In an era where throngs of college grads are searching for jobs, there’s one career for which industry can’t find enough takers: supply chain management.
As large-scale warehouse distribution operations increasingly dominate the global marketplace, workers with the skills to procure, track and manage inventory throughout that process are becoming more coveted than ever. In anticipation of this demand, schools such as Western Illinois University in Macomb began partnering with major industry five years ago to develop and grow partnerships to address the need.
In 2008, Western Illinois University - together with a broad-based advisory committee of industry and academic contributors - introduced a supply chain management emphasis to its MBA degree. Although WIU’s MBA program had been in existence for 40 years, according to John Drea, associate dean of the College of Business and Technology, the SCM component was developed in response to solid industry demand from major companies including ADM, Caterpillar and John Deere.
“We transitioned from a generic MBA to a concentration in one of five areas, and supply chain management was one of the five,” said Drea, noting that the other four are finance, management, accounting and economics. “Supply chain is the unusual MBA concentration of the five, and it’s also the biggest growth area for us. At that first planning meeting, we had six companies and 15 students in attendance. At the second meeting, there were more than 20 companies and 100 students present. I can tell you that 100 percent of our Supply Chain Management MBA graduates this year had jobs,” he added.
WIU’s graduate program in SCM includes a good deal of hands-on experience with industry, says Bart Jennings, PhD, professor of supply chain management, who was recruited from the University of Tennessee in 2004 specifically to begin the SCM program at Western.
“We have a 12-week internship as part of the program,” Jennings said. “Recently, one of our students was credited with saving $7 million for the company through the work she did during her SCM internship experience.”
Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur actively hires WIU’s supply chain management grads. Earlier this year, the food processing and commodities trading conglomerate pledged support of $115,000 to the university’s SCM program over the course of the next three years. The gift comes through ADM Cares, the company’s social investment program that directs funds to initiatives and organizations driving meaningful social, economic and environmental progress worldwide. The gift will fund an online video module to demonstrate various aspects of transportation and logistics to help prospective students better understand the career; it will also fund the creation of a faculty position to assist with these initiatives.
“ADM operates the world’s premier crop origination and transportation network, connecting crops and markets in more than 75 countries, so we understand the importance of a strong supply chain,” said Kim Ekena, vice president of marketing for the American River Transportation Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of ADM.
The inherent challenge in marketing Western’s supply chain management MBA is unique, Drea and Jennings agree, and pretty much the opposite of the obstacle that most universities face when marketing a degree program. Rather than having more than enough students who want to enroll in the program but not enough employers to absorb the graduates, Western’s hot MBA concentration faces the reverse dilemma.
“We face the challenge of finding enough students who know what this degree is and who want to pursue it,” said Jennings. “Companies already identify it and are readily seeking graduates to fill extremely well-paying positions. We just need to continue educating prospective undergraduates and existing professionals on the opportunity of enrolling in this MBA program.”
Graduates armed with an MBA in supply chain management can expect to begin earning a six-figure income, Drea says.
Because Western’s SCM concentration has proved to be in such hot demand on the master’s degree level, the university is preparing to roll out a certificate program in supply chain management this fall. The four-course, post-undergraduate degree, says Jennings, is in response to industry’s request for SCM expertise for workers who may not wish to pursue manager or director-level positions in the industry but still require a good working knowledge of supply chain processes. The certificate courses will be offered at the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses, online and in an on-campus/online combination, he says.
“We continue to listen closely to industry as we put these courses together,” Jennings said. “Every member of our faculty has worked as a supply chain management industry professional, and we’ve got advisory board members from major industry in Illinois. It keeps us very close to the global dynamics of the industry and to the needs of those who will be hiring our graduates.”
Speaking of hiring, Drea says it’s not uncommon for a Western Illinois University undergrad business major to get a job offer from a supply chain management industry employer at the beginning of his senior - or even junior - year, before he even begins the MBA program.
“This degree, and the talent it produces, are in huge demand,” Jennings said. “Companies are going to grab the best talent as early as they can. And only 10 percent of companies have really begun to develop their supply chain strategy. If other companies jump in, there’s no telling where demand for this will ultimately go.”