Supply Chain Intricacies, Innovation and Insights

The journey a product takes to arrive to a business or home is something we rarely spend much time considering. Or if we do think about it, we likely focus on the latter part of a product’s journey — what we find available on store shelves or buy online and then wait for its arrival.

People who work in the field of supply chain management and businesses that rely on the “chain” for its goods and services know there’s much more to the story of how a product makes its way from the manufacturer to a consumer.

Supply Chain Definition
Bill Wise: Associate Professor of Business and the Program Coordinator for the Supply Chain Management (SCMT) Degree Program

Bill Wise is the Associate Professor of Business and the Program Coordinator for the Supply Chain Management (SCMT) degree program at University of Cincinnati (UC). Wise’s knowledge and enthusiasm about supply chain management and where the industry is headed, coupled with his 20+ years of manufacturing and distribution experience, is compelling. He shares his expertise and informed perspectives with students in UC Online’s Associate of Applied Business (AAB) in Supply Chain Management program.

If you’re new to hearing the term, the “chain” in supply chain refers to all the companies that participate in the design, assembly and delivery of a particular product — i.e., the supply. (Fun fact: The term “supply chain management” is said to have been coined in 1983. But moving, storing and tracking products has a much longer history!)

Wise is quick to dispel certain myths about the supply chain. “Many people don’t fully consider it or understand its varied components,” he says. “It’s more than just a truck moving goods from point A to point B. That’s part of it, for sure, but a supply chain is much broader, particularly with consumer goods.”

For some products, the supply chain begins with the raw materials a manufacturer sources and brings into its facility where it’s stored before it’s used in production. Then, when the final product leaves the manufacturer, it may be again stored in another warehouse (sometimes, several facilities along the way, Wise points out) before it gets into the hands of a business or consumer.

COVID-19 and the Supply Chain

If supply chains are more top-of-mind these days, it could be because the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought more awareness to the importance of a healthy chain and its vulnerabilities, too. Supply chains can break down or become congested or constrained, which is what happened in the first half of the pandemic. Consumers who were expecting a well-stocked supply of hand sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper were shocked, even angry, to keep seeing empty store shelves or signs enforcing “Two items only, please” limits.

“Supply chains will continue to be in the spotlight as they play essential roles in handling the distribution of the vaccine across the US and to other countries,” says Wise. “Even in a post-COVID world, we will still be dealing with COVID-level expectations, and this will have implications on manufacturing and product supply chains for years to come.”

The “chain” in supply chain refers to all the companies that participate in the design, assembly and delivery of a particular product — i.e., the supply.

Supply Chains — Some Local, Many Global

While some of the products we rely on are produced and distributed within our city or region, most of the goods depend on a supply chain that spans not just states but also countries or continents. Wise believes that unless people work in a company with a global footprint, they don’t fully grasp the vast interconnectedness of the supply chains we take for granted. “This worldwide interdependence is something we help our AAB Supply Chain Management students analyze, understand and appreciate,” says Wise.

UC Online’s program curriculum explores the global supply chain’s connectedness in its “SCMT Cross-Cultural Experience” course. Here, students learn the importance of integrating globalization, innovation and sustainability and the strategic competitive advantage companies enjoy when they can thrive in the rapidly changing field of supply chain management.

Technology, Innovation and Data Management

While a layperson may not understand a supply chain’s nuances, they wouldn’t be surprised to know technology plays a significant role and that innovation is important. Today’s supply chains require continual improvement as manufacturers seek to get their products more quickly through a growing number of distribution channels and into businesses and homes around the world — and do so more economically, as well. “The pace of change is almost unrelenting,” says Wise, “and technological advances keep extending the boundaries of what we’re able to do in this area.”

The industry’s reliance on technology includes the need to manage and understand the massive amount of data that’s generated along the chain. Wise states that program graduates who want to work with and understand the data should find many career opportunities. “The more you advance in a supply chain management career, the more important the data aspect becomes.”

Supply Chain Management Associate Degree

Wise’s connection to UC Online’s Supply Chain Management degree offering goes back to the program’s planning stages a few years ago. He worked with the university’s educators, partner universities, regional supply chain management experts and the state of Ohio to create a fully online program that meets both the industry’s demands and the individuals who want a meaningful career in this field.

“Our two-year degree program features three entry-level courses, including Introduction to Business and Financial Accounting, and supply chain management-specific courses that differentiate our program,” says Wise. “We know from meeting with businesses throughout the region that this education is tailored to what our students need to succeed.”

The AAB Supply Chain Management’s focused curriculum features courses that introduce students to the industry’s technology, microeconomics and purchasing, sourcing and supplier management. The courses are designed to equip UC Online graduates for a career in supply chain management — what many believe to be a dynamic and rewarding field with almost endless opportunities in the US and abroad.

Benefits of Studying Online

When asked what he thinks students value the most about completing their supply chain management associate degree online, Wise cites flexibility as the top benefit. “Most of our students work full-time and have family demands. They find distance-learning and not having to commute to a physical space multiple times a week to be a great fit for their busy lives.”

The AAB Supply Chain Management program welcomes new students throughout the year with a “scheduling carousel” approach, where students can join the program at the start of any semester. Students are assigned weekly modules at the beginning of the week that they can complete any time before the next weekly assignment. Wise cautions that self-discipline must be paired with this flexibility as students need to prioritize their studies and keep up with classwork. To learn more about a supply chain management career, read Support the Global Economy as a Supply Chain Manager.

Career Outlook for Supply Chain Management Professionals

With supply chains playing such an integral role for millions of businesses worldwide, this makes the field a rewarding one for those who want to begin or continue a career in supply chain management.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of supply chain logisticians (those who analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain) is projected to grow 4% between now to 2029. The BLS states that people who may be a good fit for the logistician role have experience using logistical software or have done logistical work for the military. (Learn more about other supply chain management roles, including production planners and transportation specialists, here.)

Coveted Skillsets

Wise’s industry experience tells him that employers will look for people who are equally effective at self-management and collaborating with teams. Problem-solvers are needed, too, as supply chain management professionals often must identify a situation, devise a solution and work to resolve it — either on their own or with others.

“Being valued in a supply chain management career means finding things that set you apart,” Wise says. “This differentiation will open up even more opportunities for our graduates to find a niche position based on their interests and passions and a best-fit corporate culture.”

Supply chain management professionals are in demand in many industries, including consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and automotive, with roles in procurement, warehousing, logistics, data analytics and more. “You name an industry, and there’s likely to be a place for someone with supply chain management skills,” says Wise. “That’s what’s so exciting about it. Our students aren’t limited to a particular industry.”

Bright Future for the Industry and Our Program

Wise knows that UC Online’s associate degree program will be a first step on a lifelong educational pathway for many of his students. “We’re happy to be part of our state’s interest in growing the education opportunities for this field,” says Wise. “It’s still a somewhat new and not well-known focus area. But, someday, we may find high school students studying supply chain management, just like they do accounting.”

Wise is pleased to see the program’s students excelling in the online experience and is excited about what the coming months and years will bring. “We have many exciting plans in the works here,” he says, “and I look forward to an even richer program for our students.”

Are you ready to explore a career in supply chain management? Contact one of our Associate of Applied Business in Supply Chain Management program advisors to get the process started.

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