturizer I used changed to a different, slightly smaller container and then I had to buy it more often.”
- “We get less paper towels than we used to per package, so now we have to go out and buy them more often.”
Students also learned about the longer lead times for businesses to secure materials which has become a defining characteristic of the pandemic era. Collins connected the experiences of the business owners in the video to the entrepreneurship class she teaches. In her class, students run a business over a semester, so there’s a definite end time. Collins says students had “pretty good insights” into the impact of longer lead times on the student-run business, understanding how production could be delayed, shrinking their sales time or causing them to halt output altogether.
To make sure students thoroughly understand the concept, she has students write what she calls “Six Word Stories,” based on the Ernest Hemingway challenge to write a complete story using only six words. She asked students to summarize the impact of the pandemic on supply chains, and shared some of their insights:
“Being able to feed it back to me in six words shows they were processing the idea. It’s not just a multiple choice, picking something off the list (on a test). You really had to think about it and choose your words carefully,” Collins says.
Studying Real World Events
Collins, who’s taught at Mansfield High School for 16 years, says in the past she didn’t cover supply chains and disruptions to the extent she does now. “That just wasn’t a thing five years ago,” she says.
These events might have been harder for past students to grasp because there were few delays with online ordering and shipping pre-pandemic. Now, on a personal level, they understand shipping delays, but as part of the class, they also saw the impact on a business level and how disruptions filter to the consumer experience.
Current events about supply chain disruptions also allow Collins to explain economic theories in real life. “Until it's really put in practice, they're not going to have that opportunity to make decisions, or practice critical thinking, or work on problem solving or their management skills,” she says.
What she likes about the supply and demand and supply chain disruptions activities from Econ Essentials are how the students can connect on a personal level to the concept as they put together their business proposals for the class.
“It has made them more aware that, wow, we do have to buy supplies to make XYZ, and if one component in that product doesn't show up on time, it halts everything,” Collins says.
The lesson also makes the students more aware of current world events, too.
“I don't think they're always aware of what's going on around them because they live in the on-demand world and the on-demand world doesn't always have news. You kind of have to sneak things in where you can with them.”
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