While the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) holds two student job fairs per year, the supply chain program has so much interest, it holds its own fairs. Around 160 to 180 Fortune 500 companies come each fall and spring to recruit the 1,000 supply chain students for internships, co-op programs and full-time jobs.
Employers also come to the school’s Supply Chain Forum, a two-and-a-half-day program held twice yearly, with panel discussions and speed networking events for the companies and students.
As the need for supply chain talent increases, the number of school supply chain programs are increasing and more students are enrolling. From 2014-2016, full time student enrollment in the top 25 supply chain programs rose 43%, from 8,500 to 12,200, according to Gartner research.
That’s a start, but employers are hungry for well-trained supply chain graduates, with skills that are continually growing and changing. Technology is having greater impact on companies, especially with e-commerce. And they’re becoming more efficient, global and using supply chain as a strategic initiative instead of as a revenue drain. These changes in philosophy and operations have increased the supply chain profile within companies.
More than 150 schools in the U.S. offer associates or bachelors degrees in supply chain management, with more offering certificates and graduate degrees. A 2017 DHL survey notes that the talent shortage (with supply chain jobs outpacing supply at least 6:1) is a result of changing skills requirements, an aging workforce, lack of talent development and a perception that supply chain jobs aren’t exciting.
Grooming that talent for future supply chain work involves more than just recruiting college students into the major, however. It means raising awareness at a young age, reaching out to women and people of color, teaching the right mix of classes and skills, and getting the students appropriate job experience during college. More than in most other college majors, the relationship between employers and college programs helps set the agenda.
The lemonade stand: Getting kids interested in supply chain
Getting students interested in the supply chain should start before college, says Abe Eshkenazi, CEO at APICS. It starts with parents, high school guidance counselors and family friends, the way most students learn about the supply chain field. "It’s not an intuitive as finance or the other disciplines," he said.
APICS started a K-12 STEM program, which introduces supply chain concepts. The goal is creating awareness about supply chain concepts. Eshkenazi says the program is a long-term investment that will pay off when more individuals enter college supply chain programs and specifically seek these jobs.
Without role models, the younger generation won’t think there’s a place for them.
Supply Chain Dive
The free program teaches concepts through activities the kids can relate to. Kindergarten and younger elementary school kids learn about setting up a lemonade stand. They talk about how many lemons they need, where lemons come from, how they get the lemons, where to place the stand, how much to charge, etc.
"This provides them with concepts of resource planning, output, pricing and placement, without mentioning those terms," Eshkenazi said. Middle school programs focus on building and selling LEGO cars and paper airplanes, while the high school program is on selling cell phones.
High demand for supply chain majors – from white males
With many students interested in supply chain going into college, filling the programs hasn’t been an issue. The supply chain program is the UTK Haslam College of Business’ largest program, graduating 350 students a year. If one of the students wants a supply chain job when graduate, they can easily get one.
"We don’t have a problem recruiting to our major. What we do have a problem with is getting more women into the major," said Diane Mollenkopf, MBA, PhD, the school’s McCormick Associate Professor of Logistics in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management.
While the number of enrolled women remains constant, male enrollment has grown.
This isn’t unique to UTK, and the school has actively tried to get more women involved. “The companies that recruit here want diversity. They’re actively trying to recruit more hires to represent diversity,” she said. Their program is about 30% women, whereas the school’s undergraduate gender split is equal.
Employers are finding students are overweight with technical and analytical skills, and underweight in critical thinking and real-world experience.
Supply Chain Dive
Partners in the UTK Supply Chain Forum support the school’s diversity efforts. They highlight women leadership at Forum meetings, with students attending. One UTK initiative is Nexxus, a supply chain student club run by women for women. They do professional development programming on networking and interviewing and invite women to talk about career progression.
They schedule site tours to different companies to see a variety of career management roles, trying to displace stereotypes about factories, warehouses and trucking. They also provide peer mentoring, to get freshman and sophomore women interested in the major.
Seeing role models that look like the potential employees is a good way to recruit more minorities in the field. In the workplace, both employers and employees need to actively promote diversity in various positions, including leadership. Women and people of color must be willing to stand up and take on those roles and responsibilities, to position themselves as leaders, Eshkenazi said.
And companies have to recognize their preconceived notions. They may assume that women won’t be willing to travel, or won’t have the interest in leadership, for example. But they need to create these opportunities; without role models, the younger generation won’t think there’s a place for them.
Teaching skills employers want
Standardizing what supply chain programs offer is one way to spread awareness to future students. Schools are putting the majors in different places, like in finance or engineering programs. And coursework varies as well.
Schools that have good relationships with employers may be teaching skills the employers want. Because of the demand for supply chain majors, some schools are implementing programs that aren’t fully developed and are teaching outdated concepts, said Eshkenazi, leaving some employers frustrated that graduates aren’t ready for the workforce.
Students without real world experience and inadequate coursework require retraining and professional development to get up to speed.
"The rush to get these supply chain programs, because of demand, has created this sort of dynamic," he said. As programs mature, there’s more alignment on quality and content, consistent with what employers want.
As for skills, Eshkenazi said that employers are finding students are overweight with technical and analytical skills, and underweight in critical thinking and real-world experience. Colleges are developing subject matter experts, but the employers also want advanced management and leadership skills to use across the enterprise.
We don’t have a problem recruiting to our major. What we do have a problem with is getting more women into the major.
McCormick Associate Professor of Logistics in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, UTK
That leadership issue is important because the majority of current supply chain leaders don’t come from supply chain programs, but from engineering or finance. To become a chief supply chain officer, those coming from logistics, planning and procurement need exposure to the whole enterprise and to lead cross-functional teams.
Employers have told UTK, though, that they want stronger analytical skills, and they’ve added more of this coursework into their program. "With the focus on using big data, the students need to be very strong analytically," Mollenkopf said.
UTK is also working with Forum partners to get more students interested in manufacturing and operations early in their career.
"The younger generation tends to be urban focused and want to work in cool cities in high rise offices. Manufacturing plants tend not to operate there," she said. Students also tend to have regional preferences for work. "When students identify themselves early that they will go anywhere, they become even more interesting to recruiters."
Supply chain scholarships as a carrot
One way to improve the talent pool and expertise levels is to offer competitions and scholarships. That makes it easier for some students, including minorities, who may face financial barriers when attending universities. Various stakeholders offer scholarships, though most are a relatively low amount, between $500 and $4,000.
APICS and Deloitte offer a team-based case competition, with an end-to-end supply chain problem solved by university student teams for prize money. Industry organizations like the Institute for Supply Management post scholarships like these from local chapters. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation gives scholarships for students interested in the foodservice supply chain, with 50 named scholarship funds, including one program with awards up to $10,000.
The supply chain field isn’t new, but it’s been rebranded with a new name encompassing the various functions. As more students enter the field and seek out jobs specifically in the supply chain field, it will be easier to move them into leadership roles and gain better visibility for the roles, thus attracting more talent.