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Educating Students for Supply Chain Success

U.S. graduate and undergraduate supply chain programs are adapting their curriculums and introducing new programs to meet industry needs and offer real-life experiences.

* By Mary Lou Jay *

What skills do companies look for when hiring an early-career supply chain professional? Beyond a basic knowledge of the industry, desirable characteristics include technical and analytical abilities, problem-solving experience, good soft skills and an understanding of global supply chains.

U.S. graduate and undergraduate supply chain programs are adapting their curriculums and introducing new programs to meet these industry needs. Gartner’s August 2018 analysis of the field’s top graduate programs noted, “The average supply chain curriculum has grown in breadth and maintained strong technology and analytical content.” Real-world learning is also key.

Gartner rates Pennsylvania State University’s program as number one in the country, followed by the University of Michigan, the University of Tennessee and Michigan State University. The schools share many characteristics, including a first-rate faculty, challenging courses and good relationships with companies throughout the supply chain.

The Supply Chain and Information Systems Department at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business offers a four-year undergraduate program, a resident MBA with a supply chain concentration, an online option for working professionals (Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management), and a doctorate.

Nicholas Petruzzi, department chair and professor of supply chain management, calls the school’s strong academic faculty one pillar of the program’s success. “We are thought leaders in the field; you can look at our research and publications and at our activities in the prestigious journals and at the big conferences.”

The second and equally important pillar is a close connection with industry. The school’s Center for Supply Chain Research provides a forum where faculty members and leaders from approximately 50 sponsor companies can exchange ideas and knowledge. Bringing the academic and the industrial together creates a program with “rigor and relevance,” Petruzzi said.

The Center also provides a direct conduit between students and supply chain companies. Many students gain experience through summer internships, and most take part in one of the extra-curricular “consulting teams” that address companies’ real-world problems. The companies benefit from students’ fresh ideas; the students gain invaluable skills. “They might find themselves at the end of a term in a board room giving a presentation,” Petruzzi said.

The project work doesn’t directly relate to particular courses but does enrich students’ class discussions. They’re no longer just talking about theory, but looking at examples of how the theory applies in the real world.

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There is no silver bullet to building a workforce that can thrive in this new digital environment. It takes leadership, collaboration, innovative talent sourcing, continuous training and improvement. This issue of MHI Solutions focuses on this important topic from the technologies driving changing skill sets to industry-academia collaboration to how to hire, retain and develop the digital supply chain workforce.

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