Getting items from point A to point B is what puts the links in supply chains. Whether that’s across the assembly plant complex or halfway around the world, it’s a job for supply chain transportation specialists.
That means specializing in transportation in supply chain management can embrace a wide range of different job responsibilities and bases of knowledge.
Your role may require a supernatural command of ocean currents, seasonal weather patterns, and bunker fuel market rates. Or it may involve getting cozy with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hazmat shipping definitions and plotting out routes across the U.S. that avoid populated areas and narrow roadways.
But in almost every case, a career as a transportation manager or planner starts with earning a degree in supply chain management.
What Do Supply Chain Transportation Planners and Managers Do?
Supply chain transportation specialists are planners by nature. It’s a job where details are important and contingencies lurk around every corner. Everything has to fit in the container; the trucks need enough diesel to reach their destination; overloading causes damage or incurs fines; the wrong paperwork means missed deliveries.
And that’s all just the routine stuff. Where things really get interesting is when the unexpected pops up. A typhoon can lead to a week spent sleeping under your desk re-routing ships and re-shaping schedules. A damaged highway bridge, icing at a regional airport hub, or terrorist threats can all throw a wrench in your day.
Supply chain transportation pros must think on their feet to deal with uncertainty.
Transportation managers consume weather and fuel pricing data like popcorn. They want to know where every plane, truck, ship, and van in their fleet is at every moment. And if anything is deviating from the plan, you can bet they are diving into it.
To avoid all the issues they can, you’ll find them:
Transportation is also an aspect of supply chain management that almost always includes outsourced services. Few organizations have the resources to maintain global or even regional transport networks in line with their requirements. Logistics organizations that specialize in transportation itself contract out other services, like packaging or servicing.
So, transportation managers spend a lot of time comparing and evaluating such services. They may actively develop relationships with several suppliers and use the one best suited for a given situation. It’s a job that calls for good people skills on top of analytical abilities.
Specialized Transportation Management Degrees Help Supply Chain Professional Get Their Careers off the Ground
Getting the right kind of college education will help you nail down all those critical tasks as a transportation manager. There are many supply chain management programs that offer a focus on shipping and transport, starting off at the two-year level with programs like an Associate of Science in Logistics and Transportation Management. These degrees cost an average of around $3,860 per year at community colleges according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). But they deliver a potent mix of general education and transportation-specific coursework that equips you for business and sets you up for further training.
At the next step up, degrees like a Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain, Transportation, and Logistics or a Bachelor of Arts in Transportation and Supply Chain cultivate deeper knowledge of supply chain and transportation principles. They also come with broader subject requirements that give you a firm grounding in the liberal arts. Although not directly related to SCM, those classes hone your critical thinking, communication, and people-handling skills. They can also flesh out your understanding of big-picture issues like geopolitics and macroeconomics… which is why these degrees are the minimum for most leadership roles in transportation management.
Bachelor’s programs cost about $17,250 per year in tuition and fees at public institutions, while out-of-state rates and private institutions are around three times that, according to NCES. But they are a must-have for many jobs in transportation management or planning, no matter what the cost.
Transportation is a vital part of the logistics process, so coursework covering transportation management and planning is a standard part of degrees in the field.
But senior positions are those that benefit most from the kind of education you only get with graduate degrees. With options like a Master of Science in Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics, a Master of Science in Logistics, Trade, and Transportation, or a Master of Science in Transportation Management with a Concentration in Supply Chain, you can explore cutting edge research and dive deep into specific modalities or industries.
A related program is the Master of Business Administration in Transportation Management. The MBA is a time-honored mark of the highly-capable executive. It’s no different in the supply chain world. Unlike dedicated degrees, though, the MBA comes with additional management and leadership teaching that goes broad into other business concerns like accounting, HR, IT, and legal and regulatory issues.
You’ll have to be careful when choosing from transportation degree programs to make sure you are getting those that focus on supply chain applications. There are other programs in transportation management that deal primarily with engineering considerations or public policy matters.
There are very few degrees at the doctoral level devoted to transportation and supply chain management. For the most part, a PhD in Transportation and Logistics will be dedicated to preparing you for research or academic roles, not active transportation management. On the other hand, PhD and DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) programs do allow a great deal of customization of your coursework. So, it’s possible to tailor your studies to the field, assuming your advisors agree.
Graduate program costs are even steeper than at the bachelor’s level. NCES pegs the average at $19,749 per year… but they can be well worth the cost when you consider the qualifications.
If a full degree doesn’t suit your circumstances or needs, a Transportation and Supply Chain Operations Certificate or a Logistics and Transportation Certificate might work better. With coursework that is dialed in to transportation issues, you can complete these in less than a year. Options exist at various levels of education, from post-secondary options at community colleges to baccalaureate options you can earn concurrent with a bachelor’s to traditional graduate and post-graduate options for those who already hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Pricing is just as abbreviated as the schedule, making them affordable to almost anyone.
