Chain of Thought

Educating the Supply Chain

One of the beautiful things about writing a blog is that it allows you to update previously written articles with some new information. For instance, the latest monthly column I write for the magazine (which you can read here) focuses on the value of a supply chain education, with far too many recent students believing that their instructors left much to be desired. Since I wrote that column, ChainLink Research, whose survey I referenced, has produced more findings about what exactly people are getting when they take a supply chain course.

When asked to identify "the most important supply chain-related educational needs for you and your organization over the next 12-18 months," the respondents gave as their number one answer "supply chain strategy and leadership." Unfortunately, that same category ranked at the very bottom when those same people were asked how well that need is being met educationally.

The pattern continues, with the second most important topic -- supply chain risk management -- being second from the bottom in terms of how well students feel they're being educated on that topic. "Clearly, the community is crying out for better education in these crucial areas," observes Bill McBeath, ChainLink Research's chief research officer.

Supply chain educators appear to be very good at teaching basic logistics and transportation, but there's something of a disconnect with their students, who are looking to develop more cross-functional skills rather than concentrating solely on the movement of goods. In the words of one survey respondent, "Transportation is growing in scale and complexity in most companies, and universities are only addressing fundamentals." Higher-level discussions on such issues as transportation policy and economics are sought by students, sometimes in vain.

When it comes to auto-ID and traceability, students ranked that topic as the least important educational priority, and that seems to be the case among educators as well, as the number and quality of the programs on this topic ranked very low in the survey.

As I wrote in my book, Supply Chain Management Best Practices, "The number-one best practice when it comes to managing your supply chain is to have best-in-class people in positions of responsibility throughout your organization." But finding these people isn't always easy, especially when the talent recruitment process itself is being challenged by a perceived quality gap in the education process.

In the absence of any consensus about which universities offer the most complete supply chain education, we can defer to the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings, which lists the top 10 undergraduate programs offering supply chain/logistics courses. Here's the most recent list (from 2010):

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2. Michigan State University

3. Pennsylvania State University

4. Arizona State University

5. Carnegie Mellon University

6. Ohio State University

7. Purdue University

8. University of Maryland

9. University of Tennessee

10. University of Michigan

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