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A Major Dilemma

By Mary Schufreider | January/February 2013 | 23 | 1

Enforcing the importance of supply chain and operations management education

Reader M.P. writes, “I’m currently a student studying operations and information management, but this major makes up only 5 percent of our business school. I find the program to be engaging and relevant; however, many other students tend to look down on this field compared to traditional business majors such as finance, accounting, and marketing. Why are so few people in this major?”

There are a few questions to consider when addressing this question: How do students first garner information about a supply chain and operations management major? How is it currently being advertised to academicians? What companies are doing the advertising? Finally, what are the most effective ways to raise the academic profile of this field of study? Supply chain and operations management is as valuable and important as other well-established majors; yet, it is not as well known. 

One reason that supply chain and operations management majors are neglected by academia is that they are poorly advertised. According to the Princeton Review, the top 10 college majors include political science, psychology, nursing, biology, and education, but there is no mention of anything related to supply chain and operations management. This lack of awareness of the field certainly contributes to the dearth of student engagement.

Another factor in the phenomenon is that supply chain and operations management is not well understood by people entering college. Most people understand the basics of finance and accounting and what their career paths typically look like, even if they are outside those fields. However, when a student majors in supply chain and operations management, there is a good chance that peers will not understand what the major entails or the actual career path. Without this knowledge, entering an unfamiliar program is seen as containing unexpected risks. 

The significance of what we do

The general lack of understanding of what is behind supply chain and operations management needs to be addressed. Think of an object you simply cannot live without, such as your phone, laptop, or car. Have you ever considered how the object was made in the first place? After an idea is put through the ringers of research, development, and production, it is here that supply chain and operations management plays a major role. It enables companies to figure out factors behind supply and demand, calculate volume requirements based on forecasting, determine how inventory will decrease when a newer product arrives, and decipher the balance between excess inventory and stockouts. 

There are scores of people and skill sets required to bring a single product to life. Supply chain and operations management is critical for creating numerous jobs in production processes. However, if academic professionals continue to lack awareness of the opportunities presented by the field, it will become increasingly difficult to hire the skilled workers needed. 

One way to raise awareness is to educate management at various organizational levels of the benefits of a supply chain and operations management major. For example, it would be useful to demonstrate how the major can help students move up the job ladder by teaching them a mixture of hard and soft skills. This is an area APICS holds to be very important. Another great boon for the field is when executives and managers invest time and resources in creating education experiences, such as career fairs at local colleges and universities. This gives students the chance to expand their networking circles, plan ahead for their long-term career paths, and learn more about the subject matter outside of school. 

These are only a few ideas for raising the profile of the supply chain and operations management discipline. The next step is for professionals to examine their own environments to see how their organizations can contribute to making the benefits and importance of studying this field more widely known.

Mary Schufreider is research manager at APICS. She may be contacted at askapics@apics.org.