Do you need a college degree to be a supply chain manager?

Published by Kacy on

supply chain

Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to making a business a success. As companies increasingly source their products along a multi-national pipeline, they need experts who can enhance that pipeline. Those experts are supply chain managers.

Optimizing the supply chain can change a business. Supply chain managers work in three main areas: logistics (joining sales and operations departments to improve procurement processes); operations (managing product flows, optimizing warehouse processes; reorganizing transportation networks); and finance (improving budgets to accurately account costs of inventory management; comparing and contrasting different methods of inventory recovery). All this demands a unique blend of theoretical and practical business knowledge.

If a supply chain doesn’t work, the larger business overall doesn’t work either. That is why, in today’s world, supply chain managers are essential. Supply chain managers can estimate how to bring manufacturing operations back to America in the most cost-effective manner. They can apply methods of making supply chains greener and more sustainable. Moreover, automation and big data allow for complex calculations that could save resources and super-charge innovation.

Guide to Becoming a Supply Chain Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree 

After graduating from high school, ambitious supply chain managers have to earn their bachelor’s degree. While there are bachelor’s programs that concentrate specifically on supply chain management, other relevant majors exist such as finance, business, or even engineering.

Admissions requirements differ from school to school but generally include some mixture of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience 

After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective supply chain managers typically have to get early work experience. This is a profession where people work their way up and early work experience is frequently made up of roles with lower responsibility, but retain touchpoints with the supply chain.

Jobs and internships in supply chain analysis, product distribution, inventory management, and business operations may teach wannabe supply chain managers about the fast-paced workflow, data-based decision making, and interdepartmental communication which is crucial to supply chain management. This sort of hands-on education is priceless in the early stages of one’s career and as a bonus, some employers will even fund their employees’ graduate-level education.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree 

It is becoming more common for employers to request graduate-level education, but some supply chain managers are hired with only a bachelor’s degree. Dedicated master’s programs are available in supply chain management, but a master’s of business administration (MBA) can cover the fundamentals of all business processes while at the same time allowing for specialization in supply chain management or enterprise resource planning. Entry requirements differ at each school but typically include some combination of the following: a competitive (3.0 or greater) undergraduate GPA; GMAT and/or GRE scores; work experience; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Michigan State University and Arizona State University rank at the top when it comes to graduate-level education in supply chain management.

Michigan State University’s has an on-campus MBA with a concentration in supply chain management that can be finished in 21 months. The curriculum is broken down into 31 credits of introductory knowledge, 12 credits on the chosen concentration, and 18 credits of electives. Concentration courses include developing topics in supply chain management; manufacturing design and analysis; supply chain simulation; sustainable supply chain management; and integrated logistics systems. Tuition and fees total $52,502 per year for non-residents.

Arizona State University’s offers an on-campus MBA with a focus in  supply chain management that can be finished in 21 months. The concentration has several courses focused exclusively on supply chain management, including strategic procurement; services in the supply chain; sustainability and social responsibility; operations planning and execution; and project management. Full-time tuition and fees total $99,228 for non-residents.

Step Four: Gain Advanced Work Experience 

Many aspiring supply chain managers concentrate on gaining work experience in leadership roles after getting their master’s degree. This is the phase at which all of one’s graduate-level education is applied in practice. Advanced work experience means learning on the job every day and teaching others along the way. While this could be the terminal step for supply chain managers, it also builds towards professional certification requirements.

Step Five: Consider Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Many supply chain managers try to their education and distinguish themselves in the industry by pursuing professional certification, however it’s not a requirement to practice. These certifications that peer-led organizations provide show one’s industry expertise and a commitment to the evolving best practices in supply chain management.

The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) designation. Eligibility requirements include a bachelor’s degree or three years of relevant work experience. Applicants need to pass a three-module exam which covers the following areas: supply chain design; supply chain planning and execution; and supply chain improvements and best practices. Exam fees are $965 for non-members.

CSCP-holders must recertify every five years by submitting proof of 75 professional development points and paying a fee of $150. The ASCM also offers two other specialized designations of interest for supply chain managers: Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) and Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution (CLTD).

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) offers the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) designation. Candidates need at least of three years in a supply chain management role. Once considered eligible, candidates have pass a pass an exam on the basics of supply chain management before earning their designation. For non-members, the application fee is $179, and the exam fee is $379.

CPSM-holders need to recertify every four years through completing 60 hours of continuing education credits, in addition to paying a renewal fee of $150. The ISM also offers the Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD) designation for those who wish to specialize further.

Finally, the International Society of Logistics (SOLE) offers the Certified Professional Logistician (CPL) designation. Eligibility requirements include a master’s degree and at least four years of experience in logistics or a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience in logistics. Once the eligibility requirements are met, candidates will need to pass an eight-hour multiple-choice exam, which is broken up into four two-hour sessions. Exam fees are $375 for non-members. The CPL designation does not expire.