The New Face of Supply Chain Certification

By Andrew K. Reese

Grace L. Duffy has a simple message for supply chain management professionals who believe that they can coast through their careers without continuously updating their skill sets. "The profession is going to move whether we want to move or not," she says, "and, as individuals, if we don't move forward with the profession, we will be lost."

Duffy is vice president for management and performance systems with the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Her own career over the past 15 years has included work as a specialist in organizational performance, process improvement and leadership, and previously she spent 20 years with IBM, including designing and delivering Big Blue's Executive Quality training in the late 1980s.

Through her 14 years of involvement with certification at ASQ, Duffy has had a ringside seat as the supply chain profession has evolved and as professional certification has become more important. "The use of certification by job search companies and hiring organizations has certainly grown over the years," she says, adding, "When someone achieves an ASQ certification, the business community knows it is not just window dressing. The person knows the material and has achieved a significant milestone."

Changing with the Times

ASQ, like other professional organizations in the supply chain space, has worked diligently to update its various certification programs to ensure that they meet current business requirements. The association goes through a review process with each of its certification exams on a five-year cycle to glean the changes in both academic content and real-world application, and on average, the "body of knowledge" for an exam may change about 15 percent during that five-year cycle, according to Duffy. Globalization, for example, has had a significant impact on the content for ASQ certification, as has the rise of the supply chain concept, which emphasizes resource balancing, effective communication, shared information and use of technology across the whole supply chain.

ASQ takes these sorts of changes into consideration as it revises current exams, and the association's certification board members also keep their eyes on the external environment to identify areas in which to establish new certifications. This has been critical as companies outside of the manufacturing sector (where the quality movement started more than 60 years ago) have sought to apply quality to their own sectors. "Manufacturing is now only about 15 percent of the U.S. economy," Duffy notes. "There is a huge world out there that can benefit from the bodies of knowledge maintained by ASQ."

Not surprisingly, Duffy says that the demographics of those seeking ASQ certification has expanded significantly over the years that she has been involved with the association. "Certification began with strictly engineering and statistical knowledge," she says. "As the value of quality has been recognized in all areas of business, we have seen the expansion of the number of subject areas covered by certification within ASQ." Currently the association offers 14 different certifications, covering areas such as software, reliability, management, auditing, biomedical, safety, Six Sigma and entry-level teams, and customer/supplier relationships. "There is a real understanding in the marketplace of the value of quality and process improvement throughout the business," Duffy explains.

Taking the Broad Perspective

Other organizations offer certification work to keep their programs current with changing practices, too, including by introducing new certifications. The Institute for Supply Management, for example, announced its Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) program in November 2005. At the time, Paul Novak, ISM's CEO, said, "The new qualification will address the realities of supply management, workplace complexities including globalization, greater use of technology, and expanded competencies that supply management professionals employ to drive value in their organizations." CPSM certification is to debut next year.

APICS — The Association for Operations Management also has taken the lead in introducing a certification program to address the needs of supply chain professionals. The Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), announced in October 2005, joined the association's two other certification titles, including Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM, first introduced in 1973) and Certified in Integrated Resource Management (to be discontinued in June 2008).

The curriculum for the CSCP program reflects a broader functional perspective than previous certifications, according to Abe Eshkenazi, executive director and chief operating officer at APICS. "The certifications that have been around in the supply chain management field have been specific to a particular function," Eshkenazi says, citing certifications for logistics, warehousing, procurement and other functional segments of the supply chain. "But the days when people in production or purchasing or warehousing could keep their heads down and be solely focused on their particular function are a thing of the past. So the Certified Supply Chain Professional provides a perspective of the end-to-end activity from sourcing all the way to the disposition of that product at the end."

Continuing Education

That breadth of perspective admittedly comes at the expense of some degree of depth, Eshkenazi acknowledges. "The CPIM is a very in-depth educational process, and when individuals finish, they have a very in-depth knowledge and understanding of the production and inventory management cycle. With the Certified Supply Chain Professional, you're not going get the in-depth knowledge in each one of the fields, whether that is procurement or production or supplier management. But you get a broad enough perspective on each one of the aspects of the supply chain so that you're at least knowledgeable of the function that each organization has within the supply chain."

Bob Collins, executive director of the Educational and Research Foundation at APICS, adds that the CSCP program reflects the broader role that supply chain professionals are being asked to play in their enterprises. "The successful supply chain professional cannot do the job by himself or herself," Collins says. "In order for everyone to be successful, there needs to be collaboration within the company and among the companies that participate in a particular supply chain. And the [CSCP] learning materials and exam reflect that." As such, the new certification emphasizes such skills as project management and conflict resolution to an extent not seen in previous test programs.

APICS has added a certification maintenance component to the CSCP, expecting certified professionals to undertake a certain amount of ongoing education to remain current with changes in the profession. The association itself continues to educate itself on trends in the industry in order to keep the certification program as relevant as possible. For example, just in the time since the test was first released, APICS has added and refined content focused on the role of technology in the supply chain, reflecting the degree to which IT is driving many supply chain changes in the marketplace. "This is not a static product by any means, and it will continue to evolve in response to what the industry and organizations are calling for," Eshkenazi concludes.

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