So, you are thinking about a career in supply chain? Let me encourage you by running through the types of jobs that are available, and the qualifications you may need for an entry-level position.
To start with, you need to think what type of thing you would like to be doing. For example, you can be doing finance in supply chain, or you can be doing operations. Another option is to work in a warehouse, or in transport, or maybe in customer service where you are dealing with people all the time.
If engineering is your thing, you could join a third-party logistics company and focus on solutions design.
You could be particularly numerate, or into analysis. Do you want to be managing people?
Decide which niche suits you best then go for it!
What Qualifications Will I Need?
There are several ways to look at this question. If you have the ability, time, and money for tertiary education, that’s really good. A business degree with a supply chain focus will serve you well. You can’t go wrong with finance either.
A common route into supply chain management is a Bachelor’s degree in supply chain management, logistics, or international transport.
If university study is a little beyond you right now, one of the certification courses might work better for you. APICS, for example, runs some really good supply chain and logistics programmes.
These include the following:
- Certified in Production and Inventory Management: The course covers ground such as knowledge of production and inventory management, internal operations, and customer relations.
- Certified Supply Chain Professional: Learn how to develop streamlined supply chain operations.
- Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution: This course comprises an in-depth study of a wide range of supply chain and logistics topics.
- Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) Professional: Learn the techniques needed for managing and measuring the performance of a global supply chain.
In the end, as you progress through your supply chain career, you’ll probably want to sign up for a Master’s degree as well. Maybe a Master’s in supply chain itself, or logistics and/or transport planning. Perhaps an MBA, or something like that.
What is the Entry Point for Supply Chain Jobs?
Many people, when starting out, talk to recruiting companies and head-hunters, but to be honest, that is a bit of a numbers game. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd unless you’ve got exemplary qualifications.
There are Other Ways to Get Started:
- Networking: Look out for industry-type events in your area, as these provide an opportunity for you to meet lots of people. Speak to as many professionals as you can—discuss your various options with them. And don’t be afraid to ask their advice on how to start out in the industry.
- Market yourself: LinkedIn is the best platform for this. Put your profile up so that managers can find you. Be sure to include all the keywords for the type of work you want to do.
- Internships: Knock on the doors of some of the big FMCG companies, many of which take on interns. Some of them also have graduate programmes. Big companies offer an environment where you could grow, so try to get an entry-level position with one of them.
But I always stress to people starting out that they should not worry at what level they get in. Just get in and start gaining some experience.
Some of the best ways to do that are through third-party logistics companies (3PLs). You could pick up a job as a warehouse picker, a forklift driver, or even a truck driver.
You could also get a role in product reception and dispatch. This entails receiving products at the warehouse from delivery vehicles and unpacking and storing them.
It doesn’t really matter what you are doing, just get into the industry. You will learn the ins and outs and in time will acquire all sorts of skills.
Other Entry-Level Supply Chain Jobs
There are many other entry-level jobs that you could explore. The following posts do not require previous experience but some demand a diploma, certification, or a university degree. All will involve a period of on-the-job training:
- Logisticians: A logistician is someone who coordinates and analyses a company’s supply chain, who manages the entire life cycle of a product, from procurement to distribution and delivery. No previous experience in this field is required, although all experience helps your cause.
- Cost estimators:These are the professionals who collect and analyse data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labour needed to manufacture a particular product, or to provide a service.
- Production planners: This job is linked to forecasting and demand scheduling. The process is geared towards ensuring that the right type and quantity of products are in the system.
- Quality controllers: These positions are created at various points throughout the supply chain. The quality control inspector’s job is to test products and measure them against pre-set specifications. They will accept or reject products, recording the reasons for the decision and making suggestions on how to streamline the process.
- Buyers: Though they do not require previous hands-on experience, wholesale and retail buyers are typically required to have a business degree, especially one focused on supply management. The buyer’s job is to meet with vendors and negotiate the best possible product supply deals, and then oversee deliveries to ensure all contract obligations are fulfilled.
- Customer relations: Because the ultimate objective of the supply chain is getting the product into the hands of the customer, teams are employed to take orders, manage invoices, and keep track of returns. At a more senior level, we find customer relations managers. Their job is to manage overall service performance and develop relationships between their company and its customers.
- Marketing and advertising: If selling is your forte, there are plenty of positions in marketing and sales as well as in advertising and merchandising.
