In October 2021, the New York Times made an interesting ‘confession’: “We did not even have a logistics beat before the pandemic. Now we do.” This prefaced a fascinating article about a subject most people had never thought about or knew much about – the supply chain. In fact, approximately 45% of Americans indicated that they had never thought much about how their products were made nor how they were delivered to their local stores. The management of the chain of supplies that bring those products to our homes is an essential and critical component of a successful business. There are often hundreds of moving parts from the creation of an idea to the end product, and the financial success of a business always hinges upon a smooth and profitable outcome. Supply Chain Management, or SCM, is that process and includes moving and storing raw materials, creating products, storing completed products until they sell, and keeping track of those products throughout the process and after the sale, in order to develop best practices for future success.
Supply chain managers are an integral part of all business operations – logistics, purchasing, IT, materials, finances, suppliers, manufacturing, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. They must continuously monitor every link in this complex chain of people, products, and technology, keeping an eye on the bottom line and safeguarding the mission and profitability of the business. The goal is to minimize costs in order to increase profits and put efficient systems into place that can be checked, rechecked, quickly altered to take advantage of new benefits and avoid costly pitfalls. A good SCM is a highly trained professional who engages in careful research, locates requisite materials, oversees the manufacturing processes, creates delivery mechanisms, and considers the outcome for defective or unsold products. She works to avoid shortages, delays and increased costs that all eat away at her company’s profits. A good SCM will save his company money, build a network of well-trained staff, network with contacts and create positive partnerships, research market demand and reduce operating costs across the board.
Supply chain analysts can earn approximately $61k-$75k annually with a job growth of 7%-11% forecast – almost three times the national average for most jobs. Given the crisis within the supply chain created by the Covd-19 pandemic, more companies have recognized the critical work done by their supply chain managers and are rewarding them accordingly. Even during a recession, this career has huge growth potential. Most employers are looking for SCMs with a bachelor’s degree, but a graduate degree can lead to rapid advancement within the field and excellent job security for the future.
The SCM major will often be located within an institution’s School of Business so admission will require strong mathematics. Coursework will typically include core university graduation requirements in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and Science. Business core subjects will include Economics, Mathematics, Finance, Human Resources, and Accounting. The SCM major will focus on courses in transportation, management, procurement, customs rules and regulations, market analysis, logistics, data analytics and the art of negotiation. There is a national organization called the Association for Supply Chain Management that offers detailed information about professional certifications that benefit an SCM’s career growth and potential. They report that APICS certified individuals earn 16% more than those with other certifications, and a 27% salary increase over those without any certifications.
Certification requires passing an exam, and some employers will cover the costs of testing. There are also options for scholarships through a variety of transportation and logistics foundations.
Given the wide range of activities managed by a good SCM, there are many essential qualities shared by successful graduates. First, no one day is the same as the next – there is such varieties in the tasks that the abilities to think quickly, pivot fast, multi-task and problem solve are essential. Since you will be required to manage both products and people, being able to lead, listen, think critically and encourage a team, often under stress, are equally important. You may end up doing some international travel, so developing cultural competency and a global outlook will benefit your career. Typically, the entire process is highly data driven so embracing technology and understanding complex data will be required.
Given the devastating impact of global warming, learning about environmentally sound practices will become ever more important and reducing waste is critical. Finally, develop solid networking skills because those relationships can create both opportunity and resources for the benefit of your company as well as more transferable skills for your resume.