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How to Become a Supply Chain Manager
What Does a Supply Chain Manager Do?
Supply chain managers (SCMs) oversee the lifecycle of a company's production of goods, from ordering raw materials to delivery of the product to consumers. They work with suppliers, production and operations teams, distribution networks, and vendors.
Through every step in the chain, they ensure processes are streamlined and efficient and quality standards are met. There's strong job growth in supply chain management, and there will be many opportunities in this field throughout the decade.
7 Steps to a Career as a Supply Chain Manager
Earning a degree in supply chain management or a related field and getting work experience will put you on a path toward a successful career. These steps can help you get there.
Find the right school.
It's important to do a little investigating to find a school that meets your needs and career goals. As you research potential programs, make sure you look for:
• Accreditation: This means the school meets the educational standards of an accrediting organization. Accreditation helps ensure you're getting a quality education, and it's required to qualify for financial aid. Plus, transferring credits to another school or being accepted into a graduate program can be difficult if you attend a non-accredited school.
• Online programs: Remote learning can be crucial for many people who need flexible schedules, including working students and those with family responsibilities. Online programs also allow students who don't live near a school to earn a degree.
• Supply chain courses: As the field grows, more schools are offering degrees or concentrations in supply chain management. At a minimum, many business programs offer courses in supply chain concepts.
Choose your degree.
In most cases, you'll need a bachelor's degree to become a supply chain manager. A four-year degree can open up more career opportunities, as well as boost your earning potential and help you stay competitive with other job applicants.
If you have limited time and money, you can start with a two-year associate degree in business administration. An associate degree can prepare you for entry-level jobs such as purchasing clerk or assistant buyer, and you can pursue a bachelor's degree while you work.
If you choose a bachelor's degree, a common option for a career in supply chain management is a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts in business administration or a related field such as economics. Some schools offer a bachelor's degree in supply chain management or a concentration in the field.
Some employers may want managerial candidates with a master's degree. Some schools offer a master's degree in supply chain management, while others offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in supply chain management.
Gain admission to a degree program.
To be admitted to a bachelor's program, you'll need a high school diploma or GED. Previous coursework may not be required but classwork in math, accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, and data analysis can help lay the groundwork for your bachelor's degree.
Aside from a high school diploma, admissions requirements vary. A bachelor's program may require all or some of these:
• Specific GPA. Some schools admit students with GPAs in the 2.5 range. But competitive programs may require a GPA of 3.5 to 3.8.
• SAT or ACT scores. Some schools will require scores on one of these college admissions exams, while others will not. When test scores aren't required, your GPA and high school coursework are weighted more heavily in the admissions process.
• College prerequisites. Some schools with competitive business programs may require you to study as a pre-business student for a year or two until you complete prerequisites. You can then apply for admission into the business school to complete your degree.
Earn your degree.
Supply chain managers need a background in financial analysis and forecasting, and business programs will generally include a strong foundation in these areas. While coursework will vary among programs, here are some supply chain-related courses to look for:
• Corporate finance: Financial function and management of a business, including financial analysis and the acquisition, budgeting, and management of capital.
• Strategic management: Review and evaluation of critical thinking and decision-making in business processes.
• Business analytics: How data is used in corporate decision-making
• Economics: Allocation of resources, supply and demand, and other concepts
• Marketing: How products are positioned in the market for consumer groups
• Management: Processes and techniques for effective management
• Business communication: Speaking, writing, and communicating effectively in the workplace
• Business ethics: Exploration of ethical questions in the business world
Additionally, you'll want to do at least one internship. Supply chain management tends to put a premium on experience, and an internship can make your resume stand out. Many companies look for interns to assist in logistics, procurement, analytics, and other aspects of supply chain management.
By completing an internship, you'll not only gain real-world experience but also have the opportunity to network and make professional contacts who could be valuable for your job search after you graduate.
Find your first job and gain experience.
Many students start thinking about getting their first jobs as they near graduation. You'll find a variety of entry-level jobs that will be good preparation for a career in supply chain management. Positions such as buyer, supply chain coordinator, and supply chain analyst are all potential starting points.
There are several ways to get leads for your job hunt:
Attend job fairs: These events are an efficient way to meet with potential employers. Bring a resume, dress professionally, and be prepared—some employers may want to interview you on the spot.
Inquire about jobs where you interned: Students can sometimes leverage their internship experience into a full-time position after graduation.
Connect with your contacts: Let your contacts from your internship or any other experience know you're looking for your first position. Many people are happy to check with their network and pass along any openings.
Consider earning a certification.
While it's not required to work as an SCM, earning a professional certification demonstrates you have expertise in your field. This can make you stand out among your peers and could potentially boost your salary.
Here are three supply chain certifications to consider:
Certified Professional Logistician (CPL)
• Who Grants It: The International Society of Logistics
• What It Is: Certification that demonstrates competence in logistics
• Who It's For: Professionals in commerce, industry, military, government, academia, private institutions
• Requirements: Must have a total of nine years of experience, including education (for example, a bachelor's degree plus five years of work experience)
• Exam format: Consists of four two-hour exams taken in one eight-hour period. Multiple choice and applicants must pass all four sections.
• Prep resources: SOLE has a free, downloadable study guide on its website
Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM)
• Who Grants It: Institute for Supply Management
• What It Is: Certification that shows mastery of supply chain core competencies
• Who It's For: Ideal for those focused on procurement and supply management
• Requirements: Must have a bachelor's degree plus three years of work experience, or five years of work experience without a degree
• Exam format: There are three exams, each 2.75 to 3 hours long. They can be taken separately or together at approved test sites or online
• Prep resources: ISM offers fee-based self-study questions and online-guided learning opportunities
Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)
• Who Grants It: Association for Supply Chain Management
• What It Is: Certification that demonstrates mastery of the extended supply chain
• Who It's For: Professionals in supply chain strategy and design, technology, and demand planning and management
• Requirements: Must have three years of work experience, or a bachelor's degree, or hold a qualifying professional certification
• Exam format: 3.5-hour exam with 150 questions that cover eight topics. You can take the test at a center or elsewhere online.
