Your typical consumer rarely thinks about the complex life cycle of the products they buy. Supply chain management professionals are not your average Joes, however. A lot goes into managing the use and movement of the raw materials, processes, people, money, and other resources that facilitate the making, moving, and marketing of products. It's the job of supply chain managers to stay on top of it all.
At its baseline level, supply chain management is all about maximizing profits by minimizing waste. In practice, however, it's a lot more interesting than just that. Modern supply chain management involves business analytics, data analytics, management skills, global politics, and a lot of moving parts. If you have a passion for logistics, you'll probably really enjoy working in supply chain management—really enjoy it. In the 2019 Association for Supply Chain Management Salary and Career Survey, 82 percent of respondents rated their job satisfaction as 8 or higher on a 1-to-10 scale.
Even better, hundreds of jobs in supply chain management go unfilled each year because there are too many openings and not enough applicants. According to the University of North Texas, there are five local jobs available for every one supply chain management graduate. That means supply chain managers enjoy a level of job security most other professionals don't.
If you think that your future might lie in supply chain management (SCM), you're probably wondering what kind of degree or degrees you'll need. The entry-level qualification to work in SCM is often a master's degree. That said, you can work your way up the ladder with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Supply Chain Management or Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management, which means you don't technically need a master's degree. However, having a master's in supply chain management might give you a competitive edge when you're looking for work or negotiating your salary. The keyword is might.
So, is a master's in supply chain management worth it? We answer that question in this article, which covers:
Before we dig into what you'll study when you enroll in a supply chain management master's degree program, let's take a look at what that degree might be called. You might earn a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management (MSSCM) or a Master's in Supply Chain Management (MSCM). Some business programs offer a Master of Engineering in Supply Chain Management, an MBA in Supply Chain Management, or a Master of Applied Science in Supply Chain Management. There are also master's programs focused exclusively on global supply chain management. In all of these programs, students study the approaches, technology, and skills required to produce and move goods and manage inventory and distribution, nationally and internationally.
Courses in supply chain management master's degree programs typically cover:
This course will cover qualitative and quantitative logistics tools used in modern applications with a focus on understanding the effect of variance in logistics.
This coursework will follow the processes of goods and services from the planning stages to the point of purchase and consumption.
Work in this class will explore the shift from paper communication to modern technical standards for data exchange between computer systems.
This coursework will outline the internal and external demands on stock and the required stock mix needed to keep production balanced.
Managing inventory is always a supply chain challenge, and this coursework will explain how off-site vendor ordering and storage of inventory works, and how shared risk can benefit both parties.
Studying modern supply chain security involves considering terrorism, theft, and the impact of climate change on vendors and production.
Returning goods from final points of purchase back to manufacturing sites for reuse or to recapture value has become a green effort as well as a financial opportunity.
Liquid products and components require specialized handling and methods of transportation, and create unique impacts on the supply chains involved.
Coursework here will develop strategies to prevent interruptions in the supply chain and continue proper flow of materials and products within complicated supply networks.
Negotiating terms and acquiring goods and services sometimes involves conditions of scarcity, and learning how to minimize risk is critical to the process.
This class will follow the path of product development through storage, ordering, processing, and delivery of products to customers.
The military functions as a unique system of organizations, and the logistics needed to move materials within the budget, and to mobile units differ greatly from standard commercial practices.
Coursework here will focus on the real-time management of business processes using software and technology to collect, interpret, and store data on production.
Balancing inventory with systems output is the key to profitability, and the study of the technology that can manage this relationship is critical to modern business.
Working from a customer-based response, orders flow backward up the supply chain, so forecasting becomes more critical and relies on adaptable and agile planning.
This coursework will take a broad look at quality control, and the roles each department (sales, design, marketing, engineering) can take to contribute to better production and value.
This course will cover inventory theory and forecasting, and look at quick response, capacity management and designing new product supply chains.
The study of data gathered from customer interaction (from social media, email, company websites, live chats) and the design of these communication channels is critical to forecasting and quality control.
Supply chain professionals with years of experience may already have a deep understanding of all the above topics and more. A master's degree program in supply chain logistics can still be valuable, however, provided it gives students opportunities to flex their logistics muscles and expand their networks through research and fieldwork partnerships at large companies. Some supply chain management master's programs also prepare students to earn the Lean Six Sigma supply chain management certificate or industry certifications from the Association for Supply Chain Management (e.g., the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) designation).
In other words, when you're thinking about whether a master's in supply chain management is worth it, remember that academics are only part of the equation.
