2011 Supply Chain Education Survey Findings Part Two


We explore what people feel are the priority needs for supply chain education. Supply chain strategy and leadership topped the list, with an emphasis on cross-functional talents. That was followed closely by the need for Supply Chain Risk Management, Demand Management, and Supply Chain Fundamentals education.


Part one of this series showed that people want more practical and less theoretical education, taught by industry practitioners rather than academics. They also talked about supply chain strategy and leadership skills as the highest priority educational need today. Here in part two, we dig further into the educational priorities, as shown in Figure 1 below.

Source: ChainLink Research
Figure 1 – 2011 Supply Chain Education Priorities

Supply Chain’s Integrative Role in the Overall Enterprise

A strategy-related priority mentioned by several people was, “Teaching a holistic view of supply chain’s role as an integrated, critical function within the business.” One respondent emphasized the importance of “. . . teaching how the whole chain really connects or is suppose to connect, so that students can then hit the ground running when employed and recognize broken links in the company’s supply chain.” Another stressed the need to impart “. . . an understanding of supply chain integration and its relation to the total business picture and business strategy.

Cross-Functional Skills Needed

Experienced practitioners understand that supply chain is essentially a cross-functional responsibility. The need to teach cross-functional skills and the ability to bridge organizational boundaries was another suggestion that appeared often in the survey feedback. “Collaboration within and between functional areas, customers, and suppliers is key. There is too much focus on silos and specific functions and very little focus on a holistic view. In general, there is an under-appreciation of the people aspect and an over-emphasis on tools. We need more cross-functional programs getting supply chain together with finance, marketing , IT, and other functions.” Another take on this theme touched on the ability to optimize across functions: “Teach how to balance the goals of silos, such as manufacturing and logistics, to meet the higher-level goals of the enterprise.

Supply Chain Risk — Critical Area, Extreme Shortage of Good Courses

In our annual business priorities survey, managing supply chain risk ranked fairly high — usually about 4th, 5th, or 6th on the list. However, in this education survey, Supply Chain Risk ranked significantly higher. As the second in priority, it beat out even the perennially highest priority ‘favorite’ Demand Management. We believe that this is due to the shortage of Supply Chain Risk Management talent in the marketplace and almost total lack of in-depth educational courses available in this discipline. One commenter emphasized the connection between risk management and their overall supply chain strategy: “Our highest priority educational needs are in supply chain strategy formulation and risk assessment and mitigation strategies.

Demand Management, S&OP

Not surprisingly, Demand Management ranked high in priority, coming in third, as it has consistently been one of the highest priorities in prior surveys. It also is an indication of the fact that few existing supply chain education programs are strong in the area of Demand Management, as reflected in the comment, “Education programs are weak in Demand Management methodologies. Many people think it is just about forecasting, but there is much more to it than that.

Many of the comments focused in on the S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) process. Here are three observations that reinforced the central importance of learning S&OP concepts, grounded in a financial view of the enterprise:

  • “The core of supply chain education should be around the concepts of finance represented in a forward-looking S&OP model. From there the student can dial into the sub-areas they have an interest in, but they should begin by learning the basic, first principal drivers of success.”
  • “The most important need is S&OP, S&OP, S&OP! But make sure it is a forward-looking, bottom up, finance view of S&OP, with drill down to operational components.”
  • “Leading education institutions need to teach a finance approach that uses supply chain measurement to create an alternative accounting of balance sheet and inventory. In today’s world, a real S&OP model is the best there is . . . but that can be improved.

Supply Chain Fundamentals — Still a Necessity

The need for education covering the fundamentals of supply chain remains solid and was ranked the fourth highest priority in our survey. While some people consciously choose and prepare for a career in supply chain, many people end up there more by happenstance. Perhaps they started out in the warehouse or even as a driver and worked their way up through the ranks of logistics, or as a buyer managing suppliers and commodities. In these cases, they may have excellent skills in those functions, but never have been trained in the fundamentals. For this reason, the opportunity to learn the foundational principals of supply chain can be invaluable, not just as an undergraduate starting out, but also later on during a career.

Logistics and Transportation

Logistics and Transportation was ranked as the second lowest educational priority in our survey, barely beating out the much narrower domain of auto-id and traceability. That is notable, because Logistics and Transportation are the primary focus of many, if not most, academic programs in supply chain. This was reflected when we asked how well the educational need was being met in a variety of areas (Figure 2 below). Logistics and Transportation came in first place as the one area that people felt was already the most well covered. In spite of this, there were still some complaints, like, “We need better programs on transportation policy and economics. Many of the education programs were founded upon transportation, but transportation is growing in scale and complexity in most companies, and universities are only addressing fundamentals.

Source: ChainLink Research
Figure 2 – How Well Are Needs Being Met in Specific Areas

Another thing that stands out is that the two areas ranked highest in priority in Figure 1 — Supply Chain Strategy & Leadership, and Supply Chain Risk Management — are also the two areas where the needs are being least well met (see Figure 2 above). Clearly, the community is crying out for better education in these crucial areas.


The third and final part of this series explores how well these various supply chain education needs are currently being met.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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