There’s something incredible about a supply chain that runs like it’s supposed to. Like an orchestra, where the sounds of dozens of instruments come together in harmony, a supply chain pulls together source materials, weaves them into new products, and sends them off to stores and consumers or businesses.
When it’s running right, it’s almost invisible. When it isn’t… well, everyone saw the empty shelves in the toilet paper aisle during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s practically the end of civilization as we know it.
The pandemic showed everyone what the supply chain is and does. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Thousands of people who might never have thought about a career in logistics now understand the importance of the work. Companies who treated supply chains as an afterthought got serious about hiring the right professionals to manage them. Investment and hiring spiked across the profession.
That investment is continuing today. And now you may be one of the people wondering how to get in on the action by becoming a supply chain manager.
An Important Job Suddenly Got a Lot Hotter in the Post-Pandemic World
COVID made the supply chain sexy again. Companies that had the right talent in their supply chain teams thrived; those that didn’t collapsed.
It made the business world sit up and take notice. And it’s leading to an epic hiring surge across industries.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for logisticians from 2021 to 2031 will jump by 28 percent, adding more than 54,000 positions to the field.
According to 2023 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those specialists will join some 6.7 million who are already working in the Transportation and Warehousing sector.
It’s a huge range of positions with many different specializations in almost every industry. And the first step on the path to becoming a supply chain manager is figuring out which one of those positions you are most interested in.
Finding Your Niche in Supply Chain Management
In general, supply chain management jobs revolve around a particular set of functions that are consistent from industry to industry:
Analysis and Planning
Analytics are big in modern supply chain structure and operations; analysts gather data, compare scenarios, and make recommendations in every other functional area.
Obtaining the source materials or components for products involves balancing costs with profits and availability. Skilled supply chain managers develop deep industry knowledge of suppliers and maintain relationships to keep the goods coming.
Supply chain management bleeds into core business processes that add value to source materials. Supply chain managers may oversee quality control and factory logistics.
Storage is a cost center, one kept under control by supply chain managers. They forecast both supply and demand through inventory management processes that don’t tie-up resources but keep the company from running out of materials.
Input components and finished products are stored, protected, and organized by these managers, ensuring they hold their value until used or distributed.
Getting the goods where they need to be, when they need to be there is a key part of supply chain management, and one of the most fragile. Experts in this field explore all the options for both cost and resilience.
Complexity in each of these fields can also lead to even more specialized supply chain management jobs in areas like supplier diversity or warehousing automation.
All these tie into other corporate functions like accounting and operations at various levels. Particularly at the top of the pyramid, supply chain and logistics concerns are woven into almost every element of planning and strategy for corporate leaders.
That leads to differences in supply chain management from industry-to-industry, as well. The kinds of knowledge and skills you build around semiconductor sourcing and transportation can be considerably different from the same job in the pharmaceutical industry.
So, your path to supply chain management will involve developing an idea of both the role you want to play and the industry you want to play it in.
Developing the Skills and Qualifications for Supply Chain Management Jobs
The supply chain stretches from remote parts of the planet where raw materials are scratched out of the ground to bustling cities where long fluorescent-lit aisles display finished products for the consumer.
Turning those materials into those products and transporting them around the planet at every intermediate stage requires a breathtaking range of skills and specializations. You may need to master talents like:
Every niche and every industry demands its own type of skills and expertise.
When you get right down to it, though, all of those jobs thrive on one core skill: organization. Every supply chain professional in every position has to have it. Knowing where the pieces are, how to shift them over distances large and small, and what to do with them when they arrive is the key to the profession.
Organization itself emerges from a pyramid of other skills:
But organization also requires knowledge. You must develop a deep understanding of many moving parts. And there’s only one way to get it: a college degree.
Paving the Way to Becoming a Supply Chain Manager by Earning a College Degree
Although transport and warehousing may seem like low-tech activities, the complexity of modern supply chains rivals other challenging corporate functions like accounting.
It’s also true that the logistics field has experienced the same technology revolution as every other modern industry. And changes come fast, with shifting geopolitical circumstances and even weather systems flipping established processes on their head.
The long and short of all this is that supply chain management just isn’t something you do without a college degree. And the higher the degree, the greater your responsibility… and likely your paycheck.
Considering Your Degree Options When Planning for a Supply Chain Management Career
You have a lot of options when it comes to picking out a supply chain management degree, however. They are available at every level of the college system. They often come with concentrations that offer focused training in the different aspects of supply chain management. And each choice you make affects your opportunities after graduation.
For starts, you’ll have to decide on the right degree level to start off with. Some supply chain positions are available with only a two-year Associate Degree in Supply Chain Management. These are typically on-the-ground roles that get into the details of arranging transportation, storing goods in warehouses, managing inventory records, and scheduling.
On the other hand, a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain Management can open the door to entry-level management positions. These come with greater responsibility and more promotion potential. These are generally first-line supervisors overseeing the detail-oriented roles listed above, with the opportunity to move rapidly into middle management.
A Master’s Degree in Supply Chain Management, commonly taking one to two years to finish, unlocks the most senior positions in a company’s logistics organization. These are the individuals who go on to become Vice President for Logistics or head up corporate negotiations with major suppliers. They get advanced training in leadership as well as supply chain concepts to prepare for those jobs.