Most master's degree programs in supply chain management take about two years to complete for full-time students and three or more years for part-time students. There are, however, accelerated master's in supply chain management programs on-campus and online. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, for instance, both offer 10-month intensive programs. Some schools, like Marquette University, have dual bachelor’s degree and master’s of science degree in supply chain management programs that can be completed in as few as five years. It's worth noting that while these types of accelerated supply chain programs can get you working faster, they typically also require taking a sabbatical—something not everyone can afford to do. If you already have—or are working toward—completing a bachelor's degree program in supply chain management, it may make more sense to focus on gaining work experience.
Most supply chain management master's degree programs cost about $50,000. Out-of-state students may pay $10,000 more at some colleges and universities, but other schools don't differentiate between resident and non-resident graduate students when it comes to tuition. Tuition for online master's degrees in supply chain management may vary somewhat more. According to US News and World Report, it's possible to find online MSCM programs that cost about $12,000 to complete.
The question you need to ask yourself is whether investing in a master's degree will pay off. When you look at averages across industries, advanced degree holders have median weekly earnings of $1,559 while those with bachelor's degrees earned $1,281. According to Salary.com, a professional with a master's in supply chain management can make anywhere from $111,518 to $118,861. In this field, however, certifications may be a better salary booster than a master's degree. SCM professionals with just one certification make 18 percent more than those without any, and every additional certification correlates with an additional salary boost.
According to US News and World Report, some of the best schools for supply chain management include:
"The W. P. Carey Department of Supply Chain Management is consistently ranked Top 5 nationally for undergraduate and graduate programs by US News & World Report. Our research advances knowledge in global supply chain management while focusing on issues of practical importance, and our faculty is globally recognized for expertise in procurement, supply management, operations management, logistics and supply chain performance optimization."
"The program's intensive curriculum delivers academic knowledge in analytic methods, supply chain engineering, and enterprise management while building professional practice skills and real-world industry experience, all leading to a respected engineering graduate degree from the #1 ranked Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE)."
"Our master's students work directly with researchers and industry experts on complex and challenging problems in all aspects of supply chain management. MIT SCM students graduate as thought leaders ready to engage in an international, highly competitive marketplace, and propel their classroom and laboratory learning straight into industry. "
"(O)ur Master of Science in Supply Chain Management (MSSCM) equips graduates to take their careers to the next level. Our innovative combination of in-residency classes and online e-learning segments allow students to work full time, all while collaborating with world-class faculty and researchers. Supply Chain Management Master’s Degree students gain deep knowledge of strategies and technologies that position them as valuable assets for today’s global companies."
"The Project and Supply Chain Management degree program helps you to develop your knowledge, skills, and abilities in project management. It emphasizes the integration of manufacturing and service operations, logistics, purchasing, and distribution—the functions that enable organizations to cultivate value-creating supply chain networks."
"Ross MSCMs land jobs at some of the world's top companies. Get connected with business leaders in corporate, nonprofit, and entrepreneurial sectors—the MSCM graduate offer rate is 96 percent with a $60,000-130,000 salary range."
"Modelled after the highly successful executive MBA, the MS in Supply Chain Management Tri-Continent exposes students to study in Germany, China and the United States. The program has a single, integrated group of students who study at three institutions: the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, Kuehne Logistics University and Tongji University’s School of Economics and Management."
The top online master's in supply chain management programs include:
"Offered online and on campus, the Supply Chain Management master’s degree program examines the design, optimization, and operation of a global supply chain. The curriculum explores the essentials of lean production, six-sigma methodology, global supply chain coordination, risk mitigation, sustainable supply chains, strategic logistics management, and import-export operations."
"With an online MS in Global Supply Chain Management, you’ll be ready to meet the demands of today’s global market as you maximize your business’s financial goals. You’ll open up new connections and opportunities with your skills and knowledge, becoming a sought-after specialist who manages complex logistics."
"Study proven theory, industry best practices, and new technologies in supply chain management. For the past decade, this program has been ranked as the No. 1 graduate supply chain program in the US by Gartner, Inc. This 100% online master's degree program offers GMAT/GRE waivers for highly qualified candidates."
"The Rutgers Business School Master of Science in Supply Chain Management program enables you with the tools and resources to meet the challenges of today’s supply chains head-on. Flexible and convenient online courses make it easy to complete your degree in your own time."
"In addition to the unique curriculum and cutting edge research initiatives, the masters program trains future leaders to be experts in supply chain design and Lean Six Sigma methodology in the global and complex business world."
"With six core courses (including accounting or finance), four specialty tracks (Analytics, Retail, Risk, Strategy) and more than 20 elective courses, the online program provides students with a big-picture understanding of supply chain management practices and strategies necessary for success in a supply chain career."
"Since our program is geared towards working professionals, classes are focused on experiential learning with real-world experiences, case materials, and simulations taught by faculty and industry experts. You will learn alongside other business peers and leaders as you take the concepts you learn and apply them to real-world situations."
