Demand for supply chain managers has surged following a series of disruptions to global trade — from the coronavirus pandemic to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That has led to an uptick in demand for masters programs in supply chain management — once an over-looked profession that is now among the hottest topics at business school, alongside finance and marketing, owing to the rising significance of supply chains to businesses globally.
“Students realize that supply chain is a field where they can have enormous impact, in ways that profoundly affect companies and society,” says Damian Beil, chair of technology and operations at University of Michigan: Ross School of Business. “We have students who started their business education or careers expecting to go into marketing or finance, but discover all the challenges and opportunities in supply chain, and are hooked.”
The Master the Supply Chain Management at Michigan: Ross is a one-year degree program for recent college graduates. It provides a holistic, hands-on understanding of supply chain management, as well as real-world supply chain insights from industry executives.
“Supply chain management is a team sport, and at Ross, students run an intensive, 14-week hands-on team project with a client, wherein collaboration is as important to success as technical knowledge and critical thinking,” says Beil.
Lately, a lot of the team projects are focused on risk mitigation, which makes sense given the disruptions to global trade over the past few years. “Our curriculum has always had a significant component related to risk. The risk sources change — be it an earthquake or a pandemic — but many of the fundamental concepts remain the same. The goal is to prepare for the next disruption, not just the most recent one,” adds Beil.
Many business schools report that applications for their masters programs in supply chain management have soared because of recent dislocations. “Demand has significantly risen in the wake of recent global events. The Covid-19 pandemic and Suez canal blockage underlined the critical importance of effective supply chain management,” says Tahir Abbas Syed, who directs the MSc program in Operations, Projects and Supply Chain Management at Alliance Manchester Business School in the UK.
As well as rising interest in supply chain management as an academic discipline, the career opportunities post-degree look brighter than ever. “Companies worldwide have had unexpected challenges, like factory shutdowns, labour shortages, shipping delays and unpredictable swings in demand. Given these circumstances, the role of a supply chain manager has become more crucial than ever,” stresses Abbas Syed.
So what are the key skills that supply chain managers need to be successful in this age of turmoil — and how can they acquire them while studying at business school?
On the Alliance Manchester program, students gain the knowledge and skills to ensure that processes run smoothly in an increasingly globalized marketplace.
The curriculum has been updated recently to focus more on digital supply chains. “With the proliferation of technology and digital transformation across industries, analytical skills and competencies to drive data-driven insights can be useful skills for students. Business schools offering courses in data analytics, risk management, and strategic thinking can provide relevant knowledge and skills,” says Abbas Syed.
Sustainability is another critical focus area for supply chain management students. “Demand for supply chain managers grew profoundly because the global push for sustainability meant firms realized they needed to be responsible across their supply chain, as the significance of resilience and traceability concerns kept rising,” he adds.
Before the pandemic, businesses often sought to cut costs in their supply chain, but they have since invested to make their supply chains more resilient. “We have had a class on risk and disruption management since the program started. The examples and cases that we study have changed, but the overall learning goals remained the same,” says Rudi Leuschner, director of the online Masters of Science in Supply Chain Management Program at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.
Demand is robust for the course, he says. “Applications for May 2023 entry have been about 20 percent above average.”
In order to be successful as supply chain managers, students need to have a deep understanding of the three traditional legs of supply chain management: procurement, operations management, and logistics management, according to John Fowler, a professor of supply chain management in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
“In addition, going forward students need to have strong analytic and project management skills,” he says. Fowler notes an uptick in demand for the business school’s Online Master of Science in Supply Chain Management program, which has prompted the school to offer an in-person version of the degree starting in fall 2024.
The vast majority of the online students are working professionals who study part-time to accelerate their careers. “The feedback we receive from these students is that our program has given them a much deeper understanding of the issues facing modern supply chains,” says Fowler.
Graduates have the skills they need to thrive in traditional jobs in supply chain management, such as procurement, logistics, and sustainability, but also digital transformation. At Ross, 97 percent of the 2022 graduates were employed within six months of finishing their studies.
“Regardless of what sectors are booming at any given time, supply chains are needed to create value for firms and society,” says Beil. So a masters in supply chain management is a fairly safe bet.