Continuing Education: Making the Right Selection

Continuing Education: Making the Right Selection

Consider all the available options
Make your choice
Commit to the investment
Dive in and enjoy the benefits

Every day, logistics professionals learn on the job. The mix of challenges they face managing extended global supply chains ensures that. But, attaining a more formal education— through classroom work, workshops, or study courses— presents a different set of challenges.

The economic downturn has affected program enrollment at universities and logistics/supply chain management professional associations. In difficult times, companies cut travel and education budgets.

Some logistics professionals feel strongly enough about boosting their knowledge and skills that they pursue learning opportunities on their own. Technology has been a boon in allowing many educational programs to be packaged electronically and operated either as one-way communication, such as Webcasts, or as full-fledged, accredited academic courses conducted online.

Choosing the best education/career path can be daunting in the face of the myriad options: Workshops? Webinars? Executive education? Certification? Academic certificate? Degree? What type and which concentrations?


The first step is deciding whether to pursue an education in logistics or supply chain management.

Some of the most passionate debates in academic circles still center on what constitutes supply chain management and its place in the academic structure. Not surprisingly, that same debate rages in the commercial world.

Early in your educational decision process, identify which camp you, your company, and your target career opportunity belong to. Is it logistics? Supply chain management? Follow that with a careful review of how the educational resource you choose is positioned, and how it presents its logistics and supply chain content.

“Ohio State University has thus far fought the temptation to rename our logistics programs as supply chain management. That’s because we turn out about 225 graduates a year and they find jobs,” says Douglas M. Lambert, Raymond E. Mason chair in transportation and logistics, and director of the Global Supply Chain Forum at Ohio State University. “At the MBA level, we offer a smaller program that combines operations and logistics.”

Lambert recalls an educators’ conference during the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) annual meeting, where a panel of legendary logistics academics debated what constituted supply chain management. One panelist used the terms logistics and supply chain management interchangeably. Another described supply chain management as “logistics on steroids,” says Lambert. And one noted it is still important for logistics to have its own place.

“Back up a bit and ask, ‘What is a supply chain?’” Lambert advises. “If you are going to manage it, you’ve got to figure out what it is. At Ohio State, we define it as a network of companies. And we don’t think it’s possible to manage a network with fewer functions than it takes to manage one company.”

Lambert offers the example of two companies sharing a supply chain relationship: Coca-Cola and Cargill are conducting joint research and development on Truvia, a new zero-calorie, natural sweetener. Coca-Cola holds the exclusive rights for the product’s use in beverages, and Cargill the rights for all non-beverage food uses. They also are working together to reduce their logistics operations’ carbon footprint.

“The relationship comprises far more than purchasing, logistics, and operations,” says Lambert. “It has CEO-to-CEO involvement.”

In addition, Coca-Cola and its rival PepsiCo share common raw materials vendors in their supply chains and sell to some of the same customers, such as major food chains and mass retailers.

“Supply chain management is really about relationship management,” notes Lambert. “If Coke manages relationships better than Pepsi, it wins more often. If Colgate manages relationships better than Procter & Gamble, then it wins more often.”

Determine whether you want to take the broad, multi-functional, multi-discipline, multi-industry approach to your education, or concentrate on certain fundamentals.

MS or MBA?

“Students often ask whether they should pursue a Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree,” says Bob Novack, associate professor, supply chain management, Pennsylvania State University. “To me, an MBA is career changing— if you’re an engineer and want to establish a business career, get your MBA. An MS is career enhancing, often completed to deepen knowledge and skills in a specific field or discipline.”

Because many of the master’s programs Novack oversees are online, and students don’t have to quit their jobs to attend, they attract a wide mix of individuals and experience levels.

Students with a range of backgrounds and experience are also attracted to Cleveland State University’s (CSU) executive MBA program (EMBA).

“The curriculum for CSU’s EMBA is designed to provide a foundation in the various logistics disciplines, an understanding of the theory, and the application of management skills,” says Elad Granot, director, executive MBA and accelerated MBA programs, Nance College of Business, CSU. The core curriculum includes a class in supply chain management that explores this cross-functional, multi-disciplinary management approach.

Cleveland State added the EMBA and accelerated MBA programs to its curriculum in response to local and regional needs. “The university reflects the economy of the region. The industries that tend to thrive here range from healthcare to education to manufacturing, alternative energy, and sustainable business,” says Granot. “We are partners with, and cater to, those markets.”

