Supply Chain Management

Is Supply Chain Management Hard?

Is Supply Chain Management Hard?
Managing supply chains is a science, one that methodical, organized, analytical people can master. Image from Pexels
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Marc Beschler February 24, 2022

If you're interested in and excel at sourcing, procurement, logistics management, and problem solving, you may want to pursue a master's in supply chain management (SCM) for a challenging and rewarding career.

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Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at their newsfeed recently knows that, for various reasons, supply chains are a hot topic. Anytime demand outstrips supply—as it has in the wake of the prolonged COVID pandemic—supply chains make news.

The complexity of moving goods and materials from one destination to another may also have people thinking that supply chain management is exceedingly difficult, which might discourage them from pursuing the career opportunities that a business degree in supply chain management offers. But is supply chain management (SCM) as difficult as it seems?

It’s not hard to see why people come to this conclusion. SCM staples like procurement and inventory management appear challenging even when they’re predominantly local endeavors. If you add globalization into the mix, the entire process can seem daunting.

However, supply chains are manageable. Perhaps more to the point, managing them is a science, one that methodical, organized, analytical people can master. For anyone who fits that description, the rewards from pursuing a master’s degree in supply chain management can be quite significant.

So, is supply chain management hard? This article covers that question and the following topics:

  • Things to know about this supply chain management
  • Will a master’s in supply chain management prepare me for a career in this field?
  • What is a master’s in supply chain management?
  • Top supply chain master’s programs

Is supply chain management hard?

Unsurprisingly, there is no easy answer to the question. As with many things, it depends on your background and education, the skills you already possess and those you are capable of developing. All of this determines whether you will find supply chain management hard or will find success in this field.

Things to know about this supply chain management

Will you find supply chain management challenging? To answer this question, it helps to know something about the major issues that supply chain professionals encounter, such as:

  • Being prepared to be challenged every single day. Chances are your problem-solving skills will be put to the test regularly.
  • Acknowledging that SCM is not just about moving non-sentient physical objects. You also will find yourself having to move sentient physical objects (i.e., people) as well, albeit in less literal ways. You can achieve this through a combination of networking and developing your persuasion skills. You may have never thought of yourself as a ‘people person’ before you took up this profession, but you will afterward.
  • Knowing everything there is to know. The more you know about absolutely everything related to your job, the more effective your performance will be. To learn how to engage in critical thinking about such SCM-related topics as forecasting industry trends (including anticipating high demand), the ins and outs of sourcing, and the availability of certain raw materials is to be that much better prepared for the inevitable surprises mentioned above.
  • Accepting that everything depends on you. You have to reconcile yourself to the fact that, given contemporary levels of competition among businesses, your performance is crucial to your organization’s success. Your decisions often will matter greatly and you’ll need to excel at your job.

Perhaps after going through this list you think, “I can’t handle all of that.” In which case, thanks for reading. Or you may have thought, “This is the text equivalent of looking in a mirror.” In which case, the sooner you take your first step towards your supply chain management degree, the better. Or perhaps you see something in it, but still wonder whether you’ll be able to gain the knowledge and skills you need to follow this particular career path.

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Will a master’s in supply chain management prepare me for a career in this field?

You already may believe that you have what it takes for a job in SCM. You may consider yourself well-versed in such topics as logistics management, operations management, inventory management, project management, or warehouse management. (That’s a whole lot of management.)

But supply chain management is different because SCM is all of these things and more. A master’s in supply chain management can help you gain the sort of wide-angle perspective that is so crucial to true success in SCM. This is undoubtedly why close to half of all supply chain managers take the time to obtain their master’s.

