Demand for supply chain programs.
Change in supply chains and the three main disciplines of Procurement, Operations Planning and Logistics will occur to an extent and at a speed that is not known. But, as noted in the previous blog, taking advantage of the changes by organisations will require an increasing professionalism of expertise in the disciplines.
Being the height of summer in Australia, this week saw high school students, who received the necessary marks in their leaving examination, provided with offers of places at universities. The trend in course selection by students is towards courses with good employment outcomes and which have a strong ‘how to’ content (like nursing).
But, the number of students who applied and were accepted into supply chain courses remains very small – few courses are offered and supply chains and logistics are not known among students and teachers (except for seeing logistics written on the side of trucks).
The funding of education and training courses by government varies between countries, depending on how popular the sector is with politicians. But, in many developed countries it is unlikely that funding will increase in real terms, therefore small intake courses (such as supply chains) remain under threat of closure.
Surveys of employers indicate that it is desirable for students studying in business courses at university to receive a more rounded understanding of business. An approach could therefore be to incorporate the concept and principles of supply chains as a single course/subject, similar to the current situation with accounting, law, marketing, organisation management and business statistics.
Minor elective within a business course
Even if focused supply chain courses are closed, universities can offer within their business degree structure, a minor elective of four courses/subjects in supply chains/logistics. Students would only select the minor elective after becoming more aware of the content from studying the single course/subject. My experience is that students are more willing to study aspects of supply chains when they understand how challenging the associated disciplines are.
From an employment perspective, the challenge is that new graduate hires are expected by employers to have ‘ready to use’ skills, yet students will require a wider knowledge if they show a capability of growing into a higher level position. The minor elective provides knowledge and skills of the three disciplines, expanding on the understanding of supply chains gained in the single course/subject.
Procurement: understand an organisation’s supply markets. Manage relationships, finance and contracts with current and potential suppliers.
Operations Planning and Analysis: The output from analysis drives Operations Planning. Understanding supply chains is becoming more about analysing numbers as analysis IT applications are developed. Evaluating patterns and trends in the flows of items, money, data and information will become a critical feature of supply chains.
Logistics: ‘…the time-related positioning of internal and external resources to provide Availability of goods and services for customers…’. Availability is influenced by the attributes that a business emphasis – speed, quality of the process, flexibility, dependability or cost. These attributes are influenced by Constraints: location decisions based on volume to weight and value to weight ratios, lead times, inventory form and function decisions and product security.
Supply Network Capability: The objective is to de-risk an organisation’s supply network, through identifying and wherever possible, reducing Uncertainty. Convert Uncertainty to measurable Risk (influenced by complexity, variability and constraints) and evaluate the likelihood and consequences of events that may affect an organisation. Understand how power is exercised by organisations in a supply chain and the corresponding extent of dependency by some organisations on their supply network.
The single course/subject and minor elective provides a capability for students to comprehend the wider context of supply chains and networks, an understanding of the many factors that influence a business and the important element of building business relationships. To support learning within the minor elective (and better prepare students for work), a business courses would also need to contain courses/subjects in critical thinking, systems thinking and modelling and simulation.
Qualifications to address the ‘why’ and ‘how’
The more detailed study of understanding the ‘whys’ in supply chains, procurement, operations planning and logistics would be at the post-graduate level. To ensure a quality education, universities could share teaching and physical resources.
The study of ‘how to’ concerning processes and behaviours would continue through Diplomas, studied in the vocational sector. For example, a Diploma of Logistics is focused on providing Availability of items. This requires skills in scheduling resources, storage and movement of items, specific documents and applications and managing people. The Diploma and degree qualifications are supported by Certification offered through professional organisations, such as the CPIM from APICS and the CPSM from ISM.
For most countries, to ensure that sufficient ‘job ready’ students are available in future years for jobs in supply chain disciplines, planning of education and training is required now. Even though employers are the beneficiary, it will be the role of professional member organisations to lobby governments, employer organisations, universities and colleges to structure programs recognised by the professional bodies, that will address the future needs.