The EMBA is a weekend-based, two-year program for working professionals. The Accelerated MBA (AMBA) is a shorter program, also weekend-based, for recent graduates who want to pursue their MBA on a faster track. In addition, the university offers a broad mix of master’s programs, including operations and supply chain management degrees that reflect a more conventional operations, logistics, and supply chain management concentration.

Find a Mode

Whether you are a multi-discipline relationship manager or deep-dive practitioner, once you determine where you want to target your new skills, you can identify who can deliver them and by what method.

Heading the list of options is the conventional approach of becoming a full-time student in a campus setting. But, for many professionals who have started their career or who are mid-career, becoming a full-time student isn’t an option.

If you live in the vicinity of a university that offers the type of logistics or supply chain program you want to pursue, you’ll likely find flexible options. Some weekend-based programs may be more general— operating from a fixed curriculum in exchange for speed. Other programs may offer opportunities to specialize, but require a longer time commitment and less-conventional approaches.

Enter technology. “We used to conduct correspondence courses through the mail,” says Penn State’s Novack. “Now we offer an online Professional Masters Degree, where students come to the campus for one week in their first year, then do all their course work and papers online.”

The online courses are accredited by the graduate school and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “Online courses have opened a whole new market for executive education,” Novack notes. “People no longer have to attend a university full-time to take courses and matriculate into a degree. They can continue working and still earn a degree.”

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), even MBA students are enrolling in a degree program that focuses on supply chain management, says Jim Rice, deputy director, MIT center for transportation and logistics. And professionals from other diverse fields are realizing the need to concentrate, and identifying supply chain management as that opportunity.

The MIT program recruits corporate sponsors who are involved with the students. “In fact, each student’s thesis is a direct response to a problem that has been presented by a corporate partner/sponsor,” Rice adds.

The degree involves attending a full-time program, but in nine months, students receive a Masters of Engineering in Logistics. As with Cleveland State University’s executive MBA program, the MIT program is designed for professionals who are at least five to seven years into their careers and looking to take that next step.

“Employers aren’t just looking for a person who can develop and operate a model,” Rice notes. “They’re looking for graduates with the ability to manage across disciplines and globally.”

Another fast-track approach is to earn a certificate in logistics, supply chain management, or a related discipline. “Students can earn a certificate by coming to the university and attending our week-long executive programs,” says Novack. “But they can also get a graduate certificate of supply chain by taking four graduate-level courses online.

“The best bet for some students is to pursue the graduate certificate earned by taking four courses online,” he adds. “Then they can decide whether they think it’s worth the investment to get a master’s degree.”

MIT offers a certificate program through its Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence Centers in Zaragoza, Spain; Bogota, Colombia; and its newest site in Malaysia. Bogota offers a certificate to students who take a certain number of credits and attend MIT for a few weeks. “In Zaragoza we also offer a certificate from MIT if students complete the master’s course that we co-designed,” says Chris Caplice, executive director, Center for Transport and Logistics, MIT.

Earning Credentials

Degrees carry weight in career development, and certificate programs that allow working professionals or students to concentrate in an area and quantify that education without requiring the full measure of time and expense associated with a degree program can add to your professional credentials.

But you can take another route to achieving recognized professional credentials. Many professional associations offer certification in one or more categories. Some associations that don’t offer certification have arrangements with associations that do.

Some associations offering certifications in logistics and supply chain management include:

  • The American Society of Transportation and Logistics (AST&L) offers a Certification in Transportation and Logistics (CTL) and Professional Designation in Logistics and Supply Chain Management (PLS).
  • The Association for Operations Management (APICS) offers both the Certified Production Inventory Management (CPIM) and Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) certifications.
  • The Institute of Supply Management (ISM) runs its Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) program.
  • Supplier-focused groups such as the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) and Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) set and recognize member qualifications.

Some designations have international standing and/or offer some reciprocity with credentials from other professional associations. As with university degree and non-degree programs, deciding which professional credentials might be important to you depends on your career direction and the need to quantify your skills and knowledge for a current or future employer.

Various organizations may have differing views of supply chain management’s definition or role. Rather than focus only on these differences, many associations have come together to collaborate and broaden the scope of their own conferences and educational opportunities through close affiliation with other groups. This collaboration can extend to offering discounted rates for various products and services to each other’s members.

For example, CSCMP members have access to APICS study materials and can take APICS certification tests at the member rate, says Kathleen Hedland, CSCMP’s director of education and research.

