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Supply Chain education: bracing for the future: in today's hectic and complex business environment, supply chain professionals need to make certain that they have the skills to succeed. That's where education comes in.


Today's supply chain organizations are facing tough challenges when it comes to securing the talent they need to operate--and it won't be getting any easier going forward. In its April 2008 report, "Supply Chain Talent: The State of the Discipline," AMR Research cites a number of factors behind this development. A principal one is the dramatic expansion of scope and responsibility of supply chain professionals.

The Ohio State University "2008 Survey of Career Patterns in Logistics" study concurs with AMR's findings. The authors of this annual report note that the major challenges companies are grappling with include global supply chain integration, the repositioning of the logistics/ supply chain function, a trend toward more integration of material flow in and out of the firm, and the fact that energy expenditures have shifted from an accepted part of the cost structure to a critical strategic issue.


"We have not yet reached a point of stability in the logistics/supply chain management arena," says the report. "The profession continues to evolve, with broader scope, and more global integration and continued movement to higher levels of the firm. More than ever before, the chief logistics/supply chain officer of the company is among the senior executive team that is positioning the firm for the future."

David Aquino, research director at AMR Research, sees supply chain talent--and its nurturing and availability--as critical to business success these days. But at the same time, he says, "Talent pipeline itself is not sufficient to be able to support the growth and extension of supply chain management as a modern discipline."

To help fill the talent gap universities, colleges, professional associations, and individual companies are expanding their offerings of degree programs, certifications, online courses, and seminars targeting supply chain professionals. Along with focusing on traditional supply chain and logistics topics, the programs now also address collaboration skills, the ability to work across cultures and global boundaries, financial acumen, long- and short-term strategic thinking, planning (including new product design and launch), and technology expertise to name a few.

In this special supplement, Supply Chain Management Review examines the various pathways available to acquire the skills necessary for future success in the supply chain world.


Whether they are offering full degree programs, awarding certifications, or providing non-degree courses, institutions like Arizona State University, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Indiana University, Penn State University, and Tennessee and a growing number of others have stepped up to the plate to help prepare supply chain professionals to succeed now--and in the future.

Georgia Tech professor of supply chain management John Langley believes that the best foundation for success includes a broad education combined with exposure to the supply chain/logistics disciplines. This approach ensures that the students come away from the school with a breadth of knowledge that spans the liberal arts, business acumen and supply chain expertise.

"A lot of professionals who are mid-career wish that they took more Liberal arts courses, which help develop creative and innovative thinking that supply chain managers need to succeed for the long term," says Langley, who sees executive education as a viable way for existing employees to develop their supply chain skills. Through such courses, he says students can expect to develop needed competencies and become familiar with supply chain processes, refine their knowledge of supply chain analytics, and hone existing supply chain knowledge into a useful resource for their organizations.


Because not every supply chain professional can afford the time or financial commitment needed for a degree program or a traditional online executive education course, online education has grown in popularity over the last few years. "Using technology to deliver these types of educational products is the wave of the future, and very attractive in the tight budget times we're seeing today," says Langley. "And while you miss the diversity of discussions between students, the key is to take extra steps--such as scheduling a lunch or dinner for the class to get together--to create those interactions."

Ted Stank, professor of logistics at the University of Tennessee, says that professionals looking to position themselves for future success must brace for constant change.

Stank believes they need to focus on recognizing and reacting to a wide variety of scenarios and concepts--many of which go beyond the traditional boundaries of the supply chain space. These new competencies include, among others, financial acumen, risk management skills, and global trade abilities. In some cases, that could mean taking courses that are tailored to a specific industry and/or company.

"There is still a role for Supply Chain Management 101," says Stank, "but as we develop more value around education, we realize that it has to address the nitty-gritty of what a manager faces everyday and often means getting more specific and customized."


When it comes to helping supply chain professionals develop the skills they need to succeed, the supply chain-related professional associations have expanded the number and scope of educational offerings available to their members.

For example, APICS--the Association for Operations Management offers two certification programs, national and regional conferences, online events, and self-study programs on a range of topics. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' online university offers members and potential members access to the latest in logistics and supply chain management. And the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) provides certification programs, seminars, professional development services and online courses for the supply management professional. (The listings section following this article gives more information on the associations offerings.)

How are supply chain people reacting to expanded educational opportunities? Butt Blanchard, CSCMP's manager of education and research, says demand for those offerings is high right now thanks to the constantly-changing nature of the supply chain profession. He sees customer service, collaboration, financial skills, and performance management as the skill sets that practitioners and students need to work on developing right now. "These are the areas that companies are really looking at, and that they expect their supply chain professionals to be able to handle," says Blanchard.

At the Institute for Supply Management, CEO Paul Novak says the current economic conditions have created a real need for financial expertise among supply chain professionals, many of whom are dealing with suppliers and customers in "cash crisis" mode. And because the situation doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon, those same skills will be valuable in the future. "Cash is hard to come by," says Novak, "so you need to understand it, and how to deal with the lack of it."

Novak expects associations to continue honing their supply chain offerings to deal with these and other evolving trends that just 20 years ago weren't even a blip on the radar screen.


Using strategies like job rotation to expose employees to other functional areas of the organization, firsthand experience working with global suppliers and business units, and various other initiatives, individual companies are doing what they can to ensure that their supply chain managers are adequately prepared to do their jobs in the future.

To handle the huge task for its global operations, Procter & Gamble relies on a "hire from within" strategy that finds the company grooming current employees for senior management positions, including supply chain professionals. Through a process known as "pathing," the firm uses assignment and career planning across its diverse operations with the goal of giving workers experience across various job functions.

"We give them the basics across the end-to-end supply system," says Jake Barr, P&G's director of manufacturing, planning and logistics. "The process is structured in a way that moves the individual across various nodes, including engineering, purchasing, manufacturing and supply network operations, and blends it all into a one career path opportunity.''

Taking a broad look at the future, John Langley of Georgia Tech says there's no time like the present to enhance your supply chain education. "It's a known phenomenon that university enrollments increase during business downturns, and there's a reason for that," explains Langley. "One of the most productive things you can do when you're not so busy is to enhance your education and development. Then when things turn back up, you'll be better equipped to succeed."

Bridget McCrea is a business writer specializing in supply chain and logistics. She can be reached at bridgetmc@
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Author:McCrea, Bridget
Publication:Supply Chain Management Review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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