Professional Certifications That Can Boost Your Transportation Management Credentials
Professional certifications may sound a lot like certificates, but there is a world of difference between them.
The educational certificates offered by colleges are a recognition that you’ve completed a sequence of coursework in their subjects. It’s like a very abbreviated diploma or degree. It’s all about educational attainment.
Professional certifications in SCM, though, speak to your demonstrated skills and abilities. Offered by independent, and often non-profit, organizations, they have a practical focus on supply chain tasks. They may have an element of required coursework, but then go well beyond to validate your skill through:
Unsurprisingly, they are a popular way for employers to validate your skills and abilities in specific aspects of supply chain management, including transportation.
One of the most important certs in the transport world is the CLTD (Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution) from ASCM (Association for Supply Chain Management). Incorporating modules on sustainability, network design, capacity planning, and all kinds of transportation modes, it covers the bases of expertise a competent and respected transportation professional is expected to have.
Many of the broader certifications in supply chain management, like ASCM’s CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional) will also touch on transportation considerations. And there are certs that aren’t specific to SCM that are nonetheless respected in the industry. The National Contract Management Association’s™ Certified Professional Contract Manager™ (CPCM™) is particularly relevant in transportation management, considering the heavy reliance on outsourcing.
Curriculum Found in SCM Degrees Covering Transportation Management Will Set Your Career on the Right Course
Specialized degrees in transportation planning for supply chain management come with specialized coursework. You can expect core classes such as:
As with any supply chain management degree, they’ll also come with education in the important core concepts of the field. That means coursework in:
Many such degrees also deliver experiential learning through internship placements or cooperative research projects. These give you valuable perspectives on transportation theory versus their reality in the field.
Of course, all your courses will vary with the level of the degree you are pursuing. An associate’s or bachelor’s program will give you the basics of the subject. A master’s or doctorate will drill down into the details.
Every supply chain management program will offer some range of electives that you can use to really focus your skills in transportation issues. Other options will help you focus on the needs of certain industries. Examples include:
Online Supply Chain Management Degrees Solve Your Personal Transportation Problems in College Education
One way you can minimize your own transportation costs and requirements during college is by pursuing an online degree program.
While your career in supply chain transportation management may keep you on the road most of the time, your education doesn’t have to.
More and more supply chain management degrees are available entirely or partly online. By enrolling in one, you can:
Exploring Supply Chain Management Jobs for Transportation Planners and Managers
Alongside storage management, transportation is an area of supply chain management that can be both a function and an industry. While many organizations hire SCM transportation professionals to manage their transport networks in-house, there is also an entire industry of providers in freight forwarding, transshipping, or integrated logistics systems that require specialists in transportation management.
Jobs in those businesses or as part of in-house shipping operations can include:
Particularly in smaller organizations, these specialized supply chain management jobs may be combined with other logistics tasks. It’s not unusual to find positions for Warehouse and Transportation Managers, or Operations Managers for Freight and Transportation, or even Purchasing and Fleet Managers.
On the other hand, there are also many positions at dedicated logistics providers that are all-shipping, all-the-time. These jobs might come with more generic titles like Logistics Manager, Supply Chain Analyst, or Supply Chain Manager, but their entire focus will be in transportation services.
Supply Chain Transportation Management and Planning Jobs Come with Solid Salary Potential
The salary ranges available for those various positions are just as wide as the range of responsibilities. But for every level of education and experience, the work of transportation planners and managers offers a good living.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks salaries in two different categories that cover transportation management jobs.
For analytical, planning, dispatching, distribution, and other coordinating activities in transportation, the category of logisticians is most relevant. For 2022, their average salary came to $77,520 per year. With more experience and education, those in the top ten percent of the field brought home a cool $124,050 or more.
Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
Further up the employment ladder, transportation workers with greater responsibilities and more supervisory positions fall into this group. Their 2022 median pay came to $98,560 per year according to BLS. The top ten percent of this category earned more than $169,070 annually, however.
Because of the concentration of such positions in certain specialized industries, it’s also possible to get a snapshot of transportation-specific positions. For example, for Transportation, Storage, and Distribution managers in the Truck Transportation industry, the annual average salary is $92,550. The top four industries with the highest concentrations of those managers all command averages into the six-figure range, however:
No matter what industry you choose, though, there’s no question that transportation is one of the most exciting, dynamic roles in supply chain management. If you like to think on your feet, plan for contingencies, and be a part of the big net tying the world together, then supply chain transportation planning and management is for you.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Logisticians and Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.