But That’s Not all—There is a Wide Range of Other Possibilities
What makes the supply chain such an exciting field to be in is the range of opportunities for professionals and non-professionals alike. Let’s take a look at some of these. It might surprise you that the following four roles are linked to the supply chain industry, but indeed they are:
1) IT Specialists
Supply chains these days cannot function effectively without systems and technology—and hence require maintenance and support provided by IT personnel.
2) Data Managers
Data management and data control are essential tools to help supply chain chiefs sift through accurate information before making important management decisions.
3) Finance managers
These are the highly trained professionals who control company capital and cash flow. They also need to keep a check on inventory levels and identify obsolete stock.
4) Human Resources Personnel
These are the staff members who ensure that supply chain employees are trained properly and paid a wage appropriate to their skills and experience.
Very Important: Polish Your CV
Companies are flooded daily with CVs from eager job-seekers and unless yours is exceptional, it will end up somewhere in the pile along with all the others.
These are some of the points to watch out for when writing a CV:
- Be brief. Use active language and include only information that is relevant.
- Highlight any skills you may have beyond those demanded in the job description. Proficiency in, for example, MS Access or Excel would create a good impression.
- Don’t exaggerate! Be straight up about your skills, abilities, and experience. Amplifications are easily spotted and diminish the positive image you need to create.
And Now For the Interview…
They shouldn’t be, but interviews are often hit and miss affairs. It obviously helps if you can create the right impression as you walk into the room. You need to exude an air of confidence and convince them that you have what it takes to do the job.
Here a few pointers that may just give you the edge.
- Be prepared by thoroughly studying the job description
- Clearly explain what skills you can bring to the position
- Be assertive with your reasons for wanting a career with that particular company.
- Do as much research as you can about the company so that you will not be wrong-footed by any curve-ball questions
Demonstrate Your Value
Supply chain management relies heavily on strategy, so it is important to demonstrate to potential employers that you have a good grasp of the challenges you will face in the industry—and how best to meet these challenges.
Managers favour candidates who can show that they understand the ‘big picture’ and can get the job done. Those who can demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively with others in the industry and make decisions based on data analysis will also catch the manager’s eye.
To be honest, the best way to demonstrate that you are a competitive candidate is to show that you have a deep understanding of supply chain processes, and, even better, to suggest ways to tweak those processes for greater efficiency.
You need to be well-informed, so take classes, read blogs, research supply chain topics intensively, and speak as much as possible with those involved in the industry.
And Now for Some Good News
Did you know that there is a global shortage of supply chain talent and that there are plenty of jobs to be had?
One study shows that one in three companies in the United States has jobs that are taking nine to 12 months to fill. Another study reveals that the demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by 6 to 1. This is expected to widen to 9 to 1 in the years ahead.
The main lack of talent is in middle management, especially in big data analytics and supply chain planning, where the shortage is around 54%.
This shortfall is only expected to increase as more and more companies realise how vital the supply chain is for the health of their business.
These are some of the reasons for the current situation:
- Globalisation: The supply chain has become more complex due to globalisation, with product parts being manufactured in multiple countries to cut costs. However, this sea change has caught businesses off guard and they find they don’t have enough people with sufficient talent and experience to make crucial management decisions.
- Changing skill sets: The increased importance of technology in the supply chain field means that companies need to replace managers who leave or retire, with people with greater analytical and technical skill sets. But in reality, there is not enough of this talent around.
- Lack of awareness: School curricula do not include subjects relating to the supply chain, leaving many young people with the idea that the industry is only about picking and packing in warehouses. The profession, therefore, suffers from an image problem, and not enough school-leavers are attracted by supply chain management to want to study the subject at university or college.
The Odds are in Your Favour
The lack of talent and skills in the supply chain industry is only going to get more serious. I would advise you to carefully decide what you would like to be doing, which niche is for you, and then set about gaining the relevant knowledge and expertise.
When you have done that, you will be in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose the company that you believe will best harness your talents and offer you an exciting future.
I say it time and time again—it doesn’t matter how you get into supply chain, just get in! And the main point I make on my YouTube video on this subject is that it doesn’t matter too much what your role is—what is important is that you get a foot in that supply chain door.
Related articles on these topics have appeared throughout our websites, why not check them out?
- Robobyrne.com “Tips for Getting a Job in Supply Chain Operations or Management”
- Logistics Bureau “How to Secure Your First Supply Chain or Logistics Job”