The world of supply chain management is experiencing a well-deserved resurgence in the spotlight, and it’s a thrilling time to be a student contemplating a career in this field. The complexities of supply chains have grown, and their significance has never been more pronounced. I firmly believe that we are on the cusp of a shift, where supply chain management will become a fundamental competency for senior executives in Fortune 1000 companies. If you’re a student or a recent graduate, looking to kickstart your career on the right foot, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll share some invaluable recommendations tailored just for you.

Colleges are Taking Notice

Recently, an intriguing article from Bloomberg created quite a buzz in the world of supply chain. Titled “Forget Finance. Supply-Chain Management Is the Pandemic Era’s Must-Have MBA Degree,” it makes a compelling argument for the growing importance of supply chain degrees, even surpassing the traditionally prestigious MBA. The article also highlights a surge in interest among schools and students, with enrollments in supply chain courses rising by nearly 50%.

This article is a must-read because it underlines the undeniable importance of supply chain in our ever-evolving world, evident in the disruptions of the last 18 months. It also raises an important point: it’s high time we infuse fresh ideas into the industry. Long-established supply chain principles have become rigid, and the time for change is now.

But who is this article meant for? Is it for students like you, encouraging you to focus on supply chain? Indeed, the job market in supply chain is promising. Or is it directed at university leaders, urging them to further promote supply chain programs to enhance academic credentials in this sector? Maybe it’s intended for corporate executives, signaling the recognition of supply chain’s importance by students and academics, and thereby, encouraging them to do the same.

Building a Career in Supply Chain Management

Like you, I once stood at the crossroads, eager to dive into the exciting world of supply chain. I grew up surrounded by family and friends who dedicated decades to companies like GM, Ford, GE, General Mills, and many other household names. I embarked on my journey at RIT, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Industrial Engineering. My first jobs were with supply chain teams at Moog, Toyota, and Boeing. Over the past two decades, I’ve evolved from a supply chain engineer to a supply chain investor and, finally, a supply chain entrepreneur. The recent Bloomberg article prompted me to reflect on these experiences. From being a passionate supply chain student to an employer deeply invested in the field, I wholeheartedly believe in the future of supply chain management. It’s the most underappreciated function in the business world. The best companies worldwide will set themselves apart through world-class supply chain management. Soon, CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies won’t be exceptions like Tim Cook and Mary Barra; they’ll all recognize the core competency of supply chain management.

If Bloomberg merely introduced the topic, then in the true spirit of supply chain, I’m here to make it actionable. So, for you, the students eager to embrace the supply chain renaissance, here are my recommendations to set your career on the path to success:

1. Build a Strong Foundation

Supply chain isn’t a singular entity but rather a fusion of various disciplines: procurement, planning, manufacturing, logistics, distribution, operations, customer service. Your long-term success depends less on mastering each of these disciplines and more on cultivating transferable skills. Skills like critical thinking, public speaking, writing, presenting, and basic statistics will serve you well in any setting. As a fresh graduate, your ability to step into a situation, assess the problem, explore different options, and propose a compelling solution is far more impactful than being an expert in specific supply chain subfields.

Here’s a tip: While it’s fantastic that universities are emphasizing supply chain management, avoid the trap of specializing too early. Take courses in areas like supply chain risk and resiliency, but don’t narrow your focus too soon. Opt for degrees in disciplines that foster foundational skills like mathematics, engineering, and computer science. Learn to problem-solve, be creative, and communicate effectively. That fancy-sounding degree might land you an easy internship, but you’re playing for the long game. It’s also important to develop your writing skills, as you’ll need to communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely in emails, reports, and presentations. You can use editing tools created by for free to help you proofread your work and ensure that it is error-free and professional.

Furthermore, seek diverse real-world experiences. If your school encourages internships, work for various companies in different sectors. Even if you adore manufacturing, give logistics, procurement, and planning a shot. You’ll have ample time to return to manufacturing later, but these cross-functional experiences will mold you into a more well-rounded supply chain professional.

