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Supply Chain University

Preparing undergraduates for a rapidly evolving business environment

In the midst of a tepid job market, the concepts of widespread employment options, excellent salaries, and career growth seem out of place. Yet, this is the reality in the supply chain management (SCM) profession. Recent reports by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Wall Street Journal, and industry publications confirm the surging trajectory of SCM as a career field.

These elevated career prospects are fueled by newfound C-level executive interest. Company leaders increasingly recognize the value of strong, integrated supply chain capabilities for creating competitive advantage and sustained profitability. In response, SCM professionals are being elevated to highly visible roles involving corporate strategy, process integration, and financial success.

While the outlook is bright for supply chain professionals, a talent supply-demand gap is brewing. According to a recent MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Center for Transportation & Logistics study, companies are struggling to hire people with the appropriate mix of supply chain skills, general management aptitude, and relevant industry knowledge. Action is needed to maintain a pipeline of exceptional talent.

Universities can play an essential role in filling this SCM talent gap. Programs must attract and groom high-caliber students for evolving opportunities across supply chain processes. This is not an easy task, so we enlisted the help of three educators to address the topic of preparing undergraduate students for success in SCM.

Requirement #1 – Recruit Excellent Students
Attracting top students to undergraduate SCM programs requires significant effort to create awareness, accessibility, and appeal. Compared to other disciplines, students have very little awareness of SCM educational programs. Hence, raising the profile of SCM is critical to attracting students who would otherwise choose accounting, engineering, or marketing as their field of study. This can be accomplished through active promotion of the SCM program.

Innovative programs offer scholarships, internship opportunities, and professional organization affiliation to drive student interest in SCM as a major. For example, Central Michigan University established a Logistics Management Council thirty years ago. Dr. Robert Cook, professor of Marketing and Logistics, created the student association to recruit exceptional students and build their passion for supply chain careers.

Early accessibility also helps boost awareness. Too often, SCM courses are limited to students at the junior and senior level, long after they have already chosen a major. In response to this issue, a few schools now require all business students to take a basic SCM course during their sophomore year. This provides access to the students before they get deep into another program.

Dr. Terry Esper, associate professor of SCM at the University of Arkansas applauds the value of this strategy: “Getting the introductory supply chain course in front of students—early in their business school matriculation—gives us an opportunity to expose them to who we are and what we do. We are also being strategic about who teaches this course, putting our best faculty in the classroom. As a result, we’re seeing conversions from other majors.”