The body of knowledge and specific requirements for each association’s designation will vary. For instance, AST&L’s PLS requires students to pass an exam based on a text and study guide. Its CTL requires candidates to complete examination modules in international transport and logistics, logistics management, transportation economics management, and three electives.

Those who achieve the APICS CSCP designation can obtain AST&L certification through a special waiver. The CSCP takes a broader view of some subjects than the CPIM as they apply to the supply chain (vendors and customers).

The ISM CPSM certification also has study guides and three exams. ISM offers a bridge exam for certified purchasing managers that requires only one exam.

Many who have attained professional certification compare the process to earning a degree in terms of content and rigor. In some cases, university courses qualify as fulfilling certification requirements, and similarly, some university credit can be gained for completing various study and exam requirements for some associations’ certification programs.

But the major difference between professional certification and a university degree is that most professional certifications require renewal. Renewal includes continuing education.

Education Without the Strings

Continuing education opportunities are also available through commercial education and training sources. Many commercial programs are practical or compliance-based programs such as hazardous materials training, Incoterms, or Customs compliance, for example. But a number of programs focus on high-level, strategic logistics and supply chain subjects and areas.

Executive education takes a few forms. One is the open enrollment program offered by a university or professional association. Another is the on-site, tailored programs those same institutions can build for a company or group.

CSCMP, for instance, offers open-enrollment workshops focusing on supply chain fundamentals and strategic issues. It also develops and delivers other workshops, and will tailor them for specific companies or groups. “Often, a company will send someone to an open-enrollment workshop to get a feel for it, then ask CSCMP to tailor that program to the company or its industry,” says Hedland.

CSCMP often recruits members to serve as faculty for its workshops and seminars. The association may use its core presenters for the tailored programs and add a specific subject matter expert from among its members in industry or academics.

Some longer executive education programs can span one or two weeks. Penn State, for example, adapted a two-week program for the Marine Corps that it presents on campus or at the Marine Corps facility. The program has travelled overseas to reach Marine Corps groups not based in the United States.

In addition to face-to-face interaction and bonding, another advantage of these tailored programs that many companies value is the common foundation they build for the group.

The Marine Corps is undergoing a logistics modernization program, and the university has been conducting these programs for the Marines for a number of years. “The Marines are trying to reinvent how they do supply and maintenance and to streamline their processes,” says Novack.

Basically, the Marines manage maintenance and supply differently in garrison and in deployment. “The Marines say, ‘We want to train like we fight,’” says Novack. “They want to have one standardized process.”

Companies also have benefitted from this approach, sending teams to executive education or bringing tailored programs into their organization. “With an on-site program, 25 people get the same message at the same time,” says Lambert. “Not only do they learn a common set of tools, they speak the same language and have an opportunity to bond with their counterparts.”

Bonding becomes an important part of the program and companies that send teams of people to an open-enrollment program presented by the university often plan additional events for those teams while they are together. The teams aren’t necessarily from the same site or division, or even the same country, and the dissemination of a common message and method is one key to why these programs are valuable for multinational companies with global supply chains.

From an individual perspective, open enrollment courses allow a different type of bonding. Executives who attend by themselves, or with one or two other colleagues, sit with peers from other companies and industries and have an opportunity to interact, and share insights and solutions. It’s a non-quantifiable multiplier of the learning experience, but one that attendees say provides great value.

Sometimes a customer and supplier will jointly attend a specific executive education program. Though educators agree there is value in having a common message or foundation extend to a supply chain, to date, the focus has been on the single enterprise.

investing in the future

In today’s tough economy, travel and training budgets have been slashed to the point where executive education programs have felt the bite. The universities involved in executive programs have made adjustments and moved ahead, but the greater cost may lie in the missed opportunity for logistics professionals to learn and gain insights to more effectively manage supply chain uncertainty and risk.

This is a time when companies should be investing in key people to hone their skills. But, when budgets are cut, some individuals will take matters into their own hands. Lambert recounts the case of a woman who, after her company cut the on-site programs the university had been presenting, felt disadvantaged in her own career. So she signed up for the comparable open-enrollment program and continued her education on her own.

Online, on campus, or on-site, continuing education in logistics and supply chain management offers many options and many benefits both to individual careers and enterprises. With new hiring coming on slowly, and demand for deeper supply chain skills increasing, now is the time to invest in continuing education.

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