The concept of supply chain in business has grown substantially over the last three decades as well as the need for young supply chain professionals. Universities across the country are quickly catching on to this as they continue to add courses into their curriculum in hopes to catch up to the likes of Michigan State and Penn State Universities. Everyone seems to have their own definition as the idea of supply chain varies significantly depending on a company’s point-of-view within a given industry.

Often when people hear the words “supply chain” they often think of logistics from a distributor’s or manufacturer’s mindset when there is much more to the equation. In short, supply chain focuses primarily on process improvement. The process improvement can come in a variety of ways and is represented by many key metrics or KPIs. Supply Chain encompasses all of the processes and activities that move a company’s product or service, from raw materials (or beginning stages) to finished goods/services, to the end-user, as quickly, safely, and cost-effectively as possible with a strict focal point on supplier selection and management. Given the definition it becomes easy to understand how a supply chain can vary when looking from unique point-of-views’ of a manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler, retailer, consulting firm etc. Departments within a company can include anything from inventory management, lean Six-sigma, manufacturing, engineering, operations, sourcing, procurement, logistics, category management, merchandising, and many more. In the best environments, these departments all work cross-functionally to increase revenue/profit margin or reduce cost in a healthy/sustainable matter.

The above definition lends itself to an ever-changing/ever-growing area in business that is supply chain. Technology has driven and will continue to drive a majority of this change but it’s equally important to understand changes in the market as well as the user base; whether it be generational or current trends. The goal of any business is to generate revenue. In order to maintain sales growth you need a flexible supply chain to react to all of the changes around you. Supply chain professionals must be equipped with the following:

Analytical capabilities – Being good with numbers is only the beginning. It’s what you can do with those numbers and how you can present them that is most important. Taking large sets of data and manipulating them into tangible tasks, goals, and strategies is what makes supply chain professionals so appetizing to employers.

Business acumen – Having the ability to think from a high-level is crucial. The best way to so is to draw from past experiences and keeping up with the industry you are in to make educated decisions based on your findings in a project. Business acumen comes from experience and continuous learning initiatives.

Interpersonal/Communication skills – At all stages of a project supply chain professionals must keep their key stakeholders engaged. Whether you are in scope of work, data collection, research, analysis, RFx, negotiation, contract, presentation, or implementation ( communication skills are essential to keeping things moving. The concept of relationship building is always present as you never know what potential business/projects are down the road.

Software/Program/Language understanding: Often times, companies require an understanding or fluency of certain software or programs. They may be (should be) willing to invest in training but becoming fluent in SAP, AWR (Advanced Warehouse Replenishment), Alternate Planning, Microsoft Access, PowerPoint, Visio & Excel, Tableau, SharePoint and writing Sequel will only help build a career in supply chain.

Flexibility: Act like a sponge absorbing as much category, department, and industry knowledge as possible.

·         Willingness to jump between departments and see the business and supply chain from as many perspectives as possible will aid in seeing the bigger picture

·         Willingness to jump between industries and sectors can also enhance one’s career

The main takeaway is that Supply Chain isn’t going anywhere! Young professionals who can analyze a problem and successfully communicate results and go-forward strategies will be needed for years to come. As technology continues to advance and the push to automate processes accelerates employers are actively searching for critical thinkers. There is more to it than first meets the eye. Building a career in supply chain requires experience in many departments, categories, and industries. As your resume continues to grow with subject matter expertise opportunities will follow. A lot of what you’ll learn along the way can be applied to new projects down the road. The exciting part is learning from your mistakes and drawing from past experiences. Inventory Management and Procurement are two of the larger sectors in supply chain. In a future post, I will discuss how many supply chain experts, have experience in both as they dramatically sharpen one’s analytical ability.
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  1. Without argue, Supply Chain has grown substantially as a buzzword in the last few decades and is now a common degree throughout many universities. But it is not new. Thousands of years ago battles and wars were won by the side who had the most sophisticated and flexible supply chains which still holds true today. Globalization has led to intense competition amongst businesses which has transformed the business landscape to look more like a battlefield. It is not that businesses or universities just discovered Supply Chain but they did realize it is vital to their existence in today’s constant battle for relevance.

    There is one additional trait that was not mentioned which is vital on any battlefield. Leadership. Supply Chain professional must be comfortable with conflict in order to change common practices by often leading up the chain of command. A supply chain professional that doesn’t possess leadership is like a car without gasoline. It might look pretty but it’s certainly not going to take you where you need to go.