Jonathan Thatcher, CSCP, CAE | May/June 2014 | 24 | 3
Finding the right program for your supply chain career
Reader E.J. writes, “There are several different master’s in business administration (MBA) programs I am considering entering. How can I evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these offerings?”
Business schools are responding to the shortage of supply chain management talent and expanding opportunities in these areas. In fact, supply chain management now competes alongside traditional consulting and investment banking-focused programs. A strong supply chain management curriculum will consider the quality of the knowledge, skills, and experience needed during a professional’s entire career.
Look for programs that are more than a mere collection of courses; rather, they should deliver genuine supply chain mastery. Topics such as strategy, leadership, risk management, business intelligence, and relationship management should be present and sufficiently in-depth to match the complexity, change, and challenges required by a career in supply chain management.
It’s not always easy to objectively measure many of the traits required by strong supply chain managers. These soft skills include responsiveness, innovation, creativity, and the ability to communicate strongly across organizations, industries, and cultures. Supply chain managers must possess integrated abilities, such as anticipating and resolving disconnects between senior management and supply chain professionals, increasing visibility into processes, and aligning tactics and strategy.
You also should have an idea of what industries you are interested in. Information technology, consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace all require different skill sets and are best served by different programs. Look for schools that have faculty or alumni with connections to your preferred industries. After completing a program, alumni networks can be an effective way to enhance your career development.
Finally, consider if the program complements your strengths. Where are you most gifted? What are your personal motivations? Do you prefer analytical work, designing complex systems, or being a leader who enhances the performance of others? In what areas are you weaker? The right program will help you develop these skills, as well, and make you a more well-rounded professional.
It’s never too late
Meanwhile, reader L.C. writes, “I am interested in supply chain management, but the MBA program I recently completed did not focus on this area. What did I miss? Where do I go from here?”
There are many aspects to consider, but the most important—and the one you should probably pursue first—is enterprise resources planning (ERP). In order to land a supply chain job with a manufacturer or distributor, it would be a good idea to get some training in ERP systems. Many of these organizations rely on ERP systems to integrate finance, production, distribution, and other areas. Even if ERP experience does not appear as a formal requirement in a job listing, it is a critical tool to master in the field.
There is growing convergence between ERP and other supply chain management platforms: ERP publishers are adding more supply chain capabilities in their software while supply chain suites are providing more ERP functionality. Software vendors large and small offer provide in their products. Some local colleges also offer classes, and there are numerous online and self-study options available. Having some training in ERP platforms could help in a job interview and give you an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and knowledge on the topic.
Later, on-the-job ERP experience will expand your supply chain skill set, further increasing your professional value. For example, at an employer attempting to enhance product customization, ERP skill can assist in information gathering and developing insight into areas such as procurement, product life cycles, production, demand planning, logistics, and order management.
Supply chain management is a high-stakes, vast, and complex profession. It draws on the best you bring to the position—your education, past experiences, talent, and personal motivation. You will interact with stakeholders who often require efficient problem solving, sound decision making, and effective communication. Your work will affect many others both within and outside your organization. Earning your MBA is just the first step of a career-long education in a profession that invents and reinvents itself like no other.
Jonathan Thatcher, CSCP, CAE, is director of research for the APICS professional development division. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send APICS your supply chain or operations management questions at email@example.com.