Supply Chain Management Careers are some of the most expansive and diverse disciplines within the business world as they encompass a broad array of interconnected activities and functions which enable commercial activities, such as procurement, logistics, inventory planning, order fulfillment, and manufacturing.
Likewise, the paths of supply chain management careers are expansive and diverse, particularly so because supply chain touches almost every industry in almost any type of company, from private to public to government to non-profit.
If you’re considering or beginning a career in supply chain management, you may find it a bit overwhelming to gain a comprehensive understanding of the myriad of paths to choose from within supply chain management careers – and ultimately decide where to build your career.
The good news is that it’s tough to make a bad decision, as hiring is very active across the entire supply chain spectrum with some exceptions in a few industries and job disciplines. Supply chain offers flexibility as well. If you find yourself working within a company, function, industry, or job that you don’t like, with some effort you can always switch career paths. Know that it’s common to go through a bit of trial and error to select and optimize a career path that best suits your unique career goals and aspirations.
I’ve put together a high-level overview of the various career paths that exist within the field of supply chain management. This may help you understand what to consider when evaluating and selecting the right supply chain career path for you – from an industry, functional, and service provider perspective.
In general, companies that manufacture and/or sell physical products or finished goods are commonly referred to as “shippers.” Companies that provide services and/or products to shippers are commonly referred to as “service providers”.
From an industry perspective, supply chain spans most industries therefore it’s important to consider which industries are particularly interesting or appealing to you; whether it’s Food and Beverage, Consumer Goods, Energy & Utilities, or Healthcare, for example.
You’ll want to gain an understanding of how supply chains can differ across industries as well as from a career path perspective. For example, if you want to work in a company that manufactures products, then you need to understand that Retail and Wholesale industries wouldn’t be the best options as they don’t manufacture any goods.
Lastly, it’s very important to pay close attention to industry trends as jobs that exist today may not exist in the near future due to advancements in technology, industries on the decline e.g. coal, and outsourcing of certain jobs to low-cost countries. Here’s a sample list of industries that you should be familiar with. Take the time to research the various supply chain management career paths from an industry perspective so you can make the best decisions based on your career goals.
- Consumer Packaged Goods
- Medical Devices
- Energy & Utilities
- Wholesale Distribution
- Consumer Electronics
- Aerospace & Defense
- And many more
Service providers can vary from companies that design, develop and deploy supply chain software solutions to companies that contract manufacture on behalf of a shipper to transportation carriers that transport raw materials and finished goods via truck, rail, ocean, or airplane from point A to B. There are a plethora of companies that provide supply chain consulting services as well, ranging from the Big 4 accounting firms to small boutique firms.
One of the main positives of working on the service provider side is that you would likely receive the opportunity to work with a variety of different companies that can span different industries.
- Supply Chain Technology Firms – WMS, TMS, ERP
- 3rd Party Logistics (3PL) and 4th Party Logistics (4PL)
- Carriers – LTL, Truckload, Ocean, Intermodal, Rail, Air Freight
- Freight Forwarders, Non Vessel Owning Common Carrier (NVOCC)
- Advisory / Management Consulting – Big 4, Niche/Boutique
- Supply Chain Associations – APICS, ISM, CSCMP, WERC
- Training & Academia / Universities
- Supply Chain Recruiting & Executive Search
- And many more
Then there are also associations devoted to supply chain that provide content, training, and certification programs, which can help further your supply chain knowledge while building out your professional network. Of course, there are career paths on the association side as well as in academia and training if this is your passion.
Functional Areas of the Supply Chain
As touched on earlier, supply chains differ in many ways – from company to company and industry to industry. There’s no such thing as a “one supply chain model fits all” because some functional areas which exist in one company’s supply chain and can be absent in another.
To keep it simple for career path explanation purposes, let’s review the core functions that “commonly” (but not always) exist within a supply chain organization. If you are unfamiliar with some of these terms I recommend conducting research in Google, YouTube, the APICS Dictionary, and other online sources to learn more. You can search for these terms on job boards as well, such as Indeed.com, CareerBuilder, and even LinkedIn, to better understand the typical roles, responsibilities, and job qualifications.
- Plan – Supply Planning, Forecasting / Demand Planning, Production Planning, Capacity Planning, Inventory Management, Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP), Integrated Business Planning (IBP)
- Make – Production (of materials or goods), Maintenance, Engineering, Quality, Planning & Scheduling, Purchasing, Warehousing with “supporting functions” that typically include Finance, HR, Health & Safety, and/or Continuous Improvement.
- Buy/Source – Strategic Sourcing, Procurement, Commodities Management (Direct Spend), Category Management (Indirect Spend)
- Deliver – Logistics, Transportation, Warehousing, Import/Export and Reverse Logistics (e.g. returns management)
It’s important to consider company size and ownership when choosing a career path as these can vary quite a bit and impact your career satisfaction and trajectory levels. Companies can vary greatly by size, sector, and scope.
- Size: start-up, small, mid-size, large
- Sector: public, private (including family-owed), non-profit, private equity-owned, venture capital-backed
- Scope: domestic, regional, and/or international; multi-product/divisional or focused
In large corporations, you will typically start working within a segment or functional area of the supply chain with access to a lot of resources and more career paths to choose from. In smaller companies, you may wear multiple hats with broader exposure to the supply chain but with access to fewer resources and likely fewer career advancement opportunities.
Supply Chain Support Functions
Don’t neglect the possibility of working in a business function that supports supply chain management such as supply chain finance or continuous improvement. I like to think of these as “hybrid” roles as while you may not report up through the supply chain department, you are providing critical support services to the department. Career paths within this area include the following focus areas, including my own specialty, supply chain recruitment:
- Sales & Marketing (within a Service Provider)
- Finance & Accounting
- Health, Safety & Environmental (HSE)
- Operational Excellence / Continuous Improvement (Lean / Six Sigma)
- Human Resources
- Supply Chain Recruitment / Staffing
- Quality Assurance
- Information Technology
Where to Get Started
Still unsure where to get started? Our Podcast is a great place to start:
Another great resource for a better understanding of the myriad of supply chain management career paths is through free resources like YouTube. Here you can run some searches on terms such as “careers in supply chain” to identify good sources of video content. If you’re fairly new to supply chain management, be sure to check out the YouTube channel for Arizona State University’s School of Business.
APICS offers the most popular and respected supply chain certifications so be sure to consider their training & certification offerings as many employers prefer candidates that have APICS certifications such as APICS CSCP, CPIM, and CLTD. Be sure to check out ASCM’s new resources for transitioning into a supply chain management career.
Another great avenue for expanding your supply chain knowledge base is Feedspot’s “Top 75 Supply Chain Blogs” through setting up a feedly.com account. Using this free tool allows you to track all blog posts that you want to review in one place on your desktop, tablet, and mobile phone. I have been using Feedly for years to keep a strong pulse on trends and breaking news within the field of supply chain management. Highly recommend it for ALL supply chain professionals!
Of course check out the Supply Chain Careers Content Hub, as this is a place where we pump out fresh new content around all things to do with advancing supply chain careers!
I hope this gives you a good overview of the various paths inside supply chain management careers. I wish you the best of luck with launching and accelerating your career within supply chain management.
To your success!