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Unpacking: Skills Needed for Supply Chain Management

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The supply chain, as its name suggests, is made up of many individual links, so when we talk about how to learn supply chain management, it can be tough to know where to start.

Today we're taking our "Unpacking" series of posts to the educational aspect of our industry, and how you can get started on a career in the field. Capacity LLC's co-founder and CSO Thom Campbell has plenty to say on the subject and, with more than a decade at the top of the industry, his insights are valuable to anyone just starting out.

What Are the Skills Needed for Supply Chain Management Roles?

Thom Campbell - Capacity LLC CSO and founder
Thomas Campbell: CSO and co-founder of Capacity LLC

"Begin with another question: what area of supply chain management are you interested in?

If it is transportation, get a job with one of the well-known shipment/logistics companies. My VP of Logistics Tony Ruiz cut his teeth at UPS and the experience still stands him in good stead to this day.

If you are interested in technology, focus on warehouse management systems (WMS), radio frequency hardware, networking and order management systems."

Developing the Skills

Of course, not all areas of supply chain management are as hands-on and tech-heavy as the day to day operations. There are administrative, accounting, consultancy and management positions to be filled which, while requiring some understanding of the underlying industry concepts and terminology, can be approached from other fields.

With experience from an accounting firm, the opportunity to conduct an inventory audit will be a valuable, if perhaps grueling experience.

Early positions at consulting firms such as McKinsey and Pricewaterhouse Coopers also tend to bring the chance to dive into the world of order fulfillment, especially when involved with a product-oriented company. Such companies are always exploring ways to reduce supply chain costs, meaning that educational opportunities to poke into industry nooks and crannies present themselves regularly.

Our experience of both academic and early development of supply chain skills comes first hand from another founder and Capacity CEO, as Thom explains:

"My partner Jeff Kaiden was in the Operations Research and Financial Engineering program at Princeton. He learned a lot there during his busy four years. However, he probably learned more as a child with his father in the basement at the whiteboard.

His father Allen runs the consulting firm SigmanKaiden (www.sigmankaiden.com) and has been designing warehouses since he left NASA – he worked on the space program after gaining his undergrad and graduate education at NYU Stern. Jeff also learned a lot driving a forklift for a local warehouse when he was a teenager.

The point here is that there are many professional and educational opportunities to learn supply chain, but the best experience you may get is the first job you can secure in a warehousing or manufacturing environment."

Areas of Supply Chain Expertise

If this narrows down your interest to a certain part of the industry, some specific skills needed for supply chain management that you may consider are:

  1. Process improvement,
  2. Sourcing and procurement,
  3. Warehouse management,
  4. Inventory and accounting management,
  5. Risk assessment and management,
  6. Strategic development.

It obviously helps to have a direction to focus your learning and "on the job" experience. But there are several transferable skills, as in any industry, and those that we've described here will serve you well should you choose to switch between different sections of the supply chain world.

Let's give the final word to Thom, to remind us of one of the fundamentals of a career in 3PL and how to develop the skills required for supply chain management:

"You will need to start out at the proverbial ground floor, because the importance of ‘the floor’ in supply chain cannot be overemphasized.

This is a business where people will at some point want to know if you have and can get your hands dirty, and you best be ready to step right up."

If you want to learn more about any particular area of supply chain, check out other subjects here on our blog by category. You can also connect with Thom on Quora, where he has been answering questions on not just the skills needed for supply chain management but also life, logistics, the universe, and everything!