An option that can take your career even further up the corporate ladder is the Master of Business Administration in Supply Chain Management. These elite two-to-three-year business degrees are considered essential for executive officers and senior managers. They teach a wide range of business concepts and skills, well beyond supply chain management work. With a supply chain concentration, however, you can develop formidable abilities as a strategist and logistician heading right for the C-suite.
There are also degrees at the very highest level, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Supply Chain Management and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Supply Chain Management. PhD programs are usually focused on academic and research interests, prepping graduates for careers at universities or industry think-tanks. The DBA offers a more practice-oriented education but is still very research-focused. Either can take from three to seven years to complete.
Frequently, business degree programs offer supply chain management or logistics as a concentration.
You’re not stuck if you decide to start out with a lower-level degree, however. Associate programs, by design, often offer a path to earning a full bachelor’s without repeating classes you’ve already studied. And a bachelor’s lays the groundwork for a Master of Supply Chain Management or an MBA.
Schools can make a big difference in your options, too. Not only do different schools offer different supply chain concentrations, but they also have different areas of expertise among instructors, and various relationships with companies in different industries. Since industry can be such an important aspect of your skill development, that is an important consideration when you are checking out degree programs.
Supply Chain Management Degrees by State
Building Your Logistics Experience in Preparation for a Supply Chain Management Job
Although an education is important, it’s not the only thing. Supply chain managers deal with the gritty details of getting vital components, turning them into useful resources, and getting them into the hands that need them in time to be used.
It’s not a job you can master exclusively through case studies and textbooks.
Real-world experience is a vital part of climbing the ladder as a supply chain manager.
Fortunately, most degree programs in the field offer at least a taste of this experiential learning. Internships and cooperative projects with major corporations put you on the ground with active supply chain managers doing their thing. You learn by observation and by taking on carefully supervised work that dovetails with your classroom experience.
But nothing beats time spent working in a logistics organization. So, part of your path to becoming a supply chain manager will probably include starting off in other supply chain roles, such as:
These are all supply chain jobs, but with more limited scope than a supply chain manager or supervisor. But they are a fantastic opportunity to build up a ground-level understanding of what is going on in the supply chain in your industry. In a field where, according to 2020 data from SAP Ariba, only about six percent of businesses have full visibility across their supply chain, that can make you the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.
Building Up Your Supply Chain Management Resume with Professional Certification
Many logistics and supply chain management tasks are highly specialized. While degree programs will cover many of them in great depth, the fast pace of the industry will quickly eclipse that training. And the fact that you studied a particular subject in school doesn’t prove that you have mastered it in the real world.
That proof and additional training comes through the many professional certifications that are offered in supply chain management.
These are different from certificates, which really are just the educational piece of the puzzle. Certification goes further:
As you can see, that’s an in-depth approach to making sure you can do what the certification says you can do.
What’s Involved in Finding a Supply Chain Manager Job
With your qualifications and experience filled in, and maybe a professional certification or two for support, you’re ready to go on the hunt for your ideal supply chain management position.
Those more than 6 million people already at work in the industry all need the kind of knowledge and skills you can bring to the table. According to BLS, 2022 saw job gains at every level of government and in private non-profit and commercial organizations for the field. That means more demand in every sector for supervisors, planners, and administrators in supply chain functions.
Most supply chain managers fall into the BLS employment category for Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers.
In fact, the demand and application of supply chain skills is so broad, the biggest challenge you face might be picking a lane.
It might help to look at where the greatest level of employment is. BLS tracks employment levels by industry, so it’s easy to find the top five:
- Warehousing and Storage
- Truck Transportation
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
- Merchant Wholesalers, Durable Goods
- Federal Government
Those track closely with the industries that are most likely to employ logisticians, which includes some of the more entry-level roles you might initially step into. That group also finds a lot of employment in aerospace product and parts manufacturing and in freight transportation arrangement industries.
Not every industry employs supply chain managers in every specialization equally, however. Your diligent mastery of air freight services and speedy lightweight shipping methods is going to be entirely unrewarded in the steelmaking industry. So, you will have to tailor your search to the sorts of corporations that can make best use of your expertise.
Salary Ranges for Supply Chain Management Jobs
Another factor you’ll be interested in when hunting for supply chain management jobs is what they pay.
Corporate management, federal government, and warehousing and storage supply chain managers are the only ones on that list of top employing industries that earn more than the national median of \$98,560.
You can come at the question from the other direction, too, however. Check out the top-paying industries and their average salary from 2022:
Competition may be a little more stiff for those positions. If you’re just getting rolling in supply chain management, though, you will likely be looking at logistician salaries, anyway.
For logisticians, the 2022 median salary reported by BLS was $77,520. The top-paying industries for those positions, though, come in a lot higher. They are:
It’s possible to move from sector to sector, but the higher you go the more committed you’re likely to become to your area of expertise. The unique skillsets you develop will have value exactly where you have built them.
The range of jobs and industries is so vast, though, you’re almost certain to be able to find a position that interests you with a salary that makes it worth your while.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Transportation and Warehousing, Logisticians, and Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.