Richards started as a lineman with Henkels and McCoy, a utility construction firm. But work was inconsistent, and he was frequently laid off. He decided to pursue a degree in criminal justice and become a state trooper. He was told, however, by the Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation Office that this would not be a feasible career for him.
“Once again, I found myself in a realm of uncertainty,” he said.
Richards still wanted to return to school. He enrolled in hotel and restaurant management at Chippewa Valley Technical College, but he never finished his degree. When he was offered a job with University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Dining Services, he seized the opportunity and worked there for 10 years.
While at Dining Services, Richards applied for higher-level positions he felt he was qualified for. But he didn’t receive the promotions. “I realized that no matter my experience and capabilities, I would not get a promotion without a degree,” he said.
Some of the student employees he worked with were in the supply chain management program. They talked about the high employment rate for graduates, generous starting salaries and variety of career paths, as well as the program being a good challenge. SCM graduates have a 100% employment rate within one year of graduation, with an average starting salary of $55,000 to $65,000.
Richards became fascinated with supply chain management. He quit his job with Dining Services and took a position at Walmart Distribution Center in Menomonie to gain experience in supply chain. He also met with Gene Gutman, UW-Stout supply chain management program director, and decided to return to school for the third time.
“This time around, I was determined to finish,” he said.
Returning to school
Richards returned to school in summer 2016. It had been nearly 10 years since he’d stepped foot inside a classroom. Being an adult learner was scary at first, he said. “I felt very old and out of place.”
On his first day of class, he walked into Jarvis Hall for his statistics class. But the door was locked, so he waited in the hall. A man about Richards’ age showed up in a T-shirt and khaki shorts with a blue JanSport backpack.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Sweet, someone my own age will be in this class,’” he said. “What I soon found out was that this man was not a student like me. He was the professor.”
Richards started slow, warming up to life as a student, he said. As he found his footing, he increased his class load and became a full-time student, all while working full time with two children at home.
Richards completed his required co-op at Andersen Windows, working with the supply chain procurement team at the company’s Menomonie facilities. He graduated with his SCM degree in May and also earned a minor in project management. Before graduation, he was hired as an associate supply chain analyst at Andersen Windows, working specifically with the made-to-order materials.
“My goals for the future are to learn as many roles as possible within the supply chain field at Andersen, continuing to advance and grow within the company,” he said.
Never stop learning
Juggling family life, work and school was Richards’ biggest challenge. School started out bumpy, he said. But like other aspects in his life, his academics smoothed out as he moved forward, found a routine and received guidance from his professors.
“I was determined to get my degree and change my path,” he said. “It was with this mentality I was able to find success. Though it most definitely helps when you have a supportive family to motivate you and provide you the fuel to continue to push yourself.”
As an adult learner, Richards learned three main things, he said:
- The vastness of the end-to-end supply chain.
- Always ask why. And even when you think you know why, keep going.
- There is always room for growth.
All of this goes hand-in-hand with the most important lesson Richards learned – to never stop learning. “That is one thing Gene does very well,” Richards said. “He forces us to really dig in and ask questions to figure it out. There are always issues that lead to potential opportunities.”
“I am so proud of Adam and his accomplishments," said SCM Program Director Gene Gutman. "I remember the first time I met him in my office, and he told me his story and his desire to earn a degree. His work ethic, perseverance and desire to learn will serve him well. He has a bright future in supply chain management.”
Richards plans to pursue his online master’s in operations and supply management from UW-Stout.