It is a great time to be a supply chain professional. Emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Cognitive computing, and Augmented Reality are creating new challenges and new opportunities for supply chain management (SCM) professionals. Rise of real time technologies are blurring the lines between planning and execution. Cloud technologies are speeding up the consumption of newer technology innovations being rolled out.
While this technological shift is happening, the complexity of supply chains is growing. The strategic thinking and problem solving skills needed to handle this complexity are facing serious shortage as highlighted by a 2015 Wall Street Journal article. This asymmetry between the demand and supply of SCM talent creates a great opportunity for those who are willing to go the extra mile, making them extremely valuable within their organizations and in the broader market. Given these dynamics, here are few tips for the early to mid-career SCM professionals on taking your career to the next level.
1. Look beyond your current role: There is increasing realization in the industry that one needs to look at the supply chain holistically in an end-to-end manner beyond the traditional functional domains such as demand planning, logistics, procurement planning etc. For example, an upcoming promotion may need to be executed in conjunction with production and replenishment planning or else one might run the risk of stock outs while also incurring the added cost of promotion. Such risks are becoming more front and center for executives as the world around us turns more complex and volatile.
A recent white paper on Supply Chain for new age introduces the notion of a “Network Planner” who would plan across the end-to-end supply network. Such roles will become the norm and will be highly visible within organizations of the future, setting one up for a great career. However, in order to prepare for such roles, you will need to think beyond functional silos and build deep and broad supply chain domain knowledge. But how can one obtain such knowledge? That brings me to my next point.
2. Leverage low cost, self-paced learning programs: In order to cultivate end-to-end supply chain expertise, consider doing certifications offered by professional associations. APICS offers CPIM and CSCP certifications which are well recognized designations in the industry. I personally have benefited tremendously from these certifications by taking them early in my career. APICS recently introduced a CLTD certification track geared towards Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution professionals, which one can look into. CSCMP which is another highly reputed organization offers a SCPro certification track. Such certifications are designed for full time professionals, with self-study mechanisms and are offered at an affordable cost. Several employers reimburse for such certifications as part of career skills development.
With the advent of IoT and Big Data, organizations are looking for signals beyond the four walls of their enterprises. They like to understand the opportunities and risks to their supply chain by harnessing the power of this data. Machine learning plays a critical role in sifting through all this data, identifying patterns, and delivering insights to SCM practitioners. Investing in learning this rapidly evolving subject will take you places. I would highly recommend Coursera’s Machine Learning course taught by Professor Andrew Ng of Stanford University, a great course offered for free. You can also learn by being a voracious reader of trade journals and many high quality websites where you can find SCM articles.
3. Network your way to success: While the self-study methods help you gain foundational knowledge, connecting and collaborating with your colleagues at work is another great way to learn. Ask them what challenges they face in their jobs and how they go about solving them. Think of how you can make a difference to them and implement your ideas with their support. Beyond your company, attending professional networking events/conferences organized by your SCM software vendors, professional associations, or by the industry analysts are a great way to network and be exposed to newer forms of knowledge.
Signing up to be a speaker at these events can help synthesize your learnings and hone in your presentation skills. Most packaged software vendors also have active user groups/user communities. Volunteer by sharing your knowledge within these groups. If you like to share your learnings with your network by blogging, LinkedIn or your company’s blog site are great ways of doing it. Active networking will help build your professional brand within your company and in the industry. As you progress in your career, the professional network you build and nurture will become more useful and more leverageable.
4. Find a mentor: Look for someone you can trust within or outside of your company with whom you can openly discuss any challenges you encounter in your day-to-day job or simply brainstorm ideas for career progression. I have gained a lot personally and professionally through various mentors who coached me through my career. Most of these mentors are selfless givers with no expectation of a payback. The best way to repay your mentors is by paying it forward, i.e., by mentoring others. I personally find mentoring others hugely fulfilling and empowering. I also learn a lot simply by synthesizing and articulating my thoughts as part of these mentorship conversations.
5. Be ready when the opportunity arises: As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. While #1 through #4 above help you to prepare when the opportunity presents itself, you will need to take the initiative and throw your name in the hat at the right moment. The opportunity can be a new SCM initiative in your company, or simply someone above you moving on to a different role. I know of very many individuals who take all the necessary steps in terms of preparation, but are too comfortable in their current roles that they feel it is risky to embark on a new assignment. If you are of this mindset, I will remind you of what I said at the outset. Deep SCM domain skills are very hard to come by. By taking the preparatory steps mentioned above, you will make yourself a strategic asset. If one opportunity or assignment does not pan out, the next one will be around the corner. So go on, take some chances and rise to a new challenge!