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Supply Chain Pros Need Lifelong Learning

I am in the business of coaching and educating adults, both at the university level and in the professional development work that I do. My mantra for many years has been for supply chain professionals to keep up with the news, especially as it related to your company, your customers, your suppliers, and your commodity areas. There is really no excuse these days not to be up to speed on the issues that impact your business…and ultimately impact you. 

While a fan of technology, I will admit to getting three traditional newspapers delivered to my home seven days a week, including a local paper, my regional paper, and one from the national press. All three are quite different and in the age of bits and bytes it is somewhat comforting to read the sports section (…oops, I mean the business section) over a cup of coffee in the morning. Roland has them in the box by 4:30 AM, rain, shine, or snow, and my wife generously tips him monthly. They are an invaluable tool in getting the day off on the right foot.

But for the purposes of this piece, lets go digital and take a look at some ways those in the supply chain can remain up to date in the era of easy access to information. Pick a laptop or mobile device, make sure your network is up to snuff, and lets for a little spin around the web to see what we can find that might offer some help in our quest for ongoing education…or as I like to day ‘keeping up’.

The traditional channels

Supply chain management is hot! Many colleges and universities, large and small, are offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in supply chain management. Other schools are adding supply chain courses to the curriculum in response to market demand for graduates with an understanding of big data and global trade from the customer and supply side. Most often the curriculum is integrated into degree programs for general management and marketing. As a professor of operations and supply chain management I am proud of my students who choose a career in procurement or logistics…despite those long exams and interminable lectures!

Professional associations also provide an opportunity for professional education, be it through traditional and online seminars and workshops, articles, glossaries, industry links, and professional certification programs. Consider looking at the Institute for Supply Management, APICS, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, and the Project Management Institute. Be sure to also check out regional affiliates as well for networking opportunities and programs tailored for specific industries.  

The focused channels

There is a trade association for everything! Every commodity you buy has one, as do other parts of the supply chain. Lets begin with a manufacturing example from the sheet metal industry. We can begin at the upper level and cascade through the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Tooling and Machining Association, and the Precision Metalforming Association and even the Robotic Industries Association. 

Let’s look at electronics next. There is the IEEE, the Electronic Components Industry Association, the Consumer Technology Association, the IPC, and even a good one about capacitors. Of course EBNonline is a great place for information! But you already knew that.

For logistics pros, keep on trucking with the American Trucking Associations, anchors away with the World Shipping Council, and learn where to put it away with the Warehousing Education and Research Council.

A good exercise is to plot out commodity related trade associations and check out their resources and industry contact and register for their newsletters. Look at the tiers of associations and don’t lose sight of your local and regional ones. Make friends with their executive directors and staffs. They are an often-overlooked wealth of information and contacts. 

The web channels

There are many industry analysts that offer free content and newsletters. Of course a subscription will unlock some solid content hidden behind the walls. Be sure to see if others in your company, typically at the c-suite level, have subscribed to these services. It may be quick and easy to get a seat as well.  Check out Gartner for technology research, Forrester and IDC for market research, and The Hackett Group for operations and supply chain information.

Pay attention to your supplier’s web sites. You might be surprised by the information provided, including technical specifications, product directories, and perhaps some case studies or informative blogs. Pay special attention to any press releases or media contacts. You might find some interesting news that might work in your benefit in a negotiation or identify a potential risk in the supply chain. Google your suppliers from time to time and be sure to click the ‘news’ tab. You might find some interesting things that might set off your risk alarms.

Pay attention to your web site as well. You suppliers certainly are and fishing for information that would work in their behalf. Often information on your website may compromise supplier relationships, or provide information on customers or suppliers that is impertinent or compromising. Sometimes the staff who maintains the website are unaware. Of course it can also be an important tool for supplier communication.

Some quick searches may show that you industry has a content aggregator or news service that can be a wealth of information. One solid resource is CEOExpress a portal that addresses a wide range of publications and resources for business and technology. Need to find the latest operations strategy from McKinsey or the time in Indonesia? It’s all there.

Social media is also becoming an interesting resource. Focused content on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be valuable and targeted to specific industries. LinkedIn also has industry and topical groups where a lot of great thoughts get shared. Companies may have rules on accessing social media from your desk, but we have learned that most breaking news is spread through social media.

Keeping up is really part of our jobs and being a resource in your own company or department is one more career differentiator. Yes, there is lots of noise out there these days but as an industry and profession we have never had the resources at our fingertips to keep up to date. It’s really your responsibility to do so. 

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