Pushing Your Career to a Higher Degree

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Whether you're looking to broaden your professional education, gain expertise in a particular area, or land a management position, advanced education in logistics and supply chain management is quickly becoming a must for industry professionals. Here is a closer look at how the right degree program can fast-track your logistics career.

As a 20-year veteran of the logistics industry, Randall Wilson has his share of on-the-job experience. Currently working as global director of account solutions at UTi, a global integrated logistics company, Wilson previously held positions in airfreight forwarding, international forwarding, and fourth-party logistics operations.

But when he began a position working with people whose formal logistics education was more advanced than his own, Wilson decided to leverage his experience with a logistics degree program that would elevate his career path.

That boost came in the form of the Master's of Science in Logistics program offered by Michigan State.

"I first began looking at MBA programs," says Wilson, "but at this point in my career, I knew I was staying in the logistics industry. The MBA, with its broad coverage of business issues, would not provide the most relevant education for my professional development."

Deciding to obtain an advanced degree or professional certification in logistics requires a commitment of time, effort, and cost, but it can make a huge difference in career development.

"It took me to another level in my profession," Wilson says. "The program allowed me to look at areas of the supply chain that I would not have considered before."

With a background primarily in transportation, Wilson was able to explore new supply chain areas such as procurement, IT systems, and statistics through the Master's program.

"I was unfamiliar with these areas of the industry," he says. "This program helped broaden my scope of supply chain knowledge."

The benefits reaped from an advanced education, however, may depend on a person's logistics background. For those with no formal education in logistics or supply chain management, advanced degree or executive education programs can provide the basics of the industry and explain the terminology, concepts, and principles behind logistics and supply chain management.

For professionals with an undergraduate degree in logistics and experience in the field, an advanced education grants increased depth of knowledge, and the opportunity to learn through analysis rather than theory.

"Students get more hands-on experience and greater focus on problem-solving in a graduate program than they get from an undergraduate education," says David J. Closs, professor of business administration for the department of marketing and supply chain management at Michigan State University.

Path to Promotion

If you hope to be considered for a promotion, advanced education may be the only way to go. "Some companies look at advanced degrees in logistics and supply chain management as a requirement for promotion beyond a certain level," adds Closs.

"My original intent in earning a Master's in logistics was to gain enough knowledge of the field to show executive management that supply chain management is not a necessary evil, but rather a strategic area of the organization that increases customer and investor value," says Robert J. Thompson, logistics manager at Woodinville, Wash.-based Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates.

Thompson also received a Master's in logistics from Michigan State. "The education I received expanded my knowledge base," he says. "It enabled me to articulate how logistics and supply chain management can evolve from cost and functional centers to an integrated process-driven part of the organization."

The opportunity to network and make contacts in the field is another reason to pursue an advanced degree or certification.

"The interaction among alumni, professors, and classmates is one of the most important aspects of an advanced education," says Terri Herod, managing director of Georgia Tech's Executive Master's in International Logistics program. "By enrolling in a supply chain program, individuals gain access to companies from around the world and make important contacts."

Advanced logistics education programs also offer professionals access to new technologies. Students in many programs use software and materials—such as networking logistics tools and advanced planning and scheduling tools—they would not otherwise be exposed to.

Narrowing Down the Selection

While the decision to increase knowledge with an advanced logistics degree may seem like a no-brainer, deciding what school to attend and what type of program to enroll in is considerably more difficult.

To receive an education tailored to individual needs, logistics professionals should consider factors such as location, program format, and the real-world applicability of courses when choosing a school.

Once Wilson made the decision to complete his Master's degree in logistics, he narrowed his selection by considering factors such as the reputation of the school's logistics program, the proximity of the campus to his home, and the ability of the program to fit his lifestyle.

"I looked for the university's reputation, faculty knowledge, and the way the program was structured," he says. "A major factor in my decision was the on-campus executive format coupled with individual work via the Internet."

Those are some key factors prospective students typically look for when selecting a university for advanced logistics and supply chain management education, according to a survey of Georgia Tech's alumni, current students, and advisory board.

"Most survey participants say they are not interested in traditional Master's programs that focus on theory rather than real-world applicability," Herod says. "People want to bring a supply chain problem into the classroom and be able to take the knowledge they gain back to their companies."

Making sure the program fits into your schedule is another important factor in selecting a program. Because most professionals are not able to take time off from jobs to attend a university, many schools now incorporate on-site, classroom education with the ability to work independently via the Internet.

While some argue that face time in the classroom is the best way to gain an education, sometimes more interaction occurs between participants and faculty in online programs than in a classroom setting, says Leslie R. Pagliari, Ph.D., assistant professor of industrial distribution and logistics at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

"In the classroom, shy students often do not participate," she says. "But in the online format we see students open up because they are working closely with them both online and over the phone."

Making a Connection

Whether you choose to attend an on-campus program, an online-based program, or one that combines both, getting involved with the right people can make a big difference.

"A number of students question us as to which faculty members will be teaching each course," says Closs. "They want a strong indication that the instructors will help them apply the knowledge they acquire in the field."

Gary Loosle, another graduate of Michigan State's program and senior MSC business systems analyst at hardware retailer True Value Company, agrees that a professor can make or break your experience.

"When considering a university for advanced supply chain education, talk to the professors about their backgrounds," Loosle advises. "Find out if they are involved in the industry or if they are primarily teachers. Look for professors who consult for and interact with the supply chain management community.

"Seek out the movers and shakers in the field, and you will come away with a more beneficial experience."

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