Degrees of change [from the October 2012 MM&D print edition]

by Carolyn Gruske

It’s certainly not a requirement today for a supply chain professional to have a university degree hanging on the office wall, but that day may be coming in the near future.

Not only are more and more universities offering supply chain related courses, more and more employers are demanding new hires have not only practical skills, but the letters behind a name indicating undergraduate business degrees, MBAs or PhDs.

“There are a lot of programs coming out and a lot still under development. I think the universities are just trying to accommodate the demand in the marketplace” says Tim Moore, president of Toronto, Ontario-based recruiting company Tim Moore Associates.

“A lot of it is being driven by the corporate community. They’ve finally woken up and joined the bandwagon. Employers are demanding degrees. They see the value-add, but it has just taken a while.”
Kevin Maynard, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (CSCSC) shares Moore’s view.

“I would say over the last two years, universities have seen an opportunity to take advantage of employer demand for increasing levels of skillsets and knowledge by their employees, so universities are starting to take advantage of that market and have begun to develop programming to meet that need.”

Based on the results of the 2012 Survey of the Canadian Supply Chain Professional, 41 percent of respondents have a university degree. Degree holders, however, earn slightly more ($89,299) than the average supply chain salary ($85,178).

As employers begin to see the value of having degrees, they’re willing to help employees obtain them. Igancio Castillo is a professor of business at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. He says the school’s part-time supply chain graduate students (those holding full-time jobs in the supply chain and studying for their MBAs at the same time) work at “companies that support them with money or time off to pursue their studies.”

Maynard says its common for employers to pay for tuition or textbooks.

The value employers get from paying for those costs varies. Maynard says when companies look to hire degree holders they “need to see the soft skills developed and demonstrated by candidates, including teamwork, leadership and analytical skills.”

Moore says, especially for current supply chain professionals, going back to school gives them the “opportunity to evolve and keep sharp. They might go five or six years at work before coming across a new dynamic or a new way of approaching something,” whereas in their courses they get exposed to the latest in business trends, theories and practical applications.

Castillo has a similar perspective. “Degrees are not just about the supply chain. Students gain a completely different perspective about the business.”

The appeal of having a broader, better understanding about business as a whole is why he thinks even young students who have just graduated from high school enroll in supply chain undergraduate degree programs. (WLU offers supply chain related-degrees at the undergraduate, masters and PhD levels.)

“The supply chain has been in the media a lot more lately. First it was the Hurricane Katrina issue. Then there was a lot about how supply chain disruptions cause companies to struggle,” he says.

Picking the right university can program can be a bit daunting. The CSCSC has given four universities accreditation for their degree-granting programs. Its Education and Training Compendium lists other undergraduate and graduate programs offered by Canadian universities.

Maynard suggests doing a lot of research before picking a program. Look at the faculty, the placement rate, the reputation of the school, the type of research performed, and how strong the ties are between the university and the business community. Make sure the school forces students to apply their knowledge with case studies, presentations, leadership and teamwork exercises, and problem solving opportunities.

Castillo says blending practical experience with academic instruction is key to getting a good education and producing graduates businesses hire.

At the entry level, such as those jobs requiring undergraduate degrees, “businesses want to see people who can do some analytics and data analysis. At the MBA level they want managers that have intuition and insights into problems”.

For an industry that, in the past, has been so focused on promoting people who have years of practical experience gained on the job, Moore says he is starting to see real change in the qualifications demanded by employers. A current client, for example doesn’t want anybody with more than seven to eight years of experience.

“Instead they’re looking for an MBA as a base minimum with a supply chain perspective, with three to five or three to seven years of experience with a sourcing perspective. There’s how fine-tuned it’s getting. The intention is they’re going to move the individual up throughout the organization.”

While the trend is definitely shifting towards degrees, Moore says seasoned pros without degrees don’t have to worry just yet.

“Would they bump out an older, established individual who has 15 or 20 years of experience without the same level of education? I would say not. At least not yet.”