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Which Supply Chain Job Is Right for You? Navigating the 4 Pillars

Welcome to supply chain management and logistics: a future-proof field with a strong starting salary and high job satisfaction. In supply chain, there are plenty of job opportunities for professionals with a wide range of skill sets and interests, and a traditional bachelor’s degree is not required to get started. 

Read on to learn about supply chain job opportunities, explore what roles are best suited to your interests and experience, and find out which skills may serve you best as the supply chain, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, enters the next phase of its evolution as an industry.

Did you know

layer Online learning is a great way to build the skills and experience you need to either get started or move around in your supply chain career, which is rarely a linear path.

Top Supply Chain Jobs

Supply chain roles fall into four primary categories, or pillars: Planning, production, sourcing, and transportation. While each area has its own focus, a holistic understanding of each is essential for advancing a career, which may span across just one or all four pillars.

Planning

Supply chain professionals in planning roles focus on analysis, forecasting, and optimization. They consider supply and demand, and work to keep the two in close balance via effective planning throughout all supply chain links. The job description for entry level roles such as logistics resource planner may include inventory control and coordinating human resources, as well as warehouse or transportation assets.

Some of the many other job titles include:

  • Load Planner
  • Demand Planner
  • Materials Manager
  • Materials Analyst
  • Supply/Demand Manager
  • Production Planning Manager
  • Vice President of Inventory/Supply Management

Production

In a production role, you will focus on the creation of the product or service itself. You may interface with contract manufacturers (which can include selecting and managing these partnerships, if you become a supply chain manager), develop timelines, budgets, and production schedules, oversee product testing and quality assurance, and incorporate end-user feedback on products or services.

Job opportunities go by the name of:

  • Production Manager 
  • Maintenance Operative 
  • Principal Engineer 
  • Packaging Engineer 
  • Safety and Environmental Manager
  • Quality Manager 
  • Vice President of Manufacturing Operations

Sourcing

Supply chain professionals in sourcing roles focus on the inbound supply chain—that is, resources the organization needs to create and deliver its product or service. The job description can involve negotiating the price of raw materials, building contracts and maintaining relationships with suppliers, and ensuring purchased goods make it to the production site, both in a timely fashion and up to the standards of quality appropriate to the company. 

In sourcing, you may hold a job title such as:

  • Buyer, 
  • Purchasing Agent
  • Purchasing Manager 
  • Inventory Clerk
  • Supplier Quality Engineer
  • Global Sourcing Manager
  • Technical Buyer
  • Strategic Procurement Manager
  • Director of Supplier Development

Transportation

Transportation, logistics, and delivery professionals focus on the storage and fulfillment of goods. They may be hands-on material handlers, such as forklift operators or warehouse associates, or supply chain analysts, strategizing how much inventory is needed and the best way to move it around. They may also be logistics/warehouse managers, who negotiate contracts, implement supply chain strategies, and ensure safety compliance. 

Specific opportunities include:

  • Warehouse Administrator
  • Transportation Manager 
  • Logistics Analyst
  • Logistics Manager 
  • Route Optimization Manager
  • Director of Global Warehousing 
  • Vice President of Distribution or Logistics

Project Management Jobs

Each supply chain link has a chain of leadership working under the overall supply chain manager. However, in addition to in-house management positions, sometimes organizations need to tackle projects beyond the scope of day-to-day supply chain processes, and that’s where a project manager comes into play.

The project manager must coordinate resources and tasks to achieve a specific outcome within an allocated time frame and budget. Supply chain project managers are often called upon to help an organization transition from a local to global supply chain, improve lead times, drive efficiencies in inventory process or supplier sourcing, introduce new technology systems and software, or outsource processes like assembly and manufacturing.

Some ideal skills for project managers include risk management, financial awareness, agile scheduling and planning, meticulous organization and documentation, and communication.

Retail Jobs

What happens to a product after a successful logistics strategy delivers it to the store? That’s up to the merchandiser. This person performs the physical tasks of building, stocking, and maintaining displays according to a planogram, but there is more to the job than simply putting products on the shelves of a brick and mortar retail store.

For example, the merchandiser monitors sales to identify stocking needs and the effectiveness of store layouts or displays. When key products aren’t moving, it’s up to the merchandiser to recognize spatial opportunities within a store to create attractive and effective displays that drive sales. A good merchandiser also communicates with managers and workers to understand and address any needs or possibilities for better merchandising strategies.

New Supply Chain and Logistics Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World

After COVID-19 disrupted the global supply chain, the industry permanently changed. In 2021 and beyond, organizations recognize the importance of investing in strong supply chain strategies, translating into more and new supply chain career opportunities.

According to Forbes, one of the biggest shifts will be to diverse, regional supplier networks rather than relying solely on China and other partners overseas. Strategic sourcing with multiple suppliers close to home enables organizations to avoid or mitigate inventory disruptions and improves quality control. 

Of course, near-shoring and diversifying suppliers will increase costs, and organizations will be looking to optimize in other areas like warehousing and labor—an opportunity for someone with experience or interest in supply chain management to shine.

According to Yossi Sheffi, director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, another growing priority is end-to-end visibility across supplier networks, manufacturing, and logistics. While many organizations had already recognized the value of data-driven strategies, the pandemic accelerated this trend. Companies are seeing the value in technologies that increase market insights through data and the Internet of Things, documentation on the blockchain, and more, and they need supply chain professionals who are ready to apply those skills in the workplace.

Did you know

edX_Icon_ActionableData Skills and knowledge of data science and analytics and emerging technologies such as blockchain can augment supply chain professionals’ core skills.

Finally, organizations have learned the value of agile business strategies. For example, during the pandemic, Ryder repurposed thousands of trucks, trailers, and drivers from temporarily shuttered automotive clients to meet surging demand in CPG, driven by home delivery of groceries while people were in lockdown. Companies must be similarly prepared to exercise flexibility and creativity with limited inventory, underutilized resources, and complementary products and services.

Start or Advance Your Supply Chain Career

Learn more about navigating supply chain career paths and identify skills, courses, and programs to help you begin or move forward in your career.

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