To determine whether a master’s degree in SCM is what you need, you have to know what sort of topics are taught in such a degree program. Supply chain management coursework includes the following subjects:

  • Logistics management: This is the framework for all SCM; it lays out the path that a production process will take from start to finish, including demand chain management, inventory management, and order fulfillment.
  • Data collection and management: These skills ensure that your organization has all of the information it needs (and the ability to communicate it) to make intelligent, timely decisions, including electronic data interchange, enterprise resource planning, and customer relationship management.
  • Managing special stock: This includes issues surrounding specialized stock (liquid logistics and supply chains) and specialized clients (such as military supply chain management).

So, the short answer to the question above is: an SCM master’s degree certainly can prepare you. However, because SCM involves so many different aspects of production, a master’s can lead to any number of supply chain jobs (purchasing manager, business analytics, operations research) instead of or on the way to becoming a supply chain manager.

Hopefully, by this point, your interest has been whetted enough to ask the most fundamental of questions…

What is a master’s in supply chain management?

An MBA in supply chain management is a standard degree in business administration tailored for those who want a career in SCM management. If you choose this option, you will need to find an MBA program that offers the SCM specialization (most do not, although that still leaves plenty of options among those that do). Also be aware that your foundation courses in leadership, marketing, finance, operations, communications, and analytics will likely be taught from a generalist perspective. They will not approach these subjects from an SCM point of view.

A Master of Science in SCM offers another option. In contrast to the MBA, the MS focuses more singularly on supply chain theory and practice. The MS offers a deeper dive into supply chain management, presenting fundamentals within the context of SCM issues and challenges. If your career goals include mastery of supply chain technology, finance, analytics, and planning, the MS may be the better option for you. You will emerge from the program with a deeper understanding of SCM than you would get from an MBA program.

How long does it take to earn a master’s in supply chain management?

Most supply chain management master’s degrees take two years to complete. You will have the choice of taking in-person classes, engaging in online programs, or a combination of the two. Some tracks operate on a compressed timeline. These typically require your full attention, leaving little time for anything else.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

A four-year bachelor’s degree is a must, and you will need to submit an undergraduate transcript with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, letters of recommendation, a CV/resume, and a statement of purpose.

Beyond that, it depends on the school. Most expect you to submit recent GRE or GMAT scores unless you are already a seasoned professional (and it’s worth mentioning here that some programs only accept seasoned professionals). You also may be expected to satisfy certain work requirements.

Curriculum

Courses you’re likely to take in an SCM MBA program include the following (these are offered at Rutgers University):

  • Sourcing
  • Production Logistics
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Distribution
  • Inventory Management

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville‘s Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management curriculum includes the following courses:

  • Supply Chain Strategy & Customer Value
  • Supply Chain Data Modeling & Analysis
  • Supply Chain Finance
  • Supply Chain Information Management & Technology
  • Supply Chain Planning & Analysis
  • Strategic Supply Management & Sustainability
  • Global Supply Chain Management
  • Supply Chain Operations
  • Network Management

The UTK MS program is one of many of its type that require a capstone project to graduate.

Specialization

While supply chain management work often implies a big picture view of the production process, you may find yourself in the course of your studies gravitating towards specific areas that better suit your skills. Any career in SCM is going to demand at least some knowledge of all of the main areas of study. If you find yourself being drawn towards one particular topic or another, you may choose to attempt to make a career by specializing in one of the many sub-topics within an SCM master’s.

Here are some of the SCM specialization areas:

  • Operations Analysis
  • Global Procurement and Supply Management
  • Supply Chain Trends
  • Supply Chain Risk and Disruption Management
  • Global Logistics Management
  • Supply Chain Sustainability

Top supply chain master’s programs

Given the career potential for anyone with a SCM master’s, it isn’t surprising that the top business schools are eager to recruit more students for their programs. US News & World Report, lists the following SCM programs as the best in the US as of 2020:

So, is supply chain management hard? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Such an all-encompassing subject is bound to be complicated, but for those with the right skills, the question ought to be: Is supply chain management worth the trouble? Given the host of career opportunities available with this degree, not to mention the demand for such skills that has arisen in the wake of the pandemic, it’s certainly a question worth exploring.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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