If you’re serious about continuous improvement and developing a best-in-class supply chain to serve your organisation, keeping your managers and workforce educated is paramount. Of course, many of your hires may come to you with a ready-made supply chain education, but perhaps not all of them and besides, there is so much that can only be learned and made sense of outside the confines of academia.
As any established supply chain professional will testify, this is a field in which the real learning begins after the formal education has ended. That’s why it seemed a good idea to highlight some very practical and in most cases, inexpensive ways your company can keep employees hungry to learn, and to satisfy their appetite with readily accessible sources of supply chain education and knowledge.
So let’s delay no further … read on for six ways to promote and provide supply chain education for your management team and general workforce.
6 Supply Chain Education Ideas to Implement
1. Hands-on Experience for Executives, Managers, and Knowledge Workers
There are many supply chain roles today which can be categorised as knowledge work. Executive teams, senior, middle, and first-line managers may never be required to work manually per se. This situation is only likely to solidify as technology increasingly becomes the mainstay of supply chain management.
However, running a supply chain still depends largely on manual skills, aided by mechanical handling equipment and business technology, particularly that of a mobile nature.
Administrative staff, managers, and executives though, may rarely need to concern themselves too much with the manual side of things, as long as they can rely on information technology to provide the data they need. The result of this situation is that knowledge workers often come into a supply chain operation without a real understanding of what’s behind the decisions they make or the workflows they control.
SEE ALSO: Supply Chain Leaders Program
That’s a shame, because actually, when you can appreciate the practical and physical effort that must be made to move goods through a supply chain, you can make better decisions and solve problems more effectively.
That’s why it’s a great idea to provide physical, hands-on experience of the shop floor to knowledge workers, managers and leaders, but one that many companies today seem reluctant to embrace.
While it can sometimes be inconvenient, or even difficult to allow knowledge workers time away from their day jobs, there is great value in having them spend time shadowing the manual workers within relevant functions, or even spending a week or two actually performing manual duties.
When they come back from the shop floor, admin-staff and managers will not only have more knowledge, but it will be of a kind that can enhance their performance and serve your company well in backing up the regular manual resources in your operation.
Supply chain education doesn’t have to be limited to that which is directly related to an employee’s role. It doesn’t have to be delivered online or in the classroom. There is a wealth of valuable supply chain education awaiting any knowledge worker who gets involved in the nuts and bolts of work on the functional shop floor.
2. Provide Internal Coaches and Mentors
Supply chain education can take many forms, including (as you have just read) the provision of hands-on experience outside of an employee’s normal duties. Another way to provide your employees with fresh knowledge from inside your organisation, is to give them access to coaches and/or mentors who have years of supply chain experience. In fact, if you find it’s just not practical to provide your supply chain knowledge workers with hands-on experience, coaching and mentoring may often be the next best thing.
Of course it’s important to understand the difference between a coach and a mentor, and to select volunteers for each on the basis of appropriate characteristics, skills, and demeanour.
Mentoring: As a supply chain professional, having a mentor in your organisation and/or professional field is probably the closest you can come to gaining hands-on experience in jobs not normally performed as part of your role. Instead of learning first-hand, you can learn from the experience and knowledge shared by your mentor. However, mentoring goes way beyond the notion of a veteran sharing wisdom with a less experienced colleague.
A mentor and mentee should be carefully matched with one another, in order for a solid relationship to grow. This relationship will serve to support the mentee not only in the execution of her current role, but also to aid development and provide a confidential outlet for concerns and professional frustrations. In terms of supply chain education though, the match should be made on the basis of wisdom relevant to the mentee’s current supply chain role and expectations for development.
Coaching: Compared with mentoring, coaching is typically a more direct form of one-to-one supply chain education, with a more job-specific focus than a mentoring relationship. Coaching concentrates on improving the performance of the student in specific activities, principles, disciplines and processes, and is therefore a results-oriented initiative. An employee or manager suited to the task of mentoring may not necessarily be the best choice as a coach, and vice-versa.
Whether you choose to use coaching, mentoring, or both forms of supply chain education in your company, the benefits, both to those with the knowledge and those receiving it, are many, as are those to your enterprise as a whole.
3. There’s Still a Place for Reading Material
We all have different learning styles, so to be successful with supply chain education; you need to cater to all of them. Although the world has evolved into a place where education often employs multi-media driven, interactive experiences, many people still learn best by reading, something they can do in their own time and at their leisure.
If you can encourage your leadership team members, managers, and employees to learn through reading, you enjoy the advantage of an increasingly educated pool of resources within your supply chain operation. Better still, your people will be gaining knowledge in their spare time, and hopefully enjoying it too.
So why not think about providing free supply chain books and publications to your employees, either on a loan basis or simply as giveaways to encourage reading. You can always use testing (as a condition of issuing the reading material) or some similar exercise based on the books your employees receive, to ensure they use the material to further their own supply chain education.
Many fascinating and insightful books have been written by supply chain professionals, all penned with the intention of helping other professionals to learn the business.