Depending on your circumstances, the best master's in supply chain management program might be:
Your priorities will also play a role in what makes one MSCM program better than another. If, for instance, you want to have the most robust job prospects and make the most money possible after graduation, ask each school of business for post-graduation employment data. Some colleges and universities publish that information on the program website, but others that don't will give this data to you if you ask.
Supply chain management is actually an umbrella term for a lot of different jobs; getting a degree in supply chain management qualifies you for just about all of them. Obtaining a supply chain management master's degree can potentially lead to a variety of career paths because supply chain management is part of all industries. MSCM holders have titles like:
A demand planner works in concert with other departments to organize material and inventory planning and revenue forecasting. Average salary: $68,359.
An inventory planning analyst, also known as a purchasing manager, works to maximize an organization's production by forecasting sales, allocating resources and purchasing inventory. Average salary: $68,289.
A materials manager provides support to production scheduling, interfaces with the product coordinators to forecast orders, and schedules production. Average salary: $109,492.
Materials planners oversee the supply of raw materials and inventory acquisitions in manufacturing, balancing output and inventory. Average salary: $100,526.
Production planners oversee the daily/weekly/monthly production schedules to manage material, labor, and equipment to make sure deadlines are met for production. Average salary: $58,295.
The production scheduler develops and coordinates manufacturing schedules to manage inventory levels and output. Average salary: $55,678.
Transportation managers oversee the safety, equipment, staff and compliance involved in daily operations. Average salary: $96,655.
Transportation planners develop, manage, and evaluate transportation projects, facilities, and services. Average salary: $77,744.
Warehouse operations managers oversee all warehouse activities including receiving and distribution, inventory, and space distribution. Average salary: $87,200.
Some jobs open to candidates with master's degrees in supply chain management pay quite a lot. The top-paying jobs for professionals in supply chain management careers pay above $90,000, and some pay more than six figures. They include:
The VP of supply chain management oversees all functions and processes of the supply chain for their company. Average salary: ($165,978).
Global supply chain managers working in hospitality, healthcare and technology make the highest salaries. Average salary: $115,000.
The director acts as the key purchasing agent and strategist for performance management. Average salary $127,499.
The purchasing manager oversees all forecasting and negotiates contracts for major purchases. Average salary $120,294.
The procurement manager sources the materials, products and services for their company. Average salary: $120,000.
The logistics manager plans for policies and creates logistical management procedures. Average salary: $115,902.
Supply chain managers oversee all communication and coordination between outside vendors and other internal departments. Average salary: $111,698.
The production manager handles all production areas to monitor cost and standard. Average salary: $106,910.
The operations manager supervises employees, oversees product quality programs, and assesses processes. Average salary: $105,595.
The transportation storage and distribution manager oversees ordering, shipping, and inventory for larger manufacturing firms. Average salary: $105,240.
Of course, you don't necessarily need a degree to secure any of these jobs. Having a master's degree will probably make the journey from your current position to one of those high-paying jobs faster. Still, don't make assumptions about what degrees you have to have. The smartest thing you can do is look at actual job listings for positions with these titles and see what degrees hiring managers are asking for. You'll also learn a lot about what employers are actually paying in your area.
If you're not entirely sure you want to stay in supply chain management for your entire career, you may get more value out of an Master of Business Administration program with a supply chain management concentration than you would out of an MSCM program. That's because Master of Science in Supply Chain Management programs focus almost entirely on how to solve supply chain challenges and the best strategies for optimizing supply chain management processes. This degree will prepare you to work in SCM, full stop. An MBA program in supply chain management, on the other hand, is first and foremost a business degree. It exposes students to the kinds of business fundamentals that will be useful if they decide to transition away from supply chain management.
To answer this question—or at least put you on track to answer it for yourself—let's review the facts:
A master's degree can help you land a job and possibly make more money, but it's not a guarantee that you'll achieve your dream job. According to one Quora commenter, a master's degree is probably most useful if you work in the procurement, sourcing, buying and merchandising side of SCM and least useful in transportation and distribution.
You may be even more in demand with an advanced degree.
It can be stressful work because the supply chain never sleeps, but it's work that's interesting and rewarding. If you want to transition to a career where job security and job satisfaction are the norm, a master's degree in supply chain management can help you do that.
The cost of a master's degree can be a critical factor, but weighing the cost against the future salary potential may help you make your decision.
Put it all together, and getting an MSCM is probably going to be worthwhile to anyone who finds this work engaging and satisfying. If logistics is your game, SCM may be the field for you.
(This article was updated on Monday, October 4, 2021.)
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