The New Face of Supply Chain Certification

Supply chain management is evolving, and so are the profession's certification programs


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.

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