A career in supply chain management (SCM) can be rewarding. Don’t take our word for it, though; listen to industry insiders. According to a 2020 Association for Supply Chain Management (APICS) report, 88 percent of SCM professionals reported a positive career outlook, and 92 percent said they would likely recommend the field to another person.
And why not? SCM pays well and promotes upward career mobility. According to that same APICS survey, professionals received raises in 2020 at a high rate—4.7 percent instead of the national average of 3.5 percent—and took home a median annual salary of $82,007. Those who complete a certification program or return to school for a supply chain management degree like a Master of Science or Master of Business Administration (MBA) often make even more than those who hold only a bachelor’s degree.
Supply chain management can be rewarding, but it isn’t for everybody. SCM professionals typically work long hours under heavy stress. Problems arise quickly and unexpectedly and demand immediate solutions—think resolving a last-minute shipping issue halfway across the world in the middle of the night. If the thought of that doesn’t phase you, SCM may be your field. We’ve got 9 clear signs you need to pursue a career in supply chain management. We also discuss:
The definition of a supply chain is much simpler than the thing itself. It’s the path that goods take from creation to delivery—raw material to end-user. The supply chain is not a physical thing but rather a process—one that involves many people.
Supply chain professionals typically participate in only one link of the supply chain. For example, a warehouse manager receives shipments and ensures they reach their destination but has no impact on assembling goods or making sales.
There’s no single supply chain but rather many interlocking ones. One container ship may hold a crate of shoes and a crate of medical supplies, produced in different countries but headed to the same destination.
One thing is crystal clear: the modern world as we know it is unimaginable without complex, efficient supply chains.
Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (
You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. ( )
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According to Michigan State University, “Supply chain managers work across multiple functions and companies to ensure that a finished product not only gets to the end consumer, but meets all requirements as well.”
Supply chain managers typically oversee multiple supply chain functions, including operations and purchasing. Because this is a management role, you’ll typically have a hand in business-focused decision-making like hiring and firing. Supply chain managers deal with a company’s bottom line and constantly look for areas to cut costs while improving efficiency.
Supply chain manager is a job title and a term that can be used for other logistics and supply chain positions. Logistics is a significant aspect of supply chain management that focuses primarily on the actual operation of moving goods.
Warehouse managers are supply chain managers who focus on inventory control. Purchasing managers focus specifically on procurement, often trying to get the best price in raw materials or shipping terms. Other responsibilities for SCM professionals may include:
SCM and logistics job titles include:
Supply chain management is not for everybody. The field can be stressful and tumultuous, requiring attention to detail and a big-picture knowledge of events. Still, supply chain managers have high job satisfaction.
How do you know whether you’re cut out for a career as a supply chain manager? You might be a natural-born supply chain manager if:
Attention to detail is an essential skill for SCM professionals. Supply chain managers often work on margins to identify cost-saving opportunities or ways to improve efficiency. This means you should be able to analyze each aspect of a supply chain process carefully. You may also need to work with trade laws and regulations, meaning staying current on changing laws and tariffs that can impact your business and adjusting accordingly.
While you may not do calculus daily—or at all—if you pursue an SCM career, you must be able to work with numbers. Master’s degree programs like a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management or Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Supply Chain Management include coursework in finance and accounting.
Management positions typically focus on money. In addition to saving costs, you’ll likely perform tasks like forecasting to determine the profitability of a new company policy or shipping practice. This requires a substantial amount of financial knowledge. According to Logistics Bureau, “You will have a huge advantage and the potential to shine as a leader if you can quantify how your supply chain leadership decisions affect your bottom line.”
Another subject that SCM professionals need, and one you’ll typically study in an MBA or MS program, is analytics. While they may not know as much as a data scientist or analyst, SCM professionals should be able to leverage databases and understand how to glean insights from data.