• Prep resources: ASCM offers fee-based self-study and instructor-led and supported exam prep.
There are other certifications, certificates, and training that can also be valuable. There is a difference between certifications and certificates. A certification is an assessment of knowledge gained from your education and professional experience and demonstrates expertise in your field. A certificate is awarded after a person completes an education program and demonstrates knowledge of the coursework.
Jason Woldt, associate professor of supply chain management at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, recommends looking at certificates offered by universities. He says other opportunities, including free options, are available through massive open online courses (MOOCs), LinkedIn Learning, and even YouTube. Woldt says many offer the same level of training as professional certifications, which can cost thousands of dollars.
"Personally, I'd get a certificate from a university or I'd get on-the-job experience," he says. "I think that's going to take you farther in your career."
Whether you need a master's degree to move into a supply chain manager position can largely depend on the job market, Woldt says. Currently, there's a strong demand to fill roles, and employers are willing to train people who may have certificates or degrees in areas such as economics. That means that having a master's right now might not be important to some employers.
However, Woldt says, the job market can change and employers can become more selective. If that happens, "people who have specific training within the discipline, with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree—they're going to be much more marketable than other folks."
"So many companies, especially the big ones like Amazon and IBM, do require a master's degree," Woldt says.
Numerous schools offer an MBA in supply chain management. These degrees are typically designed to provide a broader base of business knowledge along with supply chain coursework. Programs can be completed in one to two years, and there are many available online.
Another consideration is whether you want to work in "supply chain data analytics," a niche within supply chain management that requires specialty skills including forecasting. "That is the only case where I would say you definitely need a master's degree," Woldt says.
Is Supply Chain Management a Good Fit for You?
Supply chain managers oversee the lifecycle of a product, from its creation until it arrives in the hands of consumers. They coordinate different teams involved with production, warehousing, and distribution of products. To be successful, a supply chain manager needs an in-depth understanding of business operations, finances, and logistics.
Supply chain managers oversee the lifecycle of a product, from its creation until it arrives in the hands of consumers.
For example, an SCM may be responsible for sourcing enough raw material to meet production needs—but not so much that there's excess material and storage becomes a problem. Supply chain managers work with operations teams to ensure quality and efficiency targets are met. Once the product is manufactured, they make sure distribution channels deliver the product to consumers as efficiently as possible.
Supply chain managers are always looking for ways to streamline this process to help their company save time and money. Some common tasks they may take on include:
How Long Does It Take to Become a Supply Chain Manager?
In many cases, it may take about six to eight years to become a supply chain manager. This includes four years of full-time studies to complete a bachelor's degree. Many graduates start their careers as supply chain analysts or specialists or purchasing or sourcing managers.
After a couple of years on the job, some people will opt to earn a master's degree or an MBA. Others may opt to get a few more years of work experience and pursue a supply chain management position.
Where You'll Work
Many people think of manufacturing when they think of supply chain management. It's true—factories that produce consumer goods are among the top workplaces for supply chain positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 24% of all jobs for logisticians—the term the bureau uses for supply chain managers—are in manufacturing, more than any other industry.
But supply chain jobs are needed across most industries. The federal government is the next biggest employer at 18%, closely followed by professional, technical, and scientific services at 17%, the BLS reports.
Here's a sampling of what you might expect to do as an SCM in different industries:
Manufacturing: Oversee sourcing of raw material and manufacturing of products; monitor inventory and warehousing; determine distribution and ensure delivery
Hospitals: Assure that medical supplies and equipment are available while minimizing waste; monitor patient care and medical services
Transportation: Negotiate contracts with transportation and warehouse vendors and managers; monitor timely delivery of products; ensure compliance with import/export regulations
Salary and Job Outlook
Supply chain managers earn a median salary of $77,030, according to the BLS. There is quite a bit of variance in salaries, however. The type of industry you work in, where you live, and your experience also will factor into how much you earn. Here are salaries for supply chain managers by state, and by lowest and highest 10% wage:
Median Salary: $77,030
Projected job growth: 29.5%
10th Percentile: $45,160
25th Percentile: $59,740
75th Percentile: $98,680
90th Percentile: $122,390
Projected job growth: 29.5%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$106,600||$66,120||$159,270|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
The BLS says supply chain jobs are expected to grow by 30% from 2020 to 2030, a sizeable increase and more than three times the 9% growth projected for jobs overall. One reason is attrition—many of the new roles will replace people leaving the field to retire or for other occupations, the BLS says.
The BLS says supply chain jobs are expected to grow by 30% job from 2020 to 2030, a sizeable increase and more than three times the 9% growth projected for jobs overall.
The field is also growing due to the increasing need to move products efficiently and solve supply chain problems. The BLS points to the growth in e-commerce and the logistics needed for online delivery and distribution.
Once you become an SCM, you'll want to keep tabs on the latest news and trends in the supply chain field. Professional resources, including associations, conferences, podcasts, and YouTube channels, all offer content to help you stay at the top of your game and advance your career.
Here are a few resources to get started with:
Association for Supply Chain Management: This professional association offers regional and online training opportunities, certifications, a job board, and an annual conference.
The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals: This professional association holds an annual conference and local roundtables, and offers training, certification, a job board, and a mentoring program.
The Indicator: Woldt recommends this podcast from NPR that covers a variety of business, work, and economy topics, including many supply chain topics.
The Wall Street Journal: The national business-focused newspaper includes a logistics report that's worth following, Woldt says.