If you like the idea of building an educational library for your workforce to access, some of the most interesting and educational guides to supply chain management/operations are listed below:
- Logistics and Supply Chain Management, by Martin Christopher
- Operations Management, 7th Edition, by Prof Nigel Slack et. Al
- Essentials of Supply Chain Management, by Michael H. Hugos
- Business Process Management: Profiting from Process, by Roger Burlton
- Global Logistics & Supply Chain Management, by John Mangan, Chandra Lalwani et. Al
- Manufacturing Planning and Control for Supply Chain Management, by F. Robert Jacobs et al
- Supply Chain Logistics Management, by Donald Bowersox et al
- Designing and Managing the Supply Chain: Concepts, Strategies and Case Studies, by David Simchi-Levi et al
- Integral Logistics Management: Operations and Supply Chain Management Within and Across Companies, by Paul Schönsleben
- Logistics Management and Strategy: Competing through the Supply Chain, by Alan Harrison and Remko Van Hoek
- Management by Process: A Practical Road-map to Sustainable Business Process Management, by John Jeston and Johan Nelis
- Operations and Supply Chain Management, by F. Robert Jacobs, Richard B Chase, and Nicholas J Aquilano
- Strategic Supply Chain Management: The Five Core Disciplines for Top Performance, by Shoshanah Cohen and Joseph Roussel
- Purchasing and Supply Chain Management, by Robert M. Monczka, Robert B. Handfield, Larry C. Giunipero, and Novaes L. Patterson
- Supply Chain Management: Strategy, Planning, and Operation, by Sunil Chopra and Peter Meindl
- The Handbook of Logistics and Distribution Management: Understanding the Supply Chain, by Alan Rushton et al
4. Engage External Trainers and Educators
Another way to provide supply chain education to your executives, managers, and other employees is to develop your own training/education program. This of course constitutes a considerable workload, but if your organisation has the resources to commit to developing and running such a program, the benefits are considerable.
In developing an internal program, the emphasis should be on helping employees understand the practical side of supply chain operations, rather than being heavy on theory. It should also be tailored to focus specifically on your supply chain operation and its customers, which means incorporating training in the unique processes and characteristics of your organisation.
For best results, you should consider using external education consultants and training providers to help you develop and run your company’s supply chain education program. By doing so, you get the benefit of an internally focused program, along with the expertise of professionals who specialise in the facilitation of learning.
If you are happy to provide a more general supply chain education program, and/or find it difficult to develop and manage a program internally, there may be another option, in the form of providers operating external supply chain schools or academies.
Such providers are not particularly common, but if you can find any within the vicinity of your operating bases, they do offer practical, pragmatic training, education, and development programs suitable for practitioners at just about any level. Such a program can be taken advantage of to give your leaders, managers, and knowledge workers a structured course of education, teaching them skills which can be applied immediately within your organisation.
The main benefit of external schools is the delivery of education by people who are experts both in supply chain practice and in training/development.
They can teach elements of supply chain operation not typically covered in academic institutions, hence providing your staff with insights that apply directly to the real, day-to-day world of supply chain management. Their programs often use blended-learning techniques, combining time in the classroom with seminars, webinars and online learning activity.
5. Online Supply Chain Education
Maybe your company doesn’t have the advantage of an accessible supply chain school or academy. If that’s the case, you can find education providers offering online programs, allowing your people to participate in supply chain training and development activity from any location.
While these programs don’t physical classroom training, they are ideal for students who are comfortable in an online learning environment. They also come with the benefit of education “on tap”, enabling your employees to study at any time. This can reduce the disruption of releasing employees for physical classes during normal working days and hours.
Methods used by online supply chain education programs might include:
- Interactive online supply chain classes
- Training and education videos or podcasts
- Online text books, with exercises and tests for students to complete
- Video or PowerPoint presentations
- Personalised tutoring using online chat applications such as Skype
Just like physical supply chain education programs, online schools often teach supply chain management on a pragmatic level, making it easy for participants to apply what they learn right away. They may also be tailored for different levels of existing supply chain knowledge, meaning you can provide training appropriate to each employee’s specific learning needs.
6. Supply Chain Education Events
Supply chain events, such as conferences, conventions, and seminars can be extremely useful for educating supply chain staff, especially knowledge workers and managers. When your people attend such events, they will learn about supply chain matters in a different way to that afforded by structured methods of education delivery.
SEE ALSO: Supply Chain Conference
Conferences are short in duration and often cover very specific supply chain topics, which can be great for people involved, (or soon to be involved) in associated projects for your organisation.
Events also enable participants to discuss problems and challenges with other supply chain professionals, gaining practical knowledge that would not necessarily be available through structured supply chain education or training programs.
Of course it’s important to consider the value of any supply chain event. There is little point sending delegates to a conference if the topic is not relevant to their roles in your organisation, although arguably, networking opportunities can be a good incentive for attendance.
The most valuable events will be those at which speakers present topics related to challenges within your business, and where rare opportunities are presented to hear from experts and to interact with them for greater insight into those challenges.
Supply Chain Education is Never Complete
If you want to maximise opportunities for continuous improvement and business growth through supply chain excellence, a culture promoting internal supply chain education for all employees is one of the most effective aid mechanisms. Not only does it provide an inflow of supply chain expertise to your business, it also fosters employee engagement and develops a sense of belonging among your workforce and management team.
Of course, if you wish to support academic, as well as practical education, you can work with colleges and universities to help employees gain degrees and other qualifications.
Meanwhile though, by pursuing some or all of the ideas presented in this post, you can keep your employees up to date with the latest practical supply chain knowledge, so it becomes embedded into your organisation—a vital enabler for real supply chain success.