Why This Is a Great Time to be a Supply Chain Student
This is a great time to be a student learning how to pursue a supply chain career.
But why become a supply chain student? There are many reasons. How about 12 to start with.
Everyone Is More Demanding
Supply chain has become more in demand because you (all of us) are getting more demanding about the infinite variety of products you want in the sizes, colors, shapes, quantities, packaging, and payment plans that work for you, not the masses. Oh, and you want it now. Delivered. Or picked up. And you want to be able to send it back if you aren’t satisfied or you just change your mind.
Complexity Continues to Grow and Change
If supply chain was easy, then solutions would only be a few clicks away. Instead, it is a very complex, multi-step, multi-player, constantly changing playground of materials, people, equipment, and other resources. It takes constant attention and modification to keep getting better at it. People with skills to adapt to constantly changing conditions using tools that are regularly being updated will always have jobs available. The more complex the supply chain gets, the more job security you have. Making it seemingly simple to your customer by managing complexity for them is an art that requires good supply chain solutions thinkers.
Response Times are Tighter
Your demanding, ever-changing nature now has us at the point of thinking we should have immediate gratification. Is it available now? If not, I’m moving on to another store or another site. Once upon a time, getting products in 3-6 weeks was normal when products were ordered from catalogs. Then it became 3-6 days. Then, a particularly large e-commerce company starting with ‘A’ trained us that two-day shipping of almost everything was the new normal. Oh, but then let’s make that next day. Or how about next hour. Time has become the way to compete for many companies essentially offering the same kind of products. That creates a need for innovative supply chain graduates to keep shaving time off fulfilling peoples’ needs for products and services.
Multi-national, Global Commerce
Even small companies in any country can now have a wider geographic reach for sourcing materials and products. The internet makes it possible to see variety and volumes of products move around the world in a way that enables any size company to manage a global supply chain, but it takes individuals trained in the complexities of moving products around the world to figure out better ways to source anything, from anywhere, then ship it anywhere. Global, multi-national skills make it far more possible to have a wider geographic reach than ever before. It also opens up your world as a supply chain professional, giving you opportunities to better understand not just your own country, but how people around the world do business and get the products and services they desire.
Analysis Tools Becoming More Powerful
The rise of computing power, the cloud, AI, IoT, barcodes, RFID, robots, drones, self-driving vehicles, and many other innovations are creating the need for supply chain students and professionals who understand or are willing to learn how to use the new tools to create new solutions using huge sets of data that are growing exponentially. Data analytics is one example of a powerful skill to have on your supply chain resume. If you can also understand how technical solutions come together to solve customer needs, then you are well on your way to beginning your career and landing your first supply chain job.
Visibility Is Expected
Not only are we all more demanding about getting the stuff we want whenever we want it, but we also have expectations of instant information. Do you have it in stock? When will I get it? Can I track it? Can I redirect delivery if I have a change in plans? Visibility is the word the industry uses to understand where every product, associate, piece of equipment, order, or any other aspect of the supply chain is, along with its status at any point in time. Visibility tools, like analysis tools, are fundamental to supply chain success. It requires people that understand the expectations and how to provide the information needed for better decisions and redirection of resources to satisfy customers. Status alerts and suggested ways to adjust to conditions are now being driven to any device at any time.
Things Are Getting Smarter
Individual devices are now getting better sensors and are becoming more connected, resulting in the appearance of them being “smarter”. IoT, or the Internet of Things, or its European and international cousin concept of Industry 4.0 takes advantage of the ability to have interconnected, smarter devices learn how to work better within systems. Similar to how a group of players on a field have to adjust to conditions and play their part toward a goal, individual devices and pieces of equipment have far more capability to interact with and support people. Those who learn how to do it better have better careers ahead of them.
More with Less
Part of being a good supply chain student and professional is learning how to continuously improve processes and yourself, making them more effective and efficient. Supply chain is so constantly changing to adjust to conditions that there are always new challenges that require figuring out how to do more with less. Sometimes it is far more with a little more resources. That is the way that growing companies usually work. One of the biggest challenges companies want you to address is to figure out how to help them scale up, growing quickly with the least amount of resources required to make it happen. Supply chain is full of those kinds of challenges, so it is a constant problem-solving exercise.
Service Industries Talking Supply Chain
As the world has gone from being agriculture heavy (just about everyone used to be a farmer or a hunter or gatherer) to manufacturing heavy, to services heavy, the services have embraced supply chain. How do I get the stuff that I need to the right place at the right time to serve customers? Whether it is fast food, entertainment venues, airlines, or hundreds of other services industries, their supply chains have become important to their success, and supply chain trained people are taking higher-level positions as executives.
Virtual Organizations Require Supply Chain Collaboration
Many companies have decided to concentrate on either being extremely good at designs and branding, or being extremely good at making families of products. Nearly gone are the days when a company would be purely vertically oriented, meaning that they did everything themselves. For instance, have your own mines and processing of metals. Form them in your own factories, then store and distribute them directly to stores or customers. Now, most companies outsource many aspects of what they do and have become more outsourced. A clear example these days are the “fabless” semiconductor companies that design chips and components, but never make them. They have other companies make the chips, others package them, others hold the inventory and distribute them to end customers. A supply chain now requires working with people that kind of work for your company, and on your team, but really they may be employed by another company. A team working closely together may be from many companies at the same time, performing gig contracts that are concurrent. Virtual, fast-moving, quickly changing virtual organizations are much more common. The complexity again makes it interesting to be in supply chain.
Environmental. Social. Governance. These three words have become far more important to consumers, so they are becoming far more important to the companies that serve them. How does your product do a better job at not harming the environment? How does it help it? Does your product use a part of the supply chain that takes advantage of people in some detrimental way? Does your company treat people well and provide opportunities to a diverse population along with development and appropriate wages and benefits? There is far more to ESG than these questions, but the main point in this article is that building better supply chains gets more complicated due to additional ESG considerations. Those complications make it more necessary for supply chain students to better understand how ESG concepts can be considered every step along the way, from raw materials coming out of the ground, to processing them for use in manufacturing, to the distribution of products to business and consumers, to the way the products are returned and reused.
Supply Chains in the News
If you watch any TV these days or see the ads that pop up on your devices, the words “supply chain” are quite common now. You might see someone walking through a factory or a warehouse talking about their products and how they get to you. You see ports, mines, trucks, trains, delivery vehicles, and stores. The words supply chain are seemingly everywhere, making it much more visible as a career and making your work much more in the spotlight.
Celebrate your choice of career, being a supply chain student is a great place to be!