Learning Curve: Supply chain careers

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.

How do we attract talent in supply chain, especially the millennial segment at the beginning of their careers, some with university education, others with college diplomas and a few with on the job training?

Career branding in supply chain continues to be a huge challenge for employers and something that industry associations in Canada and the US are trying to improve. Like most professions, you have to start in entry-level positions and with performance success comes opportunities for advancement.

While there mundane and tedious tasks, there are lots of demands and responsibilities to ensure goods are delivered, costs are managed, information is accessible and stakeholders understand the expectations. With that in mind, supply chain functions carry a prestige factor because gaining a competitive edge in product delivery requires high level thinking, an ability to be flexible, grasp ideas quickly, consider options and adapt to new environments and processes.

SCM is for smart folks who like breaking down how products move, focusing on how to control costs and better organize and utilize resources. They have the confidence to exercise measures to best control outcomes.

So if you’ve decided to launch your career in supply chain there are lots of pieces to the puzzle and a variety of roles that are involved in the field.

Whether you enjoy the business aspect of the supply chain – IT systems, planning, forecasting, analytics, finance, procurement – or the operations side – including the physical environment of shipping or fleets, client services, or functional aspects of transportation solutions or brokerages – there are many roles in this unique field. The work encompasses most industries and involves a never-ending run of products going from point to point, with the challenges of moving inventory, mapping freight flow and controlling costs.

Perhaps you’ve had exposure to the transportation industry from other areas of the world. With that, you bring an understanding of domestic and international transportation and trading. So much information is needed to execute the process of freight movement, including geography, commodity types, transportation modes and shipment types, and – depending on where you operate – these factors can create a very different logistics plan. Thankfully systems have evolved to better access and share information.

In theory, the what, how, who, where and when questions in understanding how to get materials sourced, processed, stored, shipped and tracked are an evolving logistical puzzle no matter where you function in the supply chain. Understanding the physical routes and requirements that trains, planes and trucks take and how freight moves over roads, rail, ocean and air is all pretty complex, considering the costs involved. Not to mention the strengths, abilities and constraints of each transportation provider tracking goods along each leg of the trip.

The specific skills of a freight forwarder involve understanding the principles of import/export, along with key skills in sourcing transportation, knowing the Customs, duties and tariff regulations, CBSA documents; C-TPAT, PIP, ACI/eManifest, insurance requirements, shipping options, freight security and NAFTA. Now, more than ever, the Canadian business climate is sorting through the potential impact of a NAFTA rewrite, which is a politicized situation with the potential for upheaval.

Supply chain is a core function for almost all product-based companies. That makes the skills of a supply chain professional eminently transferrable. Whether companies are locally based with local clients operating in a smaller sphere, or a global player, with big geographic reach, there are common factors that impact the flow products.

Resource planning, asset planning, production planning and lean methodology are part of the role of the supply chain leader in manufacturing and processing environments. Local regulations for transporting, storing and identifying products domestically must be applied. When international movement of goods occurs, the documentation and planning details expand even more. It’s important for new entries to the field to learn about third-party logistics services and contracts, transportation services, freight brokerage, TMS/WMS systems, load security and costing models related to supply chain.

One of the big roles for new entries in the field is in data analytics. If you are a graduate of any business school and a have strong technical background, the need for skills in planning, forecasting and strategic sourcing is huge. With the rise of e-commerce powerhouses, the role of IT solutions in the supply chain function is the leading management focus for major retailers. Companies that engage enterprise demand planners and super users of supply chain systems are leading the way over organizations that lag in their data management and resource utilization.