April 2012 | Commentary | Smart Moves

Universities Produce Supply Chain Management Talent

Tags: Education & Careers

Joel Sutherland is Managing Director, University of San Diego's Supply Chain Management Institute, 619-260-2794

Where do companies find their supply chain talent? Does that talent match their needs? Are supply chain management skill requirements the same across all industries?

Firms, universities, and professional associations have struggled with these questions for years, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers.

Universities are similar to manufacturing companies in that, to survive and prosper, they must create products that are in demand. Schools offering logistics education must understand industry's evolving supply chain management needs, and develop a curriculum that produces talent that supports those needs. They must also review and adjust their supply chain course offerings regularly to ensure they stay current with industry's changing and evolving needs.

At a recent logistics conference, a supply chain executive at a well-known global manufacturing company discussed the critical role his company's talent-development program plays in its supply chain strategy. The organization hires talented students who closely match its needs, then invests heavily in that human talent for five years. The company's management talent rotates through various cross-functional roles across the country and internationally.

How can universities create the supply chain talent companies such as this one are seeking? Some schools have found that working closely with industry helps them understand companies' skillset requirements and evolving needs.

Here are some insights these schools have gained about industry's needs and the best approach to producing talent that aligns with these demands:

  • No two supply chains are the same. Students must acquire a broad background in supply chain management concepts and skills; the firms that hire them can later train them in company-specific processes and procedures.
  • Real-world experience matters. Working outside the classroom in an experiential activity that increases students' understanding of supply chain practices enhances their value to a firm.
  • Globalization is becoming increasingly important. Many companies are sourcing, manufacturing, and selling globally. Supply chain curricula should, therefore, include global supply chain management practices as a key element.
  • Industry's needs evolve. Topics such as green/sustainable supply chains and global risk mitigation were not routinely taught just a few years ago. Today, expertise in these areas may be essential to a firm's long-term survival.
  • An end-to-end supply chain understanding is essential. While young talent will not initially be given end-to-end responsibilities that involve everything from sourcing to end customer delivery, it is necessary that they understand the importance and value that an integrated supply chain provides.
  • Industry/university relationships are vital. Companies that have developed a close working and recruiting relationship with universities tend to land the best recruits. The students become familiar and comfortable with these companies, and often respond favorably to their recruiting efforts.

Supply chain management's increasing complexity and importance require talent willing to accept increased responsibility. University programs should work closely with industry to understand their changing requirements and develop realistic course offerings to match these needs. Universities not willing to do so may soon discover their programs becoming less attractive to individuals and firms interested in the supply chain field.