I have just returned from an extended trip visiting APICS partners and participating in supply chain conferences in China, Australia, and New Zealand. I had the opportunity to interact with volunteers, supply chain professionals, students, and government officials. I couldn’t help but come away with optimism about the supply chain industry and the professionals who propel it.
Supply chain across the globe
While there are differences in supply chains and professionals in different regions across the globe there are some clear threads that tie us together. First and foremost, education and knowledge is key to getting a job; but, more importantly, continuing education develops careers and creates leaders. Education and professional development is a journey not an episode or destination. The journey has four main players: educational institutions, employers, associations, and individuals. We need greater communication and understanding of the essential yet complimentary role each plays.
I read with great interest two recent stories in the WSJ and Bloomberg about new supply chain undergraduate and graduate programs being developed at universities around the world. This is wonderful news, but more needs to be done. If we can get high school students to recognize and designate supply chain majors when they enter universities, we will be able to fill the pipeline for future supply chain professionals.
Companies need to engage their HR departments in addition to providing internship programs. This opens a dialogue with educational institutions about the skills and competencies required to excel in today’s supply chain environment. Lastly, companies need to commit to ongoing professional development.
Associations need to continue to invest in their bodies of knowledge, provide certifications and ongoing education programs as well as networking and mentoring opportunities. Associations also need to come together and advance supply chains as an integrated activity not a siloed one, which is an outdated perspective.
Supply chain as a strategic imperative
It’s clear that supply chains have transcended the foundation from which they were built; more specifically they are analytical and metric driven. While lower costs, lean operations, reduced inventory, and strategic use of capacity and assets are still critical, supply chain professionals now must understand and lead in value creation, demand management, and strategic development. In a relatively short time period, supply chain has emerged from the silos within organizations to an industry marked by highly knowledgeable professionals participating and leading in their organizations’ success.
From raw materials to suppliers, from marketing and sales to production, and from delivery and logistics to risk and sustainability, there are only two functions within an organization that have to understand every aspect of the business: finance and supply chain. So why aren’t we seeing supply chain professionals move into the C-suite at the same rate as financial professionals? One reason is that the career paths for supply chain professionals are just starting to emerge. Secondly, as an industry, we are now starting to concentrate on the soft skills needed to lead organizations, including critical thinking, problem solving, and cross-functional and team leadership.
I’m not sure there has been a better time to be in supply chain. There’s a great quote I often reference from a October 2010 MIT Center Roundtable, “ … many participants sought what they deemed a ‘super-human’ combination of people who have technical depth, business breadth, and the soft skills to be a leader, influencer, and diplomat. Modern supply chains call for deep subject matter expertise, an integrated understanding of broader business imperatives, and the ability to lead coworkers while operating across countries and cultures.”
Super human, nope__supply chain professional!
At APICS we look forward to working with universities; employers; other associations; and, most importantly, supply chain professionals to create a better world for all of us.