Supply Chain Curricula Get Industry Nod

By April Terreri

Companies in every industry increasingly look to their supply chains as a source for continuing improvement leading to reduced waste and increased efficiencies to enhance their bottom lines. Without question, an efficiently run supply chain can be a powerful differentiator; so, too, is having highly skilled and experienced supply chain executives to lead the charge. And universities throughout the country are playing a major role in providing the talent pool from which companies can draw to keep their ever-evolving and globally complex supply chains operating as leanly and optimally as possible.

Developing a Talent Model

Over the last few years, AMR Research, in conjunction with the Supply Chain Council, has been working with industry leaders — such as Procter & Gamble, Intel, IBM and Boeing — and academia in guiding a standardized approach to offering supply chain curricula that align with the requirements of industry for highly trained supply chain talent. AMR's most recent study, published in June, surveyed 126 companies and 19 universities and highlighted what the research firm identified as the country's leading supply chain programs.

"The goal was to improve the standards of care around developing supply chain professionals through a governance model while also having corporations share non-proprietary curriculum to jump-start the standards," explains David Aquino, research director for Boston-based AMR Research. Based on the metrics established and measuring against three major dimensions — industry value, scope of program and depth of program — the AMR study identified Penn State's Smeal College of Business as No. 1 and Michigan State University as No. 2.

The study identified a Talent Attribute Model encompassing 11 attributes that corporations require in their working cultures. Supply chain personnel should have: the ability to integrate information (seeing the big picture); relevant real-world experience; a broad understanding of supply chain concepts; leadership skills for global business; problem-solving/judgment skills; direct experience using supply chain technology; the ability to manage virtual/matrixed teams; an understanding of risk management; analytics capability; the ability to balance IT and business skills; and the ability to work in teams. "Companies were reporting they were being forced to retrain recruits, despite the fact that they were recruiting smart people," Aquino says.

The goal in providing a solid curriculum is to have a governance model at the undergrad level that builds a curriculum that is more universally accepted and that provides more of the background and foundation for generalists, Aquino says. "This is what industry really needs."

Penn State University

In addition to its MBA, Master in Manufacturing Management, and executive education program in supply chain management, Penn State University's Smeal College of Business offers a new online degree, the Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management (MPSSCM), developed about two years ago. "Our curriculum is based on the Supply Chain Council's SCOR (Supply Chain Operations Reference) model," explains John Stevens, director of the program.

An online graduate certificate is also offered, and all courses are taught by full-time faculty. "We designed this program for the working professional to complete in two years' part-time study," Stevens says. The curriculum was designed by faculty in consultation with corporate and government sponsors of Smeal's Center for Supply Chain Research.

Students take three courses for a total of 12 credits to achieve the certificate in Supply Chain Management. "These courses are the first three required for the Master's program, so the program is designed to articulate," Stevens says. They teach a broad overview of the SCOR model, transportation and distribution methodologies, and strategic procurement. The target market includes people with baccalaureate degrees in business, science or engineering. Students needing remedial work in areas like business statistics, quantitative methods, accounting or mathematics for management can take online tutorials from Harvard Business School, with whom Smeal has a special arrangement.

"Students were telling us they wanted to continue their education toward a master's degree once they received their certificate," Stevens says. "So we redesigned the legacy certificate courses to articulate into the new master's program."

Stevens reports that one of the program's differentiators is its balance across the sub-disciplines afforded by the SCOR model's framework. "For example, we are not an intensive procurement or operations management or transportation program. We consciously decided to deliver a balanced and comprehensive supply chain program using the SCOR model."

The second differentiator is the program's online accessibility. With the exception of a short residency between the first and second year, the curriculum is delivered online. "Our students are Penn State students, and we make no distinction between traditional resident and our online students," Stevens says. "The residency is a valued opportunity for students and faculty to meet face-to-face and its duration doesn't impose conflicts with students' work or family responsibilities."

Students must complete an applied research project during the three consecutive semesters of their second year of the master's program. Each student has a faculty adviser. "We expect students to undertake a project at their place of employment and we are seeing significant results, both for companies and for the students — even more than we expected," reports Stevens. "Some students have published their results in industry journals, and others have been promoted at their companies because of the success of their projects."

Michigan State University

Some supply chain programs are stronger in one particular element of the supply chain, says David Closs, chairperson for the Department of Supply Chain Management for Michigan State University's Eli Broad Graduate School of Management. "Our department offers undergraduate and graduate students an equal perspective of purchasing, production and logistics." Closs adds that this approach has characterized the program's design over the last 30 years.

Working closely with industry, the department continues to understand the talent needs better. Closs notes the department offers three top areas of critical skills based on collaboration with industry leaders. The first is analytics and developing students' comfort level in using analytical models as decision-making tools. The department also introduced classes in sustainability. "A number of members of the faculty in the department have used risk or environmentalism as topics of research, and we have had major companies coming to us asking for help in supply chain sustainability," Stevens reports.

The department also offers a course in applying supply chain principles and services that had traditionally been the domain of operations. "Companies today are competing on supplying a solution that is a combination of products and services," Closs explains. Industry also wants students who can lead and work effectively within a team. "Companies want students who have excellent ethics and who can do tradeoff analysis," he says.

The department also offers a two-year full-time MBA program and a weekend MBA program for graduate students. The weekend program is designed for people who have been working in the supply chain arena for at least five years. "We also have a unique Master of Science in Supply Chain program which is in its seventh year," reports Closs. The structure of this program offers more in-depth supply chain knowledge opposed to the broader perspective offered by the MBA. "The difference between the programs is that students in this program know exactly where they want to focus in the supply chain."

The Student Perspective

Given the state of the national and world economy, how are students faring when it comes to getting tuition assistance? Stevens at Penn State reports that some companies have pulled back on the amount of assistance they will provide. On the other hand, some companies are more aggressive in their outlook. "Some companies are sponsoring people showing high potential, and they view the recession as the right time to invest in their supply chains to gain a competitive edge."

Closs at Michigan State notes that students enter the university with aspirations of becoming accountants or engineers. But they wind up pursuing supply chain courses because they can use the analytical skills developed in those other disciplines. "They soon realize we have a large number of companies who come here looking for recruits in supply chain programs. Placement rates are high — somewhere in the 90-percent range within three months. What is different now with this recession is undergrads used to get two or three job offers and now they are getting only one — which is still quite good."

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