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While the internet has been exceptional in a multitude of ways, its ability to deliver information, services and products easily and quickly is by far its notable, competitive advantage. Information is digital, while services and products especially remain physical. And this is where supply chain management intersects, taking the “old” way of managing chains and super-sizing it based on the needs of a digitally, interconnected world.

Robots can and continue to contribute to supply-chain management. But the brains behind the chain are still flesh and blood. Satisfying customer expectations in 2019 demands perhaps the most agile chains in human history, so companies need good people, and students need good training. 

Student enrollment in supply chain programs has exploded. Gartner research found that from 2014 to 2016, enrollment ballooned by 43 percent. In raw numbers this is a jump from 8,500 students to 12,200. 

Take the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) as an example. The state’s largest university holds two student job fairs every year. Student job fairs are typical across universities. What’s not typical, however, is the UTK supply chain program holds its own fairs. Roughly 1,000 students arrive to these fairs to be ultimately placed in touch with between 160 and 180 Fortune 500 companies for internships, full-time jobs as well as co-op programs. An innovative supply chain forum features in-depth panel discussions and speed networking events for both companies and students alike.

Still Not Enough

There are currently 150-plus schools (U.S. only) that offer bachelor or associate degrees in supply-chain management. Yet, despite this future supply chain churn, a study by DHL in 2017 revealed jobs in the larger supply chain sector are outpacing supply by a shocking 6:1. The good news here is if you have a supply chain degree, the world is your oyster. But if you’re an employer seeking fresh, new graduates, they won’t simply fall into your lap. 

Recognizing this, companies have been engaged in more than simply getting the good word out at recruiting fairs. Abe Eshkenazi is CEO at the Association for Supply Chain Management (APICS). One of the (if not the) leader in supply chain certification programs, APICS serves an invaluable role for companies seeking supply chain management talent as well as those needing to ramp up the skills of current employees. Known for their ability to develop talent and work collaboratively with supply chain stakeholders of every kind, Eshkenazi is understandably bullish, despite this supply gap. 

Perhaps the biggest barrier to inculcating supply chain management as a profession in a teenager’s mind is it does not neatly fall into science, the arts, technology or math. Eshkenazi is a vocal supporter of getting supply chain management concepts integrated early and often in school STEM programs. Via basic, age-old exercises like the typical lemonade stand, kids learn supply chain fundamentals: calculating the amount of lemons needed, finding providers, getting the lemons back to the stand and so on. These are things we all engaged in but never knew how to neatly define the process. Yet this is supply chain management at its most basic level, through and through. 

Competition Attracts Everyone

Even the most uncompetitive among us are still drawn, to some extent, to competition. The opportunity to win something or be recognized for a job well-done is a satisfactory feeling. One way companies are attracting fresh talent to universities (to in turn groom them) is through old-fashioned, friendly competition. 

The previously mentioned APICS partnered with Deloitte to develop the ASCM Case Competition. A supply chain management problem is presented, and teams then coalesce to brainstorm, test, fail and ultimately provide solutions. The trial-by-error nature of this case competition gives participants unique insight not only into learning through mistakes but recognizing common mistakes and patterns that will likely arise in the real world. Cases involve everything from logistics to sales, operations planning to distribution, as well as inventory and similar management problems. 

The competition started as a fun idea and has evolved into a flagship event that involves students and universities across North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. A sampling of the universities that have gone through the ASCM Case Competition speak to its global reach–Duke University, University of Pretoria, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Rhode Island College, American University of Sharjah, Western Michigan University and so on. The finalists from last year were from the U.S., Mexico, Germany, India, Hong Kong and Canada.

Scholarships Never Hurt     

While competition is nice, a scholarship is arguably better received. To attract bright minds into the food side of supply chain management, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation provides scholarships to roughly 50 students per year. The Institute for Supply Management posts scholarship opportunities year-round, and it is not unheard of to see awards exceeding $10,000 per student. 

The Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC) is one such university, a research and educational institute forged via a partnership between MIT and the University of Zaragoza. Their full-time Master of Engineering in Logistics and Supply Chain Management is a 10-month program (nine months at the ZLC campus and three weeks at MIT) that prepares graduates to work at a global level in the larger supply chain management field. An extensive amount of scholarships is available, and if 10 months is too big a time commitment, a blended Master of Engineering in Logistics and Supply Chain Management is offered with a mix of online courses plus three weeks at MIT and four months at the ZLC campus. 

The challenges of recruiting well-trained, recent graduates will likely be an issue for some time. What the larger sector needs to do is make supply chain management an attractive offer, and for this generation of young people a nice salary isn’t going to cut it. More coverage via events from UKT and stimulating competitions get folks in the door. Evolving in this direction is where the industry should move. Only time will tell if this ends up occurring.