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A Focus on Supply Chain

By Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE | September/October 2013 | 23 | 5

A Focus on Supply ChainRecently, I returned from an extended trip to see APICS partners and attend various supply chain conferences in China, Australia, and New Zealand. I had many conversations with APICS volunteers, industry professionals, students, and government officials–and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with these supply chain and operations management professionals from around the world.

People in our industry have many different perspectives, but we also share a lot in common. No matter where you are, education and knowledge are key to getting a job, and continuing education builds leaders and advances careers. However, education and professional development are the journey, not the destination. Our challenge is to understand the participants on the journey—educational institutions, employers, and associations—and the complex but complementary role each plays in the process.

More and more undergraduate and graduate programs are being developed at colleges and universities around the globe. This is a good start, but there is more to do. The challenge is in getting high school students to recognize the value of a supply chain major to help fill the future need for supply chain professionals.

Likewise, companies should do their part to foster growth in the field through their human resources departments and internship programs, which can help inform educational institutions about the competencies required to perform in the profession. A commitment to ongoing professional development also needs to become a priority.

And at the association level, investments should be made in bodies of knowledge, certifications, education programs, networking, and mentoring. Supply chain management should be viewed as a fully integrated activity and the outdated silo perspective abandoned.

Supply chains have become more analytical and metrics-driven. Lowering costs, streamlining operations, reducing inventory, and managing capacity and assets are critical components of supply chain management—however, today’s professionals also must master value creation, demand management, and strategic development. The profession has, in a relatively short time, emerged from its place within organizational silos to become integral to organization success.

From raw materials to the finished product—including marketing, production, delivery, risk, and sustainability—there are only two organizational functions that need to understand every aspect of the business: finance and supply chain. So why aren’t supply chain professionals arriving in the C-suite at the same rates as their financial counterparts? The career paths for the field are just starting to emerge, and we are only beginning to concentrate on the required soft skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and team leadership.

Modern supply chains are incredibly complex and require people with knowledge in many areas, including technical, strategic, and analytic, as well as the soft skills of leadership and diplomacy. Deep subject matter expertise is required, as is a cross-functional understanding of the entire business. At APICS, we will continue to work with schools and universities, employers, associations, and individuals to elevate the supply chain profession—and the people and companies practicing it.

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