Executive-level supply chain positions have gained both prominence and importance for today’s global companies. To support this trend, universities and colleges have enhanced their supply chain and logistics degree programs; organizations like APICS and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) have expanded their certification programs; and training firms offer myriad options to help executives stay current on supply chain trends.
It wasn’t that long ago that supply chain managers worked mainly behind the scenes, stealthily orchestrating the movement of products from the raw material stage to manufacturing/production and right on through to the final delivery of the finished goods.
Typically occupied by employees who had successfully “worked their way up” through the company, these executive-level supply chain positions have over the last few years gained both prominence and importance for today’s global companies.
To support this trend, universities and colleges have enhanced their supply chain and logistics degree programs; organizations like APICS and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) have expanded their certification programs; and training firms offer myriad options to help executives stay current on supply chain trends.
These executive education offerings provide executives with the opportunity to hone their skills, upgrade their technology acumen and better understand the inner workings of the modern-day supply chain.
In some cases, the executive education is served up in the traditional classroom setting, but increasingly we’re seeing more interest in short sessions (one or two days), online course delivery, or hybrid options that combine the two.
The programs can be non-degree-granting, certification-based, or lead to a full-blown degree in supply chain management or other subject. Customized programs that are tailored to the needs of individual companies are also growing in popularity, with most offerings targeted to supply chain professionals that are already employed in managerial and executive roles (or those who aspire to).
The question is, what value do current supply chain professionals gain from executive education and how can they apply these advantages for their companies and in their own careers?
In most cases, advanced education can translate into better opportunities for advancement, improved job prospects, more respect or status (as compared to those employees who may not participate in executive education) and even higher salaries. For employers, this type of education supports employee retention while ensuring that executives have the latest, most relevant knowledge and skills they need in order to do their jobs.
In this article (and PDF download), we’ll delve further into the true value of executive education for today’s supply chain professional, outline some of the key benefits that it offers and hear how providers are stepping up to meet the growing needs of their executive students.
Making Your Personal Stock Go Up
According to John Caltagirone, the value of supply chain executive education goes beyond just providing better advancement opportunities and salaries. “It’s going to make your personal stock go up,” says Caltagirone, founding director of the Loyola Business Leadership Hub of Loyola University Chicago. “It will make you more valuable to your employer and that will lead to a stronger career and higher income.”
By participating in executive education, Caltagirone says professionals also gain access to networking opportunities that could eventually lead to new career prospects, valuable information sharing and other career-building interactions.
“We have about 78 corporate members – most of them large firms like McDonald’s and Walgreens – that can’t wait to get together and brainstorm challenges and come up with solutions together,” says Caltagirone.
“They work together to solve inventory problems, address supply chain issues and come up with ways to solve some of their biggest pain points.”
In other words, executive education programs not only provide knowledge and nuggets of useful wisdom, they also encourage relationship building, brainstorming and a focus on continuous improvement. “If you’re serious about your profession, participating in these programs, getting a degree, attending a workshop or getting a certificate will all give you takeaways that you can use on the job,” says Caltagirone.
Caltagirone says executive education is particularly relevant for supply chain executives who may have come from a different side of the business, such as marketing or finance. More and more of these professionals are being “pulled into” positions like VP of supply chain, says Caltagirone, and may need additional education to get them up to speed on the fine points of global and domestic supply chain management.
Finally, Caltagirone says the millennial generation is another good candidate for the additional education, experience and networking the supply chain executive education provides. Not always eager to register for a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management degree or an MBA program, these younger professionals lean more toward bite-sized educational offerings that hit on specific, supply chain-related topics.
“Because of this, we started offering certificates,” says Caltagirone. From the experience, students take away specific knowledge and training on topics like global supply chain management, inventory control and purchasing. “So instead of taking 18 courses over an 18- to 24-month period, students can take five courses and earn a certificate,” he says.
If Your Employer Values It, Go For It
Steve Tracey, executive director for the Penn State Smeal College of Business’ Center for Supply Chain Research, says he’s come to the simple conclusion about executive education and certification: If your employer values it, then it’s probably worth pursuing. But if the company doesn’t put an emphasis on such education – or the value it can bring to the organization – then it’s purely a personal investment.
“Some employers do value it and some don’t,” says Tracey. Certifications can be an especially tricky area, namely because these programs center on technical expertise and rarely focus on bigger topics like leadership and strategy.
“You can’t really develop and educate people on leadership and strategy through a correspondence course,” Tracey says. “So where certifications may work for a tenured employee with less than seven years of experience, once you start getting up into the higher levels, that type of education doesn’t add that much value.”
The value of supply chain executive education also extends to the companies themselves, which can use it to retain their top supply chain employees.
A firm that sponsors executives who attend a Master’s in Supply Chain program, for example, may ask for a minimum, post-graduation time commitment (of say, three years), thus ensuring that he or she doesn’t jump ship once the diplomas are handed out.
“The hope, of course, is that the person will stay long after that three years is up,” says Tracey, “based on the fact that they invested that money in the employee’s degree.”
Within companies, Tracey says those that do value ongoing education tend to cast a more favorable light on executives who have made the effort in that area. “If you’re working for a large organization, a series of certifications or a master’s degree could both be differentiators within that company, particularly when it comes to salary bumps,” says Tracey.
“However, I think it’s rare to find a company today that would hand out a promotion to someone simply because he or she completed an educational program.”
To help clear up any ambiguity in this area, Tracey says employers should be very clear about whether they do (or don’t) value executive education, including degrees, advanced degrees and certifications.
“Have a stated strategy and policy about what these efforts mean within your organization, and communicate it to your employees,” says Tracey. “This helps with employee retention and ensures that professionals aren’t left guessing as to whether they should put the time and effort into executive education.”
Measure the Personal ROI First
As supply chain itself becomes more and more intertwined with other disciplines, Caltagirone expects the related executive educational offerings to follow suit. “I have a new graphic that I used in class that depicts what the supply chain looks like right now, and it literally includes everything but the kitchen sink,” says Caltagirone.
“If you make a product, buy a product, move a product or store a product, you’re involved with supply chain.”
Nick Little, assistant director of executive development programs for Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, concurs, and says demand for executive education is being driven by the fact that neither organizations nor their supply chain professionals can operate in vacuums any longer. “Supply chain executives have to be aware of the ‘bigger picture,’” says Little.
“And while they don’t necessarily have to become experts at everything, they have to at least see how their part fits into the rest of their own companies, and with their suppliers and customers.”
Little sees executive education – be it via a degree or a certificate program or a workshop – as a good way for supply chain managers to gain more of that big-picturing thinking and then use it in their own careers.
When a warehouse manager learns exactly how his or her activities affect distribution, manufacturing and transportation, for example, the opportunities to gain efficiencies and make continuous improvements across the organization grow exponentially.
But as Tracey pointed out, organizations that want to experience those improvements must be willing to carry the executive education torch, or else employees won’t see its value. But that doesn’t mean enterprising executives can’t use the education to improve their own knowledge banks and skillsets while enhancing their chances of getting a raise, a promotion or a new job.
“If you’re going to invest the money, time and effort in executive education, make sure you do your own return on investment (ROI) calculations,” Tracey advises.
“No education is bad; it’s always good. As with anything, there is a trade off between time and money invested in the payback you get out of the education.”
Source: Supply Chain Management Review