The coronavirus pandemic, the US-China trade war and, more recently, Brexit disruption, have underscored the importance of supply chain management. It was once a niche function, but its role in business and wider society is critical.
Supply chain management is rising to the fore as companies seek to trade-off efficiency for resilience in light of the coronavirus and geopolitical disruption to global trade and logistics, not to mention industry’s embrace of digital technology.
So, how can managers skill-up to deal with these challenges? Executive education can help. There are many short courses, such as the week-long “Supply Chain Management” program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, or the day-long “Achieving Supply Chain Transformation” course offered by Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business.
Rutgers Business School in New Jersey offers the Mini MBA in Digital Supply Chain, which is an executive education course. The majority of learners are leaders of organizations, or hope to become leaders.
The program currently covers ten topics across various parts of the supply chain, such as supply chain analytics, robotic process automation, supply chain finance and economics.
“Participants learn about what drives the supply chain of the future,” says Rudolf Leuschner, associate professor in the department of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers, adding that the curriculum has to change very frequently to keep up with developments in the sector.
Indeed, other courses in the Mini MBA now cover how the pandemic has affected supply chains and in particular, the importance of resilience. “Most customers have delayed payments to suppliers and there is a significant liquidity crunch affecting smaller and medium-sized suppliers,” explains Leuschner, adding that the economic disruption will continue even after the pandemic abates.
The updated content has been crucial for many participants: “We do not formally track [employment] outcomes, but anecdotally, we have heard about how our learners have received promotions and new [job] offers,” he says.
Supply chain courses cater to a range of participants
At Vlerick Business School in Belgium, participants in the Executive Master Class in Supply Chain Management can broaden the content through electives that cover people management, leadership and finance – that’s in addition to the core modules in supply chain planning, strategies, resilience and sustainability.
Because of this, there are a range of different people taking the program. Often, these are junior supply chain managers hoping to rise through the ranks in their current organization. Other participants are executives in other departments who want to learn how supply chain affects other parts of the business.
Participants work on a project in their companies with support from Vlerick faculty, so the knowledge is immediately and directly applied to their role. For many of the students, these projects will be looking at coronavirus, which “has changed supply chains massively”, says Ann Vereecke, professor of operations and supply chain management at Vlerick.
For example, she says that planning and forecasting have become very difficult given the current uncertainties caused by coronavirus disruption to manufacturing. Longer-term, she says the pandemic has underscored the importance of risk management in supply chains. “Being aware of potential disruptions and having contingency plans is ever more important,” Vereecke says, adding that digitization has also been accelerated by Covid-19 due to the increased uptake of ecommerce and remote work.
“Companies are using digital transformation to make operations leaner, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly, through better use of their assets and resources,” she says.
There is also an increased awareness of sustainability and environmental footprints in supply chains, which she is hopeful will become a more prominent point of focus for managers. “But many companies may have chosen short-term [goals] over long-term in this area,” says Vereecke.
Career outcomes vary, but alumni of the Executive Master Class in Supply Chain Management tend to accelerate their career in their current company, which, more often than not, has paid for the training.
Supply chain issues highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic
Fortune 1000 multinationals, defense and government organizations also send their leaders to the Olin Business School at Washington University in St Louis for the Supply Chain Management Certificate program.
“We train them in integrated global supply chain management, developing strategies for efficiency and speed, managing risks, building agile and resilient supply chains,” and much more besides, says Panos Kouvelis, director of the Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation at the Olin school.
Such issues, he says, have been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, which “requires rethinking the role of lean and risk management approaches for managing supply chains”. He adds that digital transformation is an extremely important trend for the future of supply chains.
“Digitization of supply chains will increase transparency, reduce lead times, increase responsiveness and agility, better align incentives among supply chain firms, and allow for more effective, integrated risk management in a world with more frequent and severe disruptions,” says Kouvelis.
And given that coronavirus has raised the importance of supply chain management as a function, he says that participants are frequently promoted within their companies, and some transfer to consulting or advanced analyst jobs. “Those from government or defense industry jobs often use the training to move to corporate and more financially lucrative opportunities,” Kouvelis says.