There is certainly strong interest in supply chain management degrees. Last fall, for instance, the University of Tennessee reported 300 undergraduates and 100 Masters of Business Administration (MBA) students. Pennsylvania State University indicated supply chain management was second only to finance in attracting MBA students. Even John Carroll University, with about 3,200 undergraduates and 850 graduate students, boasts 40-60 logistics majors. But will this be enough of the right kind of talent to meet the needs of businesses that are becoming increasingly dependent on long, complex supply chains?
Educators acknowledge one problem they must address is getting more coursework in operations — the tactical side of logistics. But a more pressing challenge at many universities is the need to weave supply chain management (SCM) curriculum through other disciplines.
Changing established, accredited curriculum isn't always easy. Crossing departmental boundaries can be a political nightmare. But one weapon in the educators' arsenal is the popularity of SCM with students and prospective employers. Fail to provide SCM studies in some form and you may be fighting a battle with dropping enrollment. Do a good job, and you will have your pick of U.S. and international students and can begin building a strong reputation with employers.
The Ohio State University, one of a handful of first-tier schools when it comes to logistics and SCM, has launched a new program that addresses some of the concerns educators and the logistics community expressed — tactical skills. Educators generally acknowledge an MBA is a general business degree for people without a background in business. A Master of Science (MS) degree is typically a more research-oriented program that puts the student on the path to a Ph.D. But Ohio State has struck a middle ground with its Master in Business Logistics Engineering. Through its MBLE degree, the university is attempting to address the need for "a new breed of logistics professionals who combine strong managerial and technical skills."
The MBLE graduate will have a narrower scope but deeper, says Dr. Walter Zinn, director of the MBLE Program at the Fisher College of Business of The Ohio State University. Unlike the MBA student who would take logistics courses along with marketing, human resources or organizational behavior, the MBLE student will spend nine to 15 months taking logistics courses and learning the fundamentals in quantitative analysis for logistics, says Zinn. They take all of the logistics management sequence in the business school, but add courses in optimization and computer logistics software and technology, simulation and warehouse facility design.
"The companies that we spoke with were looking for people with more technical skills than they get in the typical MBA program," explains Zinn. "We started asking, 'What skills?' and issues of optimization, simulation and software kept coming up." You have to put people out there who not only know the latest [developments and technology], but should also have a notion of fundamentals that will last them a lifetime," says Zinn.
Allan Ayers, principal of management consulting firm Ayers Management Services, calls these fundamentals " journeyman skills," and he sees a gap in the way companies address those skills with both college graduates and at the shop floor level. Having served a number of roles with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Ayers remembers that in past years, a survey of executives showed little effort to encourage developing logistics managers to get involved with professional organizations and otherwise improve their knowledge and skills. If companies aren't encouraging attendance at workshops and conferences and aren't willing to fund attendance by their white-collar workers, what, he asks rhetorically, are they doing for the people working in their warehouse? The answer is often, "Very little."
Joe Walden, with the Supply Chain Research Institute, was consulting for a company that had high turnover in its warehouse. The company was hiring warehouse workers, training them, putting them through the course to get a lift truck operator's license, and at the end of 90 days, they left to get a job at another warehouse down the street. The company that hired Walden was paying far less than the other warehouse, but it offered a retention bonus after 90 days, Walden learned. Once the warehouse workers had their bonus check, there was little to keep them at this company's facility. Ken Ackerman, with K.B. Ackerman Company, has authored a number of books on warehousing and logistics and has been quite active with professional associations like CSCMP and the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC). "The professional societies and trade associations have done an inadequate job of portraying logistics as an exciting business to be in," he says. "How many kids do you know who say, 'When I get big, I want to go into railroading or trucking'? That's an indictment of the industry; these are very exciting businesses and very necessary."
Ayers repeats some of Ackerman's sentiments. While the senior managers attend conferences and get their crash course once a year, the middle managers and below don't hear about the opportunities. If the annual conferences are pitched to a more strategic level, local meetings tend to be far more tactical in content, yet many of the managers who can benefit from the events don't hear about them, Ayers suggests.
There is also a gap at the community college level, says Ayers. If a company can find a good transportation clerk or warehouseman and that individual sees the bigger picture and wants to get ahead, there are few options open to him or her. That's where the education for the journeyman really starts.
Ayers and others have also tried working with kids at the high school level — to very mixed results. And, while it would appear that these are sweeping indictments for a profession that manages 8.5% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, there is slow progress being made.
The problems of finding logistics talent exist on all levels. At the executive level, says Don Jacobson, president of supply chain search consulting firm LogiPros LLC, it is getting harder to find talent, and companies are getting very particular. What's counterintuitive about all of this is that there is a crying need at every level for good logistics people.
Professional associations are working to expand their capabilities for education and outreach. For instance, the American Society of Transportation and Logistics offers a certificate program which results in a Certified in Transportation and Logistics (CTL) professional credential. APICS also offers professional certification: CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management), CIRM (Certified in Integrated Resource Management), CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional), CFPIM (Certified Fellow in Production and Inventory Management), and ASCM (Advanced Supply Chain Management). University programs are integrating logistics and supply chain into their curricula. New executive development courses are appearing all the time at leading universities and through commercial groups.
Economic development and other local groups are working with community leaders, two-year colleges, universities and state agencies to develop training opportunities to meet the needs of those constituencies. A host of specialized programs exist to fill gaps in areas like customs compliance, exporting and other logistics-related functions. Whether these efforts will be sufficient to fill the talent gap, however, remains to be seen.
American Society of Transportation and Logistics
Ayers Management Services
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals
John Carroll University
K.B. Ackerman Company
Ohio State University
Pennsylvania State University
University of Tennessee
Warehousing Education and Research Council