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Supply Chain Management

What to Know If You’re Thinking About Getting a Supply Chain Management Degree

As industry transforms and adopts the technologies associated with Industry 4.0, the demand for supply chain management and logistics professionals has never been higher. We spoke to an administrator and a recent graduate of Marquette University’s MS-SCM program about the changes taking place in this field.

Dr. Mark Barratt

Chair, Management Department, Marquette University

Why should young people consider a career and education in supply chain management?

Supply chain management has gained board-level interest — everyone is looking for solutions.  Just think about Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Uber, etc. — the same dynamic holds for Cisco, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Schneider Electric, Nestle, PepsiCo, Alibaba, Intel, Inditex (Zara), and L’Oreal. 

All are tackling the challenge of addressing online commerce versus out-dated big-box models: new business models enabled by the emerging technologies (e.g., robotics, automation, social media, AI); supply and demand disruptions caused by global tensions and trade concerns; supply chain disruptions caused by natural disasters and pandemics; and emerging economic concerns caused by the current pandemic. “Talent” is the key issue companies face amidst these issues, and hiring is strong.

Why is 2020 a great year to consider supply chain management as a career?

Over the last 25 years, supply chain management has developed into a competitive advantage for most, if not all, organizations. Now, COVID-19 has made everyone aware of the criticality of resilient supply chains. If we couple this increased awareness with current geo-political issues, it creates the need for a significant re-design of most supply chains, supported by the utilization of Industry 4.0-related technologies. Many of the skills needed to achieve this are lacking in industry.

What is unique about the supply chain field compared to other business careers?

By encompassing several key business functions (operations, distribution, sourcing, inventory management, and customer service), effective supply chain managers are expected to think and act as close to “general managers” as any business function. Being an effective manager means not only understanding key business areas and their impact on the company’s customers and finances, but also being able to work across an organization and throughout its supply and distribution base.

How can an education in the field separate someone from the pack?

Many managers recognize the new terminology emerging from the digital era, but when it comes to what their companies are doing, the picture reveals that a significant minority of firms are actually deploying Industry 4.0-related technologies and capabilities. 

Legacy supply chain education is scrambling to teach and develop these digital skills and capabilities effective managers need in this new world. Our Master’s in Supply Chain Management, now in its third year, was developed in the midst of the current disruption and focuses on Industry 4.0-related skills and managing the development of digital supply chains. 

In the next five years, where do you see the most opportunities for young professionals in the field?

People willing to try solving problems where no “shrink-wrapped” solutions exist; people with the ability to lead others through their earned credibility and mutual respect; and people adept at dealing with people and technology. Those with analytical skills and an understanding of Industry 4.0 related technologies will stand out. 

If you enjoy constant change, challenge, and complexity, supply chain management is for you!

What is something that can get prospective students really excited about pursuing a degree in supply chain management?

You will be in a field where industry cannot get enough talent. In a world of increasing change and complexity, opportunities are almost endless.

Jackie Rice

2020 M.S. in Supply Chain Management (MS-SCM) Graduate, Marquette University 

What motivated you to pursue a major in supply chain management and operations? 

I’ve always had a fascination with puzzles and making things “work” in difficult situations. During my undergraduate studies, I was drawn to supply chain and operations because it’s a field that allows you to be creative in finding solutions for both everyday problems and last-minute changes. 

Another motivator was the versatility of the degree. Any business could benefit from hiring someone with a supply chain/operations management degree — there are endless career options. For my graduate degree, I continued my education in supply chain management because the field has changed so much. Having been in the industry for about five years, I felt it was important to continue to understand how supply chain had changed since I graduated college and what I could be doing to help my company stay competitive in  its supply chain practices. 

What advice would you give to prospective students looking to major in supply chain management? What should they be looking for in a potential degree program?

Do some digging to understand what potential career paths would be open to you if you choose to pursue this degree. You would be surprised by the job variety you can have. There are supply chain jobs in manufacturing, consulting, logistics, retail, customer service, and more. As I said earlier, companies are realizing the need for supply chain/operations management in a big way as business becomes more global. 

Also, stay curious and stay engaged with what’s happening globally. This industry is undergoing changes that will continue for years to come as technology improves. Current students are in a really great position coming into the industry as they are going to be able to help their future companies be able to adapt and work with these changes as they become the new normal.

What is important to you when choosing a school or degree program?

In choosing a school and degree program, I considered a few factors: 

  • The size of the program: I wanted to be able to get to know my cohort and my professors during my graduate school experience, and learn from them as well as the curriculum. 
  • The direction of the program: Having already studied supply chain management, I wanted a program that would further my knowledge and teach me new concepts. Marquette University’s MS-SCM program focused on things such as IOT, Industry 4.0, Blockchain, Data Analytics, and many other newer concepts in the supply chain management world that I didn’t have a strong grasp on prior to the program. 
  • The on-site learning:One thing I was nervous about, having received almost exclusively in-person instruction for my undergraduate degree, was being able to engage online. The workshops that are offered as a part of this program were something I placed a lot of value on in my search for an online program and they turned out to be quite beneficial in furthering my online education. 

What is one fascinating tidbit related to the supply chain industry that you learned during your studies?

Honestly, there is much more than just one tidbit I found fascinating that I learned. 

I think one of the more fascinating, all-encompassing concepts we talked about quite thoroughly was simply the fact that we are in a new Industrial Age: Industry 4.0. While we are still in its early stages, the rate of adoption of new technologies is going to speed up in the coming years, requiring us all to be more cognizant of what is happening globally, and requiring companies to make quick-step changes to match their capabilities with their competitors. Companies who aren’t able to adapt and change will quickly find themselves unable to catch up to the rest of their industry. 

I could go on about the importance of everyone continuing to educate themselves on these changes, but, needless to say, now is the right time to pursue an education in supply chain and to continue to actively educate yourself even if you are not in school!

How do you think we can encourage more students to pursue a career in supply chain and logistics?

We need to inform students about the overall utility of a career in supply chain/logistics. As I said before, there are a wide range of opportunities students can pursue with this degree. We need to make sure they understand supply chain is more than just manufacturing or getting things from “Point A to Point B.” The technology that is becoming prevalent in supply chain and the data analytics that are going to be needed in the future almost make it more comparable to degrees like management information systems than some of the other careers students may compare it to. 

 In terms of your career, where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to have transitioned from working in a manufacturing supply chain-related role into a more strategic, supply chain-planning role. Throughout my time at Marquette, while completing the MS-SCM degree, I’ve become fascinated with some of the new technologies and why companies chose to pursue them. I’d one day like to be a part of a team that helps lead supply chain change at a company. 

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