SCM professionals benefit from the ability to utilize:
SCM professionals must be able to understand markets, including international markets. Thanks to globalization, products are seldom produced and sold in one country. According to a 2014 paper in Global Edge Business Review, “Global supply chains will increase their strategic influence on companies’ performance from 21 to 25 percent in 5 years.” The study also states that “Today’s supply chains need to become 43 percent more global in the next decade to stay competitive.”
Technology is more necessary to SCM than ever before. Producers and customers can track goods through shipping labels, allowing for greater agency in the process.
Information technology solutions play a significant and growing role in the supply chain. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help improve decision-making with precise data analytics. Blockchain may optimize the tracking process. Live data from the Internet of things can provide functions like up-to-the-second weather reports, which decision-makers can use to quickly change shipping routes.
According to N-ix, a Ukrainian IT company, machine learning can help anywhere “from cost savings through reduced operational overhead and risk mitigation, to enhanced supply chain forecasting, speedy deliveries, and improved customer service.” In customer service, chatbots can reduce hold times by taking care of simple issues. Warehouse operators can use increasingly accurate predictions of the number of goods they need to implement better inventory management practices.
SCM professionals don’t necessarily design IT or technical solutions, but they must know how to implement them properly. This means identifying the correct answer for a problem and being technically literate enough to understand an IT professional’s proposal.
You do not need to be a data scientist to excel at SCM, but a grasp of data analytic fundamentals will serve you well. Other professionals will take care of advanced issues like creating data warehouses and setting up data mining systems. Your goal is to be able to read and understand data reports.
Attending a supply chain master’s program can teach the necessary skills to design and conduct data analytics processes. Students in the The University of Tennessee – Knoxville Online MS in Supply Chain Management, for example, complete a data modeling and analytics course that covers “the application and development of advanced modeling techniques for the analysis of strategic, tactical, and operational supply chain problems.” These problems may include:
Students also take a supply chain planning and analysis course focused on applying analytics to business objectives.
According to the APICS supply chain manager competency model, SCM professionals must have interpersonal skills to collaborate with clients and third parties, including those who speak different languages, manage a team of people, and work with other management professionals. As much as this role depends on technology and analytics, it relies on precise communication and conflict resolution even more. To be a good supply chain manager, you must make things run smoothly on all fronts, including coordinating with agents outside your company to get a product from one end of the chain to the other.
Communication helps cultivate trusting relationships and elicit the best from team members who often work under heavy stress, threatening group success. According to an APICS study, “Communication and many other soft skills remain integral to supply chain project management, even with improved tools and technologies.”
According to Logistics Bureau, supply chain management professionals must have sharp negotiation skills in interpersonal and group settings. Examples include trying to get your team to buy into your idea and selling a proposal to a potential business partner. You may also need to negotiate for products and services, such as IT solutions, supplies and logistics operations, or outside organizations like unions. According to the article, being a good negotiator can mean that you aren’t looking to “win” the situation. It may involve finding a middle ground and building a stronger working relationship with the group you’re engaging.
This is a top skill for any SCM professional. The industry can change without notice, and you must be able to compensate quickly and effectively. According to an op-ed in Supply Chain Management Review, “Flexibility gives us the chance to meet unexpected challenges without buckling.”
As the global supply chain network continues to grow, the need for flexible decision-makers increases. Customers are demanding more products at greater speed. Goods pass through more hands-on their path to the consumer. And, unforeseeable issues like natural disasters become more common. To compensate for these issues, you must be able to think on your feet.
It’s tough to be a natural-born anything; skills are learned rather than imparted by a mythic deity. Attending a graduate program or completing a certification can be an excellent way to enhance your skill set and practice in an area of the supply chain that doesn’t come naturally to you. Additionally, you don’t need to excel at each of these skills to be considered an excellent supply chain professional. The job ultimately relies on being able to get things done, no matter the methods.
Excellent supply chain jobs typically require a few years of experience, which often means spending time in multiple positions. According to another APICS study, SCM professionals spend time in at least two or three operations or management positions, allowing them to explore the field and discover the best use of their skill sets. With people skills and a willingness to learn, supply chain management can be an excellent career for you.
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