Supply Chain education – no planner left behind

Published February 29th, 2012 by John Westerveld 1 Comment
education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

A co-worker and I, both supply chain veterans for over 20 years, are delivering supply chain training to a mix of new hires and more experienced employees.  The course we are delivering is the APICS (Association for Operations Management) Basics of Supply Chain management which, for those familiar with the CPIM certification process, is the first of 5 supply chain courses on the road to CPIM certification.

The process of delivering this training has got me thinking about the need for supply chain education and what happens when manufacturing companies employ planners and schedulers that don’t have that education.   As a supply chain software company, our role during sales cycles and deployments is to ensure that we understand the existing processes, be it done with multi-million dollar supply chain planning suites or in Excel or Access.  This gives us some interesting views into the very strange processes that some large companies are using in their supply chain.

As you think about how some of these processes evolved, you realize that they very likely originated when the company was very small and grew over time becoming more and more complex as the company grew and evolved.  However, the process may have been started by the company founder as a spreadsheet to track sales or an access database by the guy who designed the chip to order parts for the next release.

There are two sides to this coin.  On the one hand, not being encumbered by traditional supply chain knowledge means that these very bright people are able to think outside of the box and potentially come up with very unique and powerful ways to accomplish a needed task.  These new approaches could potentially be much better than any traditional approach and be a significant differentiator for that company.  On the other hand (and this is what we’ve seen many times…) the organically evolved process is slow, cumbersome, expensive and almost impossible for any sane person to figure out on their own.

Quality, trained, supply chain people are actually pretty difficult to find in most regions.   In my experience, many planners started their careers elsewhere in the company; factory workers, clerks, inventory control and somehow managed to find their way into supply chain planning.  These people likely have had no formal education in supply chain.  That being said, they are intelligent, capable people with strong experience in how the company ACTUALLY works.  They are a very strong base for which to build an amazing supply chain organization.  The only missing factor is education.  Fortunately, we do have organizations like APICS that can provide a standard, recognized body of knowledge to turn these ready and able individuals into an awesome supply chain team. 

So how do you get your supply chain team educated in supply chain fundamentals?   Check out the apics.org website as a starting point.  They can help you find out where to get training for your planning staff.  Many regions offer training in house which may work better for your planners.  If not, they will often hold courses at the local community college.   More and more colleges and universities are running supply chain programs and have been for several years.   This may be a good place to recruit new supply chain analysts that can enrich your current planning team.   Either way, having a team that understands supply chain fundamentals means that you can avoid many of the supply chain mistakes that many growing companies continue to make.

How do you handle supply chain training in your organization?  Do you have a strange process that developed organically over the years that is still in use?  Comment back and let us know.

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One Response to “Supply Chain education – no planner left behind”

  1. Bill Seliger

    I am a living testament to the value of APICS education. I first started working towards my CPIM certification in 2004, completed it the next year and then went on to complete my CSCP certification. Since then I have made several moves up the career ladder. I consider myself a reasonably bright person that ‘knew’ the business where I was employed but it was the APICS education gave me a different viewpoint that allowed me to really drive value for the organization. I m now a Director of Supply Chain and am prepared for my next step.

    Just as I wouldn’t want a lawyer who didn’t pass the bar I wouldn’t want a supply chain manager that wasn’t certified (or had a degree in Supply Chain Management). If I were hiring in the supply chain area I would much prefer to hire someone with formal Supply Chain training that had never worked a day in my business than someone with no training that had spent their career in my business. It’s those outside viewpoints that can help drive business transformation.

    Also, I believe there is a significant shortage of trained, competent supply chain managers. APICS education is helping fill that gap.

    I should also add that I’m now an APICS instructor; it’s an honor to be able to give back to the organization that helped me become what I am today.

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