Transportation Education: Certification is a career enhancer

The growing number of supply chain certification programs now available opens up new opportunities for managers looking to advance their careers. But before embarking on any program, the experts advise, make sure that it has value to current and potential employers.

By · July 1, 2012

In April, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) unveiled its new SCPro certification program. Beta tested by pallet and container pooling solutions provider CHEP, the three-level certification offers global supply chain management professionals a way to demonstrate industry skills and mastery of end-to-end supply chain functions.

CSCMP’s new program is just one example of a growing number of certification options that targets both current and aspiring supply chain managers. Another is the Supply Chain Council’s SCOR Professional (SCOR-P) certification program, which focuses on establishing in-depth knowledge of the SCOR model and methods.

Seen as a viable middle ground between a full-blown college degree and the more basic certificate programs (which are not to be confused with certifications, as you’ll read later in this article), certifications fill a void for executives who need enrichment in specific areas—or who want to add designations like CPM, CPIM, CSCP, CPP, CPPM, and CIPM after their names.

Kathleen Hedland, CSCMP’s director of education and research, says the SCPro came about after several years of research and discussion. Hedland sees the offering as a viable alternative for executives who are looking to earn educational credit hours without having to sign up for a degree program. It’s particularly useful for supply chain managers who are currently employed, and who would rather take a validated test than go through the time and expense of a regular classroom and/or virtual degree program.

“We went through a rigorous process of validating all of the test questions for the SCPro,” says Hedland, who notes that the test is designed not to test functional expertise (like so many certifications do), but rather the student’s knowledge of the true, end-to-end supply chain. “The goal is to test and validate the executive’s understanding of the entire supply chain and how each function within the chain impacts the next.”

Earning Dividends
Going through the supply chain certification process is about more than just putting a few letters after your name on your email signature line. Through the professional certification process, individuals gain knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific job. When the coursework is completed the student must earn a passing grade on an exam that is accredited by an association or organization that oversees and upholds the standards for that particular profession or industry. 

In many cases the certification process produces individuals who can demand higher salaries and better positions, at least in the supply chain space. According to Jean McHale, spokesperson for the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), many graduates are indeed leveraging their certifications into dividends in the workplace.

ISM, which offers the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM), Certified in Supply Management (CSM), and Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), in its most recent salary survey found that the average salary for supply chain professionals armed with one or more such credentials was $102,498, versus $98,740 for those who had no such credentials. 

While the average salary for respondents holding the CPSM designation declined 13 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year, the individuals surveyed earned 8 percent more on average last year compared to those without credentials. According to McHale, supply chain management professionals with a CPSM earned an average salary of $107,534, compared with $99,740 for those who lacked a designation. Other credentials also yielded higher-than-average salaries. For example, the income for individuals holding a CPSD was $125,356, a 9 percent increase over 2010, when the average was $115,000. Finally, the CPM, a recertification-only credential program earned its holders $103,664, up 2 percent from $101,840 in 2010.

In addition to those salary enhancements, certification programs allow for a more flexible learning environment in large part because of the online component. Robert Novack, associate professor of supply chain and information systems at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business in University Park, Pa., says being able to work at your own pace over a series of modules and exams online is especially attractive for professionals who are working full time.

“Whereas a graduate supply chain program is lock-step, takes a bit longer to complete, and is more expensive,” says Novack, “a certification option provides more flexibility and longer completion timelines.”

According to Abe Eshkenazi, CEO at APICS, certification programs also allow executives to select options that are most germane to their current roles—or for those that they aspire to move into. As an example, he points to APICS’ Certified Production Inventory Management (CPIM), which makes students “functional experts” in production inventory management and planning, and organizational forecasting.

One of APICS’ more recent programs, the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) certification, is focused on the end-to-end supply chain—from raw materials through disposal, recycling, and/or reuse. Designed for senior-level executives, the CSCP “helps individuals gain a broader span of control of the entire supply chain,” says Eshkenazi, “and has become an industry standard for executives with cross-functional responsibilities within that supply chain.”

Making the Distinctions
They may just be a few letters apart, but “certifications” and “certificates” are really two very different options in the supply chain education space.

A certification indicates the completion of structured coursework over a period of time and a series of exams. In certain cases, it may also entail a final presentation (either live or virtual) in front of a group to demonstrate knowledge of the materials. Completion of the certification program usually leads to a professional credential such CPSM (Certified Professional in Supply Management, ISM) or CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional, APICS).

A certificate broadly indicates that the individual has completed some type of educational experience. It could be as basic as a trade show seminar or a more structured online certificate program such as those being offered by Penn State, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, and other major universities. A certificate program generally does not bestow a professional credential.

With any type of certification or certificate offering, Eshkenazi cautions supply chain managers to be wary of anything that’s not supported by ample content, testing, and activities. Before signing up, ask questions like:  What underlying content supports the program? What kind of content supports the exam? What will I be tested on? How will I demonstrate my competency and understanding of the course principles? How do I know that I’m being tested on the appropriate level of competency and/or application?

If the educational provider can’t give you the answers you’re looking for, says Eshkenazi, then it may be a waste of time. “There’s really no magic to coming up with a certificate or even a certification—anyone can do it,” Eshkenazi states. “The key is to do your homework in advance to ferret out the options that make the best use of your time and that help you advance professionally.”

Leveraging Certifications in the Workplace

All of the education in the world isn’t worth much if the experiences and knowledge can’t be leveraged in the workplace. As ISM has already determined via its annual salary surveys, those individuals holding certifications do earn more than their counterparts. The question is, how does one go about leveraging the educational experience into job promotions, raises, and other
types of advancements?

Eshkenazi of APICS says a good way to answer that question is by looking at online job postings to find out what employers are asking for. Also investigate what types of certifications are considered critical for advancement in your firm. One way to do this is to look up the ladder to see what credentials those above you have after their names. “It’s great to have a certification,” says Eshkenazi, “but if the employment community doesn’t recognize it as something of value, then it’s not a necessity.”

Penn State’s Novack sees certifications as a “quick and fairly easy” way to boost your continuing education resume without having to spend an excessive amount of time or money.

“Anytime you can get a professional designation after your name it’s definitely worth it,” says Novack, who also advises supply chain managers to figure out which credentials their employers—or prospective employers—value before embarking on any program.

“If your company doesn’t value your effort and the credentials that you earn, then there isn’t much value to getting those letters after your name,” says Novack. “You’ll just be spending money to boost your ego and to be able to say that you earned those letters, but it’s not necessarily going to help you get anywhere in your job.”

About the Author

Bridget McCrea, 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 [email protected]

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