Last weekend, a friend mentioned that his brother, a purchaser at a pet food company, was likely going to back to school to get an advanced degree in economics. And his company was going to foot the bill. This got me thinking about how, to create business value, companies need to create valuable employees.
In good times and bad, companies have a responsibility to invest in people and skills to achieve short and long-term business goals. Purchasers and supply chain managers have to know more than how to move products from point A to B. They need to understand the economics behind what moves businesses and markets.
Supply chain knowledge ebbs and flows as companies evolve, demand shifts, and markets change. Is it possible that we've reached another inflection point where another kind of textbook expertise, or life experience, will determine a supply chain managers' value in the workplace? In a world where supply chains compete against supply chains, do companies even know what skills their people have today, what skills are missing, and how they can encourage employees to advance supply chain practices?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many US universities created innovative undergraduate and graduate supply chain management programs. There had been a noticeable gap between the activities low-level purchasers did years before and the senior-level tasks evolving throughout the supply chain ecosystem. So a certificate in logistics management, IT systems integration, and price negotiation was no longer sufficient.
Theoretically, a university degree would close the capabilities gap, allow a procurement person to master new skills, and generate high-value corporate results. Many tech companies back then, if profits hadn’t been walloped by one recession or another, supported the idea of upping their in-house supply team's knowledge levels, to become more competitive. I would say those investments paid off; just look at how far supply chain practices and conversations have come in 10 years.
Fast forward to 2010. According to a CNN Money article, the most desired skill companies still want is logistics management leadership. But there’s a shortage of expertise. Citing a white paper from MIT, a job outlook survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and other reports, the article states:
- When you think of fields where there just aren't enough skilled candidates to go around, one that probably doesn't come to mind is supply chain management: The complicated, behind-the-scenes work of getting goods from one place to another, on time and on budget.
According to the article, the shortage of supply chain talent “explains why 48 percent of US companies plan to snap up logistics grads in 2011.”
Curious to see if universities have changed their tunes to keep up with changing times, I scanned supply chain curriculum brochures. I thought I'd find tons of classes about global supply-demand economics, international trade regulations, social media, and environmental sustainability issues — just a few of the topics professionals need to be versed in when moving billions of dollars of parts around the globe.
However, most institutions, based on this grad school search board and this grad school ranking site, continue to focus on supply chain performance, sourcing strategies, and logistics and transportation process management as core courses. Courses like MIT's Supply Chain Finance and Michigan State's Change Management are a little different, but I get the sense they are secondary offerings.
If companies keep hiring people with degrees that will, at least superficially, fill a certain talent pool, universities will keep churning the same kinds of graduates companies will recruit. But don't supply chain managers in 2011 need new skills? How are companies making human resources choices that add long-term organizational value while creating valuable employees? Are we ebbing and flowing in different supply chain direction from yesteryear's skills?