Nearly 30,000 open positions for supply-chain management were listed last month on career site Indeed alone, and from companies including Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft. They sought people skilled in data analytics, strategy, and project management.
Supply-chain management involves overseeing the production and distribution of products, from raw materials and manufacturing to deliveries to warehouses and retail stores. In today’s market, those who work as supply-chain managers analyze mountains of data to improve efficiency and to inform better business decisions that can lead to greater profits.
Managers must understand how emerging technologies can affect their supply chain. That could include the adoption of automation and a disruptive technology in manufacturing such as 3D printing, as well as the potential for drones and autonomous vehicles to deliver goods.
To help prepare workers for the evolving field, certification and master’s degree programs are being offered at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Rutgers, and other schools.
Amy Zeng, assistant dean of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s business school in Massachusetts, is helping her school design a supply chain master’s degree program to be offered in August. It emphasizes technical competencies such as data analytics and emerging technologies.
“There are many opportunities for graduates of these programs to step right into a job in the field,” Zeng says. “With e-commerce, consumers now have more options on where to purchase goods than ever before—which is creating a lot of job openings for supply-chain managers in retail and manufacturing.”
WHAT THE JOB INVOLVES
Some supply chains have historical information that is helpful for demand management, Zeng says. Candy manufacturers, for example, fulfill orders for an upcoming holiday based in part on their customers’ needs in past years. And they must ship by a certain date to meet the seasonal demand.
Other factors create a more challenging decision-making environment, such as a natural disaster. When stores in an affected area run out of bottled water, a supply-chain manager must respond quickly. A lot of factors are at play, Zeng says. How many bottles are in the distribution centers? What’s the best way to transport them to where they’re needed? How quickly can it be done, and at what cost? Such assessments require the ability to analyze data.
Managers also learn how to incorporate new technologies, such as 3D printers. It might be advantageous to adopt the printers to produce items as needed, instead of making them all at once and holding them in stock. That would eliminate the possibility of having a surplus of goods, and could reduce transportation and warehousing costs. Your job as a manager would be handling the logistics, including how best to ship even a single item for an order, instead of a big batch all at once. Your employer might ask you to be in charge of replacing older machinery with 3D printers, overseeing the development of the software and acquiring raw materials for printing.
Other changes supply managers might be involved in include the introduction of drones to deliver goods from a distribution center to a customer’s door and of robots to work in warehouses. And the company might want to employ artificial intelligence and cloud computing systems to manage the information flow.
Beyond the technology, supply-chain managers must have an understanding of global trade policies and be aware of the employer’s environmental footprint, Zeng adds. That could involve relying on recyclable materials and transporting goods in more efficient trucks via different shipping routes.
Managers typically are asked to tackle such issues so their business meets industry standards and beats its competition.
The managers also must have a strong business sense. “A supply chain ties directly to a company’s bottom line,” Zeng says. “There are many ways to make the same product, but to be competitive you have to be able to predict needs, negotiate with suppliers, and be efficient in handling the logistics.”