Supply Chain Education and Certification – What’s Missing?

Supply Chain Education and Certification

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The phrase “Supply Chain Management”  was originally coined by Keith Oliver in 1982 and subsequently gained increasing popularity as its usage was proliferated in books and language. That was the start of Supply Chain education.

Since that time there has been an ever increasing number of Universities, Colleges, Institutions and Associations offering credits, diplomas, degrees and certifications in all or some aspect of Supply Chain.

But is just taking courses in basic topics like Procurement, Negotiation, Statistics, Operational Research or Planning sufficient?

While the basic courses are truly important we believe that they are insufficient for really preparing people for a Supply Chain career.

What is missing in Supply Chain education and certification?

Why is Supply Chain Unique?

First let’s consider exactly what Supply Chain Management, or SCM, is and what is its role?

No longer is this just an isolated function or a collection of isolated back office functions.

As articulated in our article What Exactly is Supply Chain Management there are many different definitions. However the common theme is that SCM involves an extraordinarily wide range of tactical and strategic leadership and management activities within any company.

Supply Chain includes planning, budgeting, strategy development, resource planning, capital management, cash flow management, procurement and purchasing, supplier sourcing and management, manufacturing, operations, warehousing, distribution, logistics, inventory management, customer order management, reverse logistics, customer experience, information technology, risk management, business process management, forecasting, information flow and materials flow, and on and on.

There really is no part of any organization that Supply Chain doesn’t have a hand in. Even Marketing and Product Design need Supply Chain. A company can not run without Supply Chain leadership.

Supply Chain touches every aspect of virtually any organization. This is what makes Supply Chain unique amongst every other organizational function and this is what puts Supply Chain in such a critical leadership position.

As such Supply Chain is a very, very broad based profession and can encompass, or lead, most company functions. The Chief Supply Chain Officer can really be considered synonymous with the Chief Operating Officer in any company.

How Does This Impact SCM Training?

Some time ago I was asked to attend an end of program event for Supply Chain certification. I was unable to attend for other reasons but I took the opportunity to ask the administrator what the event was actually about.

He proceeded to tell me about the courses the participants had taken. It was all the basic stuff. A course in Procurement, a course on Inventory management, a course in negotiation, and so on. The event was going to be a recap of what the students had learned in each individual program.

I told him what I thought the Supply Chain skills of the future needed to be and how it should inform their curricula but it just went over his head. He reverted to telling me about all of the individual courses. My confidence in the certification was somewhat diminished.

Talent Management

Now I do believe that training in the basics is absolutely necessary. Students and aspiring professionals need to have a grounding in the basic aspects of every part of Supply Chain, whether they want to be a generalist or if they want to be an expert in a certain area.

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But a grounding in the basic Supply Chain courses is not enough to build the leaders of the future. It may be enough to help someone getting hired into an entry level position but it is not enough for those seeking a professional certification and career growth.

What’s Missing and Why?

Before we talk about what’s missing we need to characterize the Supply Chain of the future.

The future of Supply Chain is a Digital Supply Chain! Period!

That means that, over time, every Supply Chain will be governed by an infrastructure based on full end to end electronic connectivity of every aspect of that Supply Chain.

Manual tasks that dominated Supply Chain jobs a generation ago will be replaced by automated, electronic systems and capabilities.

Purchase orders were hand written. Then they were individually faxed or emailed to suppliers. Changes were discussed over the phone followed up by hand written changes which were again faxed or emailed.

This was, and in many cases still is, the way Supply Chains were managed. Manual handling of goods, forms and information were everywhere.

In the future technologies and electronic connectivity will automate much of this activity. Computers and systems will do all of the transactional and data processing activity. This will also enable the efficient oversight of the entire Supply Chain instantaneously.

Before training and education in the basics was needed because the jobs to be done were transactional. In the future training in the basics is needed only to create a basic understanding of what is going on in the background in a Digital world.

Blockchain, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Predictive Analytics, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Automated vehicles, Robotics, and more will be the prevailing technologies making Supply Chains run.

The skills, education and training that future Supply Chain leaders will need are:

1. Technological Expertise

Supply Chain Professionals will need to be versed in all of these technologies unlike at any time in the past. It won’t be enough to wait for I/T experts to just deliver these technologies and their associated systems.

Supply Chain leaders will require enough knowledge to envision, define, shape the application of these technologies. They won’t need to program but they will need to be so well versed that they can set direction and strategic deployment of these technologies.

This includes having extensive knowledge of best practices, capabilities and benchmarking across all industries everywhere.

2. Applied Holistic End to End Management Expertise

In order to run all of these capabilities Supply Chain leaders will be in a position to manage their end to end Supply Chains more holistically then ever before.

They will be less consumed with transactional activities and more consumed with higher level thinking and decision making, both tactical and strategic. This includes having a deep data analytics mentality, not a data entry focus.

With end to end connectivity of all aspects of the Supply Chain leaders need to be able to comfortably survey the entire landscape and make informed decisions in real time. They need to be able to draw on their broad based education, training and expertise to assimilate all information simultaneously to drive the best decisions.

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3. Control Tower Leadership

Control Towers will emerge as the focal point for overseeing the operation of these Supply Chains. Leaders will need to be able to articulate what they need in these Control Towers and then operate them once implemented.

With all of that information presented in a Control Tower format this will take multi-tasking to a whole new level. Supply Chain professionals must be able to view and react to a large amount of information presented to them in real time. Decision making must be informed and instantaneous.

Situations will arise where Supply Chain leaders must be able to mentally assimilate all of this information and make risk based decisions on the fly on the basis of their experience in managing an end to end Supply Chain holistically.

4. Risk Management Training

Because future Supply Chain leaders will be able to make decisions in real time from a central location that can affect everything they must be adept at calculating and managing risk.

A single bad decision can result in heavy costs, delivery delays, lost customers and revenue, and company failure. Those impacts are real and leaders must be trained appropriately to think clearly and intelligently in those situations to avoid any damaging consequences.

5. Change Leadership and Business Process Transformation Expertise

Anyone who has tried to implement a new system knows that the mechanics of that kind of project are just the tip of the iceberg. Where people, jobs, and business processes are involved there is a very explicit need to lead all aspects of the change you are implementing.

Poor employee engagement and ill-defined and executed business process changes will sabotage any project no matter how good the I/T software is. Supply Chain professionals, especially in their role as leaders of the Digital Supply Chain transition, must be adept at knowing how to effectively lead change in all aspects.

Supply Chain Education in Conclusion

Educational Institutions and Professional Associations must continue to offer courses and training in the basic Supply Chain functions. They do provide the basic knowledge that all Supply Chain professionals require, regardless of how their careers actually progress.

But to equip these professionals for the future that they will be a part of they need to also have higher level skills, training and experience. The intellectual value that they will need to have and employ will only increase.

They need to be able to manage at a very high level. They need to be able to manage end to end Supply Chains electronically covering all stakeholders within and outside a company, across cultures and across geographies.

Supply Chain education including courses, cooperative programs, and high level theses that are designed to allow professionals to learn to apply all of their basic training together into one program will help to set our future leaders on the right path.

Originally published on February 4, 2020.

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