Are you fresh out of college or university and planning to enter the supply chain or logistics profession? Perhaps you are considering a mid-career move into the supply chain theatre.
Either way, you might find this article of value, because we’re going to discuss some of the positions you might aim for among the vast range available, and the career paths associated with them.
81% of young professionals working in supply chain say that it was the right career choice.
Source: Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals 2017 Survey.
Before we begin though, it’s worth mentioning one small caveat. The scope of supply chain management and operations is very broad, and no two companies necessarily have the same approach to it. Therefore, there are no real defined supply chain career paths—but this is a good thing, because your career can take you anywhere.
However, it also means that the paths discussed in this article are mere possibilities, rather than absolutes. Of course the same is true in many professions, but is particularly so in the arena of supply chain and logistics.
Types of Job in Supply Chain and Logistics
There are many job types in supply chain and logistics, so to simplify things, it’s best to categorize them in some way. Let’s look at them from the perspective of the supply-chain Plan, Make, Source, and Deliver model.
Supply Chain Planning
“Planning is everything. The plan is nothing.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Planning is necessary at just about every stage in the supply chain, and if
aptitude for a planning role, there is a wide range of possibilities in front of you. Here are some of the planning roles that you could aim for:
- Supply Chain Planner: Typically a management role with responsibility to analyse supply chain performance and develop strategies for improvement.
- Demand Planner: This role involves forecasting and estimating future demand for a company’s products, and working with multiple supply chain functions to meet it, while also avoiding over-supply.
- Production Planner: As a production planner, you would focus on the manufacturing or production processes within your company, working with demand planners to ensure optimal levels of manufacturing output are maintained and aligned with demand.
- Capacity Planner: This position is similar to that of a production planner, but might be a broader role, since the focus is on all elements of a manufacturing operation rather than process alone. The objective of a capacity planner is to optimize manufacturing or production capacity through process, design, resource procurement, and collaboration with supply chain partners.
- Logistics Resource Planner: Typically an entry-level logistics role, a logistics resource planner is responsible for coordinating human resources and warehouse/transportation-fleet assets to fulfill customers’ orders in line with the company’s service promise.
- Load Planner: This appointment is narrower in scope than that of a resource planner, and focuses mainly on compiling customer orders into truckloads and planning efficient delivery routes for the transportation fleet.
Except for the supply chain planner role, all the jobs in the list above will likely have a linear career path, up to a point, perhaps including planners’ positions at entry level, and progressing to planning manager and maybe even planning director.
Manufacturing and Production
“My father built a small manufacturing business. I worked alongside him and saw firsthand the challenges that business owners face.”
— Brett Guthrie, U.S. Representative
It’s easy to forget that the production environment is as much a part of the supply chain as logistics is. It could even be that you already work in manufacturing or production but have plans for a lateral move into sourcing or logistics. If so, you are ideally placed to do so.
If not, you should certainly not discount the idea of entering the supply chain profession by way of a manufacturing job, especially as the array of possible appointments in this sector does not limit you to working as a plant operative or manager.
Possible jobs in manufacturing, which are essentially supply chain roles include:
- Production Operative, Supervisor, or Manager
- Maintenance Operative, Supervisor, or Manager
- Quality Manager
- Production Planner
- Purchasing Manager
- Production Warehouse Manager
The above list is merely a sample of the possible jobs you could consider in manufacturing and production. If you feel you should enter the industry at the lowest level, then you might look for a role as a production or maintenance operative and plan to work your way up to supervisory and then management level. Otherwise, there are the engineering, quality, purchasing, or warehouse management positions to consider.
After attaining a management position and gaining some experience, you can choose any number of paths, but if broader supply chain responsibility is your desire, you might leave the manufacturing function and become a logistics, distribution, or supply chain manager, and from there graduate to a senior management role in one of those areas.
Sourcing and Purchasing
“I would say that this is the most important thing to be successful in a Purchasing or Procurement career. Getting the experience from many places, many people, being energetic, curious and stubborn in a way is something that drives you up on a career ladder.”
–Robert Freeman, Procurement Expert
Procurement, sourcing, and purchasing functions are part of the inbound supply chain, which is a great place to gain an understanding of how sales, service, and inventory management, and logistics mesh together in balancing supply with demand.
