When Skylar Haws was a child, he loved Legos.
More specifically, he loved creating structures with his Legos in a certain way: he loved the process behind building something with his Legos. And as he aged, he brought that love of efficient processes to everything he did.
“I found out as I grew up that for everything that I did, there was a certain way to do it that would be more efficient,” Haws says. “If I did things in a certain way, it would increase the efficiency of my time management.”
But Haws didn't know the name for that process-oriented way of thinking until he started working at a boat-building company to find better methods of assembly, better parts for the boats, and all-around better ways of getting those boats into the water.
That's when Haws started Googling his interests and realized that there was a name for what he loved to do: the burgeoning field of supply chain management.
Supply chain management is basically an umbrella term for a variety of different roles necessary to create a product or move supply around: fulfillment or distribution, replenishment, planning, or transportation of goods. Robert Novack, associate professor of business logistics at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business, summarizes the field with one simple word.
“The basic underlying mechanism of what supply chain students do is logistics,” Novack says. “The buying, the making, the storing, the moving.”
Smeal is just one of a number of schools that offer programs in supply chain management, including the Wisconsin School of Business, Rutgers Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business. Outside of the United States, the National University of Singapore's business school and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich also offer highly ranked supply chain management MBAs. These programs cater to students like Haws who are eager to capitalize on the growing demand for students in the supply chain management field.
“That has been something that's been a trend for years now. It's not about a specific niche. It's very much wide open. Everyone needs supply chain,” says Joe Protopapa, director of MBA Career Management at the University of Wisconsin.
The history of supply chain management is bound up with the history of outsourcing; when companies started looking beyond organizational boundaries to create, market and sell products, they started needing people who could organize that process.
“Every company in the world needs supply chain people,” says Novack. “Because it's so broad there are a lot of different things these students can do.”
Arash Azadegan, associate professor in the department of supply chain management at Rutgers, says the supply-chain management program trend started about 10 years ago, after companies decided they couldn't do everything in-house and decided to recruit suppliers, especially cheap suppliers in emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil. Now, says Azadegan, his students go on to a host of different careers under the supply chain umbrella, including procurement, supplier development engineering, management, supply chain analysis, or supply risk management.
Azadegan says supply risk management is a growing component of this field. At Rutgers, which offers an MBA concentration in supply chain management, as well as an online Master of Science in Supply Chain Management, Azadegan emphasizes dealing with risk in his classes. For example, he runs a mock emergency scenario in one of his classes where students come to an office on 8 a.m. on Monday to find out there was a big explosion at their suppliers' facility. The students realize they are not going to get their parts on time and chaos erupts across the supply network.
“I put them in this class so they can decide what to do, and they take functional roles, and discuss in teams how to fix the issue,” Azadegan says. “Should they go help the supplier, or find another supplier?” he added.
“Even if I'm very good at managing my own risks within my organization, it could be that my suppliers are not so risk-aware. If I'm manufacturing a food product, it could be that my risk comes from up-stream because my suppliers aren't clean enough. People need to pay close attention to suppliers.”
Demand for supply chain MBAs “far outstrips the supply”
Business school representatives confirm that there is no shortage of jobs for MBAs with supply chain skills. Smeal’s Robert Novack says at the beginning of each school year, his school hosts a supply chain career fair, which draws 120 companies competing for the talents of the students who are studying in his program. Novack says his students have gone on to work at Delight Consulting, Dell, Amazon, Apple, Dow Chemical, and a host of other companies. And Protopapa says his students embark on careers in a wide variety of fields, including the tech, manufacturing, financial services, biotech or healthcare industries—and that he's seen salaries for his supply chain students entering those fields rising over the past five years.
Haws, who is currently studying at Smeal and is due to graduate in May 2016, interned at Walt Disney in California this summer, examining the process behind sourcing, procurement, and how and why Disney purchases what it purchases.
“I was looking at how many purchase orders they were creating, how many casual buyers, and what they were doing to come up with a business case that would allow us to build a procurement center of excellence,” Haws says.
Haws and others who love supply chain management are fortunate: officials say their skills will remain in high demand for years to come.
“It's still a growing field,” Novack says. “The demand for students far outstrips the supply.”
Image: Fotos GOVBA / Flickr (cropped)