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Developing a Supply Chain Educational Plan

The LQ Education Forum

How are our educational institutions and companies meeting the requirements of logistics and supply chain management practitioners in the fast changing realm of global trade?

This series of articles by leaders in the field of education answer this question with a focus on four key dimensions of logistics and supply chain management education in North America. This includes perspectives regarding: 1.) traditional and undergraduate programs, 2.) non-traditional graduate programs, 4.) executive education programs, 5.) Commentaries from industry leaders.

LQ’s Education Forum begins with an introduction by Professor David Closs Michigan State University, and Executive Editor of LQ, followed by this series of insightful articles:

While Logistics and Supply Chain Management have not been traditional majors or concentrations within most business school programs, there is increasing interest in both for degree and non-degree programs. Historically, many logistics and supply chain executives developed from one of the logistics functions such as transportation or obtained a college degree in another functional area and then learned the specifics on-the-job. However, increasing enterprise awareness regarding the role that effective supply chain management can have on firm competitiveness are driving the need for more in-depth knowledge regarding technologies employed in logistics and supply chain management. The result is an increasing demand for more formal logistics and supply chain management education.

The demand and motivation for logistics and supply chain education evolves throughout the career of executives. Figure 1 illustrates how the relative focus of education shifts as managers move through their career. The dimensions of that evolution shift in focus from credentials, capability, and competency.

Early in their careers, individuals desire an educational experience that can establish their credibility. Since individuals at this stage have no established reputation on their own, they need a traditional undergraduate or graduate degree from a respected institution to provide credentials that will enhance credibility. The traditional undergraduate or graduate degree can also enhance capability and competency through classroom exercises and internships. However, the major contribution is a credential, as traditional students don’t spend enough time in an operating environment to develop substantial capability and competency (See Figure 2).

Many individuals, however, don’t graduate with a degree in logistics or supply chain management but desire to obtain a graduate degree without having to interrupt a full time position. While many schools offer a Weekend or Executive Master of Business administration (M.B.A.) for such individuals, they generally don’t offer any specialization or concentration particularly in logistics or supply chain management. While these individuals have established some credibility through their previous degrees and work experience, they desire to enhance their specific capabilities in logistics and supply chain management. As Figure 3 illustrates, some schools are beginning to offer specialized logistics or supply chain management graduate degrees with limited residency requirements. In addition to the credentials provided in the form of a graduate degree, such programs substantially increase an individual’s capabilities through focused and in-depth education using intensive discussions, case studies, and technology applications. Such limited residency programs allow students with no previous background to obtain credentials and develop some capability in logistics and supply chain management. For those with previous logistics or supply chain management education, the limited residency masters program enhances the individual’s capabilities.

Later in an individual’s career, the focus of a successful manager must evolve from a strong focus on credentials and capabilities to a broader focus on competency. While the educational foundation is built on the traditional and non-traditional degree programs, the later focus of a senior logistics or supply chain manager must be on competencies related to integrative and change management. The manager must develop some knowledge regarding the operations of other supply chain management and enterprise functions, understanding regarding the dynamics and interactions, and competency to orchestrate and motivate the changes necessary to achieve superior performance. As Figure 4 suggests, such competency can be developed through Executive Education experiences. The combination of functional background sessions, performance measurement discussions, problem solving applications, and networking available through Executive Education provides the senior manager with the framework and methods to initiate, monitor, and guide change.

With this framework, the remaining sections of this Education Forum offer perspectives regarding the practices, trends, and rationale for each of the dimensions of supply chain education, beginning with traditional degree programs followed by non-traditional degree and executive education programs.