2. Choose the Right Team

Supply chains have been around for ages, and some industry veterans resist change, clinging to outdated practices. That’s a recipe for disaster. I echo a point made in the Bloomberg article: supply chain cannot be a dogmatic belief system. It’s akin to technology, continually evolving to address the latest challenges, cater to customer needs, and incorporate industry best practices.

When considering your future team, look for those that view supply chain as a dynamic force, not a rigid doctrine. Ask questions like, “What recent changes have been implemented to leverage the latest technologies?” or “How does the team approach innovation in supply chain?” or “What’s the budget for experimenting with new tools and innovation?” The answers will reveal a lot. On the flip side, if the team remains unchanged since the pre-COVID era, or if their supply chain systems date back to the 1980s, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Advancements in supply chain management are steering society into the future. Ensure you join a team that’s ready to drive change.

3. Act Like an Owner

Much of supply chain work revolves around maintaining equilibrium—avoiding excess or shortage. This daily grind may keep you busy but hinder systematic, strategic improvements. In a world that treasures equilibrium, taking risks might seem frowned upon. However, as we discussed in the second recommendation, if you’re on the right team that welcomes change, it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves.

Take ownership of a project that promises long-term benefits for the business. As a recent graduate, it’s easy to become engrossed in daily tasks. Start small. Within your domain, identify changes that could boost efficiency by 5% or save the company a modest sum. These may not catch the CEO’s eye, but they will impress your boss and, more importantly, nurture an ownership mindset. Embarking on small projects beyond your immediate responsibilities carries several advantages:

A) You’ll develop skills to spot opportunities, devise plans, and implement changes. B) You’ll gain credibility with your boss for more significant projects. C) It’s immensely rewarding to make a difference.

Eventually, you’ll identify larger challenges with the potential to save thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. With your boss’s trust and support, you can seize these opportunities.

Supply chain management is intricate, but don’t be daunted. Embrace an ownership mentality and rise above the daily grind. Start with small improvements, and you’ll uncover a world of opportunities. You’ll also have a lot more fun.

The Future is Bright

This is a remarkable era for supply chain management. Leading companies like Apple, Amazon, and Johnson & Johnson have long recognized and rewarded supply chain excellence, and the rest of the world is catching up. This is fantastic news for students and new graduates eyeing the supply chain industry. However, to seize this moment and unlock your potential, remember the key principles:

  1. Build a Strong Base: Don’t rush into specialization; focus on acquiring foundational skills. Pursue degrees that cultivate critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication. Be adaptable and open to various experiences. The broader your knowledge base, the more valuable you’ll become in a dynamic field like supply chain management.
  2. Choose the Right Team: Seek out teams that view supply chain as a constantly evolving force. A team that embraces change, innovation, and technological advancement is the right one. Your future success depends on your team’s willingness to adapt and progress.
  3. Act Like an Owner: Don’t merely settle for day-to-day tasks. Take initiative, identify opportunities for improvement, and execute changes that can make a meaningful impact. Start small and gradually work your way up to more significant projects. An ownership mindset will set you apart and open doors to larger challenges and greater responsibilities.

Remember, the field of supply chain management is a puzzle, and you have the potential to be a vital piece in solving it. The industry is evolving, and companies are looking for innovative thinkers who can navigate the complexities and uncertainties of modern supply chains. You, as a student or recent graduate, have a unique opportunity to shape the future of supply chain management.

The future is exceptionally promising for those who embrace change, seize opportunities, and continuously strive for improvement. Supply chain management is not just a career choice; it’s a dynamic, ever-evolving adventure filled with challenges and rewards. Embrace the journey, and you’ll find a world of possibilities waiting for you.

As you embark on your path in supply chain management, keep an eye out for my next article, where I’ll provide insights and recommendations for employers in the industry. It’s essential for companies to attract and nurture top talent to drive their supply chain functions forward. Your journey is just beginning, and the opportunities in supply chain management are vast. It’s time to seize them, build a strong foundation, choose the right team, and act like an owner. Your future in supply chain management is bright, and the adventure is just beginning.