Is Supply Chain Worth Learning?

Supply chain management (SCM) careers are exciting, diverse, and in-demand.

One thing you’ll often hear about SCM is that there’s “something for everyone.” That’s because the concept of a “supply chain” is quite broad and impacts almost every aspect of a business.

At its core, a supply chain is the series of relationships between raw materials and a finished product. Say a business makes simple plastic buckets. The supply chain for these buckets is anything but simple:

  • Sourcing:  Where do you get the raw plastic from, and why?
  • Manufacturing:  Who makes the molds for the plastic?
  • Procurement:  Which third-party vendor(s) should inspect our factories?
  • Forecasting:  How many buckets should we make this quarter?
  • Inventory:  Where do you store the buckets? The raw material?
  • Distributors and transportation:  Who moves the buckets from place to place?
  • Operations management:  How much should be done by machines? By people?
  • Sustainability:  What’s the impact on the environment? Can we reduce it?
  • Analysis and optimization:  How do we capture data and how do we use it?

Each of those questions could be the sole focus for a supply chain management professional, depending on the company’s size. And these questions are only a sample of the elements in a “simple” product’s supply chain. Imagine the supply chain for a business that makes electronic toys or cars!

On top of this, we live in a world whose global supply chains are in a state of deep evolution. The advancement of technology is responsible for much of this, as is the rise of globalization. As you might imagine, the pandemic has also seriously shaken up the industry as the whole planet has begun to rethink how we do work.

The result: demand for SCM skills has risen above supply. This makes starting or pivoting a career towards supply chain management easier now than in the past.

SCM jobs can be well paid, rich with problem-solving, decision-making, and have lots of room for growth. Many businesses consider SCM to be a core part of their strategy and competitive advantage.

layer "Supply chains—both for the delivery of physical goods and for access to critical data—have become the central issue for top management."

“Supply chains—both for the delivery of physical goods and for access to critical data—have become the central issue for top management,” says Edward Anderson, Professor for Management of Innovative Technology at University of Texas McCombs School of Business.  “Supply chain executives are moving from back-office services to become key leaders in the C-suite, shaping business models and growth.”

Explore Supply Chain Jobs and Skills

layer Discover which supply chain job fits your interests and skills the most, and learn about the most in-demand SCM skills today.

Is It Worth It To Study Supply Chain Management?

It depends. You may not need to do any extensive studying to start an SCM career!

The reason is in supply chain management’s flexibility. Your current experience may include all the transferable skills you need to get your foot in the door for an SCM role.

For example, maybe you have experience with inventory management from a retail or warehousing job. You may find a relevant SCM career path in transportation, working your way up from a warehouse administrator to a route optimization director.

Or perhaps you know nothing about inventory, but are good at data analysis. Digital Supply Networks (DSNs) are on the rise in the SCM world. Understanding the inputs and outputs of data for DSNs will be championed by people with skills in analytics.

Those with strong people management and networking skills can also find success in SCM. A big part of many SCM roles is solving logistical problems. Quite often those problems will come down to people: a late shift, miscommunication, politics, etc. 

edX recently published an article on how SCM is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure career path. This in-depth piece has even more examples of skills that you might already have, and how they can be used to launch or advance a career in supply chain management.

Are Supply Chain Management Degrees Useful?

Earning a degree in supply chain management can certainly open doors towards bigger roles and better salaries.

But you don’t necessarily need to take a traditional path where you earn a bachelor’s degree in SCM and then get a master’s degree. Because SCM is so flexible and high-demand, alternative education and online programs can be the booster you need to reach the next step.

Here are a few stories that illustrate just that:

  • Mia, whose background is in behavioral neuroscience, used a self-paced SCM program to bridge the gap between her academic and professional experience. She leveraged this to attract an offer with a significant pay bump. Read Mia’s story.
  • Nooree had SCM experience, but it was somewhat scattered. Even worse, it wasn’t recognized in her new country of residence! She used alternative SCM education as “the center of my jigsaw puzzle” to connect the dots to land a job as a supply chain planner. Read Nooree’s story.
  • Danaka, a healthcare entrepreneur, was inspired by SCM education to pursue both a master’s degree program and a PhD. She’s using what she learned in supply chain management to improve the world of cardiology! Read Danaka’s story.

Any degree’s usefulness can be measured by its potential to expand your career opportunities. Supply chain management is an in-demand and evolving field, so almost any investment into SCM education has a great chance to pay off. 

The choice to pursue a full degree depends on your goals within the world of SCM. Remember: it is possible to have a great SCM career without a specific degree in supply chain management.

Did you know?

layer edX has partnered with ISCEA to offer the Certified Supply Chain Analyst (CSCA) Professional Certificate. Learners who complete the program will not only get an edX certificate but also be certified as a supply chain analyst by the ISCEA!

Is Studying Supply Chain Difficult?

Because supply chain management is so diverse, its learning difficulty will depend on the things you find easy and hard. Below are some scenarios.

  • Fundamental math and language skills can make many of supply chain management’s aspects more accessible.
  • A background in software engineering, computer science, data science, or information technology will be useful for building the future of supply chain networks and other anticipated disruptions in the field.
  • A business administration or project management background may position you better to understand “big picture” SCM challenges.
  • Strong people skills will help you appreciate the less technical parts of many business processes, and give you a different perspective on how to solve many problems.

Thankfully, because SCM indeed has “something for everyone,” there’s bound to be elements of it that you will find less difficult than others.

Starting Your SCM Learning Journey

The world of supply chain management (and its many, many aspects) is an exciting space these days. The jobs are in-demand, and there are tons of transferable skills that make it easy to get started with learning SCM.

Learners from all over the world have joined edX to acquire or expand supply chain management education. From beginners courses to a full master’s degree, learn more about edX SCM courses here.

Explore Supply Chain Courses