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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

Whether they want to get back to the basics, increase their firms’ global presence, or more tightly intertwine their companies’ end-to-end supply chain, today’s supply chain professionals are turning to universities, professional associations, and consulting firms for the education required to achieve those goals.

Education providers are answering the call, combining new course offerings with convenient delivery methods to reach all corners of the supply chain profession. In this supplement, we’ll look at what’s new and “hot” in executive education in the supply chain space, look at what several schools are doing to make sure that they’re meeting student needs, and give you insights about what’s coming around the next corner.

Back to basics, please
With the national economy slowly improving and companies in recovery mode after a few tough years, more attention is being paid to the supply chain. Organizations are examining how well the supply chain is working, the role it plays in a firm’s overall success, and any related deficiencies or gaps that need attention. “There’s definitely a focus right now on getting ‘back to the basics’ with supply chain-related education,” says Don Ratliff, executive director for Georgia Tech’s Supply Chain and Logistics Institute in Atlanta.

“Companies want to make sure that their supply chain and logistics people understand basic inventory, transportation, warehousing, and supply chain strategy,” Ratliff continues. “There’s a lot less interest in the ‘gee whiz’ stuff that firms were asking for just a few years ago.”

Credit the economic downturn with stoking that grassroots mentality, which is driving companies to develop leaner supply chains, for example. “We’re still not quite past the economic downturn,” says Ratliff, “so the focus is still on making sure a firm has the basic blocking and tackling down; lean falls under that umbrella.”

Ratliff’s team at Georgia Tech is also fielding a high number of company-specific queries right now.  Most of the questions concern supply chain challenges that the firm is grappling with, with an eye on solving them through “live” continuing education (as opposed to online message boards or other virtual means). “In some cases,” says Ratliff, “you really need to be able to sit down and talk these issues out face-to-face in order to get them solved.”

Companies speak up
At the University of Tennessee’s Global Supply Chain Institute in Knoxville, executive education programs are being adapted to meet the needs of the companies like Coca Cola, Procter and Gamble, Honeywell, and Amazon. “These firms meet on campus a couple of times a year,” says J. Paul Dittmann, the institute’s executive director.  “Through those interactions, we hear a lot in terms of what they’re looking for in their supply chain education.”

One area that’s getting a lot of attention these days is the global supply chain and how it’s being supported through executive education offerings. “Most supply chains are global in nature,” says Dittmann. “The question is, how many good educational programs are available to executives that need a strong learning component that’s focused [specifically] on supply chain?”

The pickings are slim, according to Dittmann, whose group recently introduced a global supply chain executive MBA program to help fill that gap. And while multiple universities offer executive MBA programs, he says that this new offering was developed around the need to “carve out a niche in the global supply chain arena.”

In developing the new program, the University of Tennessee once again turned to the 30 or so global supply chain executives active in the school’s Global Supply Chain Institute, all of which had the opportunity to give their input into the program’s design. “Using that input, we put together a supply chain curriculum with a strong global focus,” says Dittmann.

The 12-month global program includes residencies in Knoxville as well as in Paris, Budapest, Singapore, and Rio de Janiero. “Students will spend five, one-week residencies on campuses around the globe, and receive instruction from international faculty,” says Dittmann, who is bullish on the program’s potential for attracting students. “We think there will be big demand for this.”

Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business is also seeing higher demand for global supply chain education, according to Skip Grenoble, executive director for the Center for Supply Chain Research in University Park. “Global opportunities for [companies] are definitely on the upswing and will continue to increase,” says Grenoble.

To accommodate that trend both in terms of individual courses and for custom programs, the center this year will offer courses in Belgium, Prague, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Shanghai. The phenomenon works both ways in that Penn State is also hosting more international supply chain executives who come to the U.S. to learn the ropes.

“We also have a group of wholesale and retail junior executives from South Africa who are potential managers, and who are set to come through our program in a few months,” adds Grenoble. “We’re seeing more and more of that kind of international representation in our courses.”

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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