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Capturing the potential of supply chain education

Executive education programs today are focusing on the “hot” supply chain topics. Here’s a look at what’s available and how you can take advantage of these offerings.
By Bridget McCrea, Contributing Editor
July 01, 2011

Hands-on action learning
Whereas in the past companies were satisfied with the coursework provided by the school or organization they were working with, today those same firms are rolling up their sleeves and taking a more hands-on approach to executive education. This type of “action learning,” is catching on, particularly among firms that are looking for custom programming options.

“There’s definitely a desire to build project work into the courses,” says Grenoble, whose school offers a two-week basic learning program that includes a short break followed by a 3-1/2 day program on transformation. Students start on their project work during the first week, continue working on it during the break, and then come back to report the results of their efforts.

Grenoble says interdisciplinary content is also in high demand. To answer the call, he says the Center for Supply Chain Research is broadening its content offerings to deliberately include speakers and/or instructors who can discuss non-supply chain disciplinary areas.

“More and more we’re using faculty from other disciplines for the supply chain courses,” says Grenoble. “Right now, our programs are being led by finance, accounting, management, organization, international business, and industrial engineering experts.”

Don Klock, professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School in Newark, is a big proponent of blending supply chain management programs with marketing science. “We’re serious about linking the instruction to both customers and consumers,” says Klock, whose team comprises over 30 professors, some of whom are supply chain experts, while others are marketing gurus.

“We work very hard at achieving that integration,” states Klock, “and linking the overall supply chain with the end users.” The school also focuses on cultivating professionals who will be able to run an end-to-end supply chain, and not just one or two links in that chain. Klock explains: “We try to bump up their skills by offering certificates in project management, manufacturing, or sustainability, for example, to make sure they walk away with a broad-based supply chain education.”

Continuous professional development
A supply chain professional is a unique animal who is hard to replace or replicate. “It’s not as if an executive from some other totally unrelated field can just come into a supply chain position and be successful; that’s highly unlikely,” says Tennessee’s Dittmann. “Supply chains are amazingly complex, and getting more complicated all the time.”

And yet, today’s supply chain professionals—particularly those that bring the right mix of experience, education and business savvy—are handling the challenge quite well. To further enhance that value, Dittmann says the supply chain manager of the future will have to be more adept at “speaking the language of the boardroom executives.” Concepts like return on net assets, economic value-added, and working cash flow, for example, will have to be mastered in order to create the most well-rounded supply chain executives.

“Our students need to learn the language of the executive suite in order to have the right influence in the corporations where they work,” remarks Dittmann, who sees supply chain management as a lifelong career requiring continuous professional development.

Some of that development may be delivered online, where distance education is picking up steam and being used to complement traditional, classroom instruction. Expect that trend to continue, says Grenoble, who sees the cost effectiveness of online course delivery as one of its biggest selling points. “Over time,” he comments, “distance education will become more important, particularly for those executives who aren’t necessarily on the fast track, but who need the continuing education.”

Calling the United States the “best at supply chain logistics,” Ratliff also sees more distance education ahead for the space, in particular for those students that can’t travel halfway around the world to attend an American university and other programs in person. “We get calls from all over the world, asking us to provide supply chain education,” says Ratliff. “I expect we’ll see a gradual increase in the use of electronic media to fulfill those needs.”

About the Author

Bridget McCrea
Contributing Editor

Bridget McCrea is a Contributing Editor for Logistics Management based in Clearwater, Fla. She has covered the transportation and supply chain space since 1996, and has covered all aspects of the industry for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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