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Skills for a successful career in supply chain

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In manufacturing, supply chain encompasses the entire process from suppliers of raw materials to the customer. CIO Magazine describes supply chain as these five basic components:

1. Plan: The "strategy for managing all the resources that go toward meeting customer demand for a product or service."

2. Source: Choosing the "suppliers to deliver the goods and services they need to create their product."

3. Make: "This is the manufacturing step. Supply chain managers schedule the activities necessary for production, testing, packaging and preparation for deliver."

4. Deliver: Often referred to as logistics, this includes the receipt of orders, network of warehouses and carriers to get products to customers.

5. Return: Supply chain must create a response plan for receiving defective or excess product back from customers.

"Supply chain is a separate group within most manufacturing organizations, just like sales and finance," says Stuart Haughee, director of demand planning for Bel Brands USA, makers of snacking cheese including Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel. Haughee has worked in supply chain for more than 20 years for a number of consumer packaged goods companies including Kellogg, Keebler, Quaker Oats, Nabisco and Bel Brands. 

He says numerous areas within a company must work together to operate a successful supply chain, from sales, forecasting and finance, to production planning and purchasing, manufacturing, quality, warehousing, distribution and logistics. Haughee provided an overview of the attributes needed to succeed in a career in supply chain management. 

Supply chain education and manufacturing experience

A specialized degree is important. Many universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in supply chain management. Haughee says that in addition to specific supply chain experience and education, companies look for people with experience in manufacturing and processing capabilities. 

Mathematical aptitude

"Any more, forecasting is statistically modeled, so you need good math skills and a strong aptitude for statistics. You must also be highly analytical and capable of working with lots of data in Excel or Access. There's so much data, you have to make it meaningful and actionable," notes Haughee. Supply chain positions in forecasting can include master schedulers (who plan production for multiple plants or entire plants) and finite schedulers (who oversee production for multiple lines within a plant).

Understanding of ERPs

Having an understanding of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems like SAP, the corporate standard when it comes to ERPs, is essential, according to Haughee. Other ERP systems include Manugistics, JD Edwards and PeopleSoft. Given the scope of many manufacturing companies, Haughee says that ERPs are valuable in seeing the resource and product flow of a global organization.  

Problem solving

Haughee notes that you must be able to work with conflicting demands and have strong problem solving capabilities. "Companies want maximum resource utilization. Supply chain is like the guy with 20 plates spinning at once. You must keep them all spinning to be successful." He explains that in order to meet commitments from sales and fulfill orders from customers, those in supply chain may have to deal with production capacity issues, scheduling of orders for and deliveries of raw materials and packaging from suppliers, warehousing space limitations, and logistics scheduling to get the product from the plant to the warehouse or distribution center and on to the customers -- where and when they want it. 

Last Updated: 04/10/2011 - 7:25 PM

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