In procurement especially, you are likely to be involved in building contractual agreements with suppliers engaging in commercial negotiations over product price, supplier service, and accountability for inbound transportation of the purchased goods. Jobs involved in this aspect of supply chain management can comprise:
- Strategic Sourcing Manager
- Purchasing and Inventory Clerk
- Procurement Manager/Specialist
- Commodities Manager
- Category Manager
Entry level jobs in this functional area are often managerial, and therefore can make a good start point if you are a college or university graduate. As you look to reach a more senior level, you might seek promotion to become a regional or national Head of Procurement, Head of Purchasing, or Head of Strategic Sourcing.
Jobs at the giddier heights of sourcing and procurement include Director of Procurement or Director of Purchasing, or if you want to continue to the highest level, Chief Procurement Officer.
Alternatively, you can strike out for other areas of supply chain management at just about any stage. It’s not at all uncommon for sourcing professionals to move sideways into logistics management or upwards to become supply chain executives.
Logistics and Transportation
“Trade isn’t about goods. Trade is about information. Goods sit in the warehouse until information moves them.”
–C. J. Cherryh, Writer.
The management of logistics is perhaps the “face” of supply chain management, concerned as it is with the actual movement of materials, goods and just as important, but rarely mentioned, information. Jobs in logistics can range from manual, such as warehouse operatives and truckies, through clerical, like transport administration, supervisory and managerial, to senior management positions.
Let’s focus on the knowledge-work aspect of logistics. After all, if you are graduating with a degree or planning a mid-career move into the supply chain profession, you probably won’t want to go in on the shop floor. That said, logistics is undoubtedly a sector in which you can do so and from there, go all the way to the top. I know people who have done that, and the experience proved invaluable when they moved into senior positions.
You could consider any of the following jobs in logistics and transportation:
- Logistics Administrator
- Logistics Manager
- Transport Administrator
- Transport Manager
- Reverse Logistics Manager
- Warehouse Administrator
- Inventory Controller
- Warehouse Manager
- Logistics Director
Each of the positions listed above can eventually lead to promotions into more general supply chain management roles. Chief Supply Chain Officers, for example, have often spent time managing warehouses or transport operations in their early careers.
A typical career path might involve entering the profession as a manager of a small transport operation or single warehouse, then moving into a regional or group management role, before progressing to a senior management appointment, perhaps running a nationwide warehouse or transport network.
Further progression could ultimately take you into a more general field of supply chain management. The most successful logisticians pursue executive offices, and some even go on to become CEOs.
Other Supply Chain Careers
“60% of young supply chain professionals surveyed described their work as exciting, and 56% said their work is fascinating.
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals 2017 Survey.
Aside from the planning and operational careers covered in the previous article sections, many different roles exist that can provide an exciting and satisfying supply chain career. Some examples include:
- Supply Chain Solution Design Analyst: Responsible for analysing a company’s supply chains and designing solutions to improve performance.
- Supply chain Finance Management: This is similar to other corporate finance functions, but specializing in the control of supply chain expenses. This type of job typically exists only in larger enterprises.
- Supply Chain IT: Larger companies also have IT departments dedicated to providing and managing technology for supply chain functions. Some enterprises have IT departments exclusively serving the logistics function.
- Sales Roles: Ocean, air, and overland carriers, 3PLs, and 4PLs all sell logistics services to support customers’ supply chain operations. That means they all have sales functions. A sales role in a logistics service company will expose you to every aspect of supply chain operation and management, as you have to understand your customers’ supply chains, and the role your employer plays in supporting them.
- Project Management: Projects are critical to all areas of industry, supply chain and logistics being no exception. If you like your career to be varied and challenging, a job in logistics or supply chain project management can be an ideal choice. Again, this is a role typically found in larger companies or in enterprises that provide logistics services.
- Supply Chain Consulting: If you like lots of variety, you might want to think about joining a consulting firm that specialises in supply chain and logistics. A consulting career will see you working on hundreds of different projects for a multitude of companies. However, it is a good idea (although not obligatory) to gain some experience of working in supply chain management before you take a consulting position.
Something for Everyone in Supply Chain and Logistics
As you will have gathered from the information in this article, there are so many types of supply chain and logistics jobs, at every level, that you should have no trouble breaking into the profession, especially if you keep your options open.
The beauty of this industry is that once you are in, your job is likely to expose you to the broader mechanics and principles of supply chain management.
You can choose to generalise or specialise, work in operations, planning, or a supporting function like sales or finance, and still gain the necessary knowledge over time to enable a sideways move or promotion into a different supply chain area.
If you already know that you want a supply chain or logistics career, but are not sure what role you want, I would recommend that you consider any of those described in this article. All of them can get your foot in the door, and from there, it’s not difficult at all to move around after gaining a little experience.