It is generally recognized that companies around the globe are faced with an acute shortage of qualified supply chain talent at the early and mid-career levels. One of the ways to effectively address this shortage is through developing closer, more collaborative relationships between businesses and the colleges and universities that deliver such key talent, either through supply chain and logistics degree programs or non-credit training.
At the heart of every supply chain management program in higher education is the need to develop qualified graduates who are prepared to take on the real-world challenges that hiring companies face. However, there is often a disparity among supply chain management (SCM) programs in the U.S. when it comes to the breadth and depth of topical coverage that these employers require. Unfortunately, many university SCM programs have remained associated within traditional academic disciplines, i.e., management, operations, marketing and information technology, instead of becoming a recognized, standalone discipline in its own right, while other SCM programs have focused more on the interests and perspectives of influential individual faculty members instead of the real workforce needs of the business community.
Research indicates that these programs often deliver graduates who are poorly prepared to meet the dynamic challenges of managing supply chains in a global economy. University SCM programs face a three-pronged challenge in providing graduates ready to hit the ground running.
First, competitiveness in the modern global marketplace requires that firms be highly adaptive and provide customized products and services to discriminating customers. Second, effective management of this rapidly changing, global supply marketplace requires uniquely skilled individuals who can learn a new set of SCM skills or adapt their existing skill set to meet a constantly evolving and rapidly changing environment. Lastly, employees who have developed these important skill sets are in short supply, a supply chain challenge in and of itself.
What can be done in SCM programs to address this challenge? Researchers have determined that skill sets crucial to effective supply chain networks will vary based on the needs of its stakeholders. Some schools, like the College of Business and Technology at Western Illinois University (WIU), have learned to focus the depth and breadth of their SCM programs on the very real needs of those companies that hire their graduates.
Over the past several years, WIU has routinely surveyed its regional business clientele to determine what specific knowledge, skills and abilities are needed in the workplace. Results of this effort indicate that new supply chain graduates need to be familiar with three levels of knowledge: 1) business acumen skills, 2) specific SCM and operational skills, and 3) effective management and leadership skills and abilities.
The survey respondent base varied from multinational manufacturing, distribution and agribusiness companies to regional transportation providers and moderately sized manufacturers. Respondents were asked to evaluate a series of SCM topics and rate each using a 1-5 scale ranging from 1 being “not important” to 5 being “very important.” The SCM faculty reviewed the results using statistical analysis and realized that the relative importance of these skills could be grouped into five levels. They then critically evaluated the existing curriculum to see where gaps and overlaps existed from the eyes of the employers.
By James L. Patterson, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, College Of Business and Technology, Western Illinois University