International supply chains are here to stay. Globalisation means supply chains are longer, more dynamic and carry greater risk today than ever before.
In many industries much capital is invested in stock held in warehouses – supply chain management is key to unlocking effective distribution and performance.
The difficulty in managing complex and fast-changing supply chains has led to greater need for talent, from logistics providers such as UPS to large manufacturing companies and consumer goods groups like Unilever and Airbus.
“There is a hunger – a hunt for talent,” says Kasra Ferdows, a professor of global manufacturing at Georgetown McDonough Business School in the US.
Companies have never been more reliant on their suppliers. They are working with multiple partners, many of whom have hundreds more partners themselves, in ordering materials, managing stock levels and organising delivery to consumers.
The increasingly cross functional and global nature of supply chains means companies in virtually every sector are in need of innovation of their logistics.
There is also opportunity in management consultancy firms including McKinsey & Company and BCG that service these areas, known as operations practice or performance improvement.
Cross-functionality means collaboration is key. Communication with suppliers, logistics companies and retailers has in the past been traced via a messy stream of emails and phone calls. But technological innovation is changing chains’ structure.
Technology – cloud computing, automation software and open-source electronics – has increasingly been called upon to help the complex needs of supply chains.
“It should have dramatic improvement affects,” says Arnold Maltz, associate professor at the supply chain department at Arizona’s W.P Carey School of Business.
Cloud-based collaboration allows companies to track orders in real time and identify where there are problems.
Companies are also experimenting with software to increase efficiency. This includes software that calculates packages’ dimensions to ensure empty parcels are not sent.
“We’re starting to automate warehouses. When that happens, accuracy goes up [and] processes become more stable. A lot of things get better,” Arnold says.
Like at many other business schools, this is reflected in his department’s teaching. Supply chain managers must have a firm grasp of technological advances.
W.P Carey is one of a handful of business schools to offer a specialist master’s in global logistics, as well as a certificate program in supply chain management.
Other areas of innovation include the adoption of big data. Companies are using modelling tools to simulate distribution networks, based on previous sales data. The use of analytics allows supply chain management to minimise stock levels.
“Data is a strong base that allows for better scheduling and logistical process throughout the supply chain,” says Eugene Spiegle, vice chair of the supply chain management department at Rutgers Business School, based in the US.
Growing scrutiny of supply chains, in light of headlines including horse meat found in frozen beef products in Europe and discount retailer Target’s botched expansion into Canada, mean companies in all sectors are making logistics a focus area.
“Not only have supply chains become a focus but, in many companies, they have become a department with senior level management,” says Eugene.
Companies including General Dynamics, the aerospace group, and Target, both based in America, have hired from specialist supply chain management programs.
SAP, the software solutions company, has added more than 250 business schools to its University Alliances program, providing students with training in logistics technology.
“We still need some very talented people to run these things [and] to manage large groups of people,” says Arnold at W.P Carey.
Companies are targeting experienced hires to strengthen supply chains – often MBAs. Amazon, for instance, recruited the largest number of MBA students at a number of top business schools last year.
“In a reflection of the changes that technology is bringing to retail, the jobs for MBAs [in e-commerce] are now in areas such as logistics,” says Conrad Chua, head of MBA careers at Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK.
As such, there has been an increase in supply chain opportunities at INSEAD, the global business school, says Zeynep Flouret, assistant director of corporate partnership development.
“We see many large businesses demanding talent for SCM [supply chain management] roles, as well as tech companies and large NGOs,” she says, adding that logistics providers including DHL and software companies are particularly active.
As supply chain efficiency becomes a significant issue, a widening pool of organizations are hiring strongly, according to Sara Williams, MSc careers relationship manager at Cass Business School. “I have seen an increase in demand,” she says.
This includes oil and gas majors such as BP and Shell, and large pharmaceutical companies.
“[Companies] need the right staff to effectively plan and predict, in order to ensure their supply chain is lean and cost effective,” Sara says. She adds that recruiters are looking for organisational skills and significant commercial acumen in new hires.
Employers will also value strong analytical and quantitative skills, and good interpersonal and communication skills, says Chris Higgins, assistant director at INSEAD’s Career Development Centre.
This includes the ability to perform in multifunctional and multicultural teams, he adds. For supply chain management it is increasingly a matter of supply and demand.