Every product that you take from the shelf has gone through a whole series of organizations to get to you, from the suppliers of the raw materials to manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers. The person who manages this process is the supply chain manager, sometimes known as a logistician. Jobs in supply chain management are available in every sector. Larger organizations tend to manage their own supply chains, but third-party supply chain and logistics companies can also be found.
A career in supply chain management is usually open to graduates with a bachelor's degree in any discipline, who can apply to join a graduate training scheme. A degree in business, operations, logistics, engineering, finance, industrial engineering or supply chain management would make your resume stand out. For international companies, knowledge of one or more languages is a distinct advantage.
Planning and organizational skills are key for a supply chain manager. Your job is to make sure that materials and products are moved along the supply chain in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible, so that they can be sold quickly and start making a profit. Renting warehouse space for products to sit in for days is inefficient, for example; you need to organize transport so that they can be shipped to the retail store as soon as possible. If just one link in the chain breaks, it can be expensive, as any delay also prevents money being paid between suppliers. This means that you must have contingency plans in place -- such as a range of transport companies you can call on -- or be very quick at solving problems. Other important skills are confidence in using information technology, such as logistics software, and being able to lead a team.
A successful supply chain depends on a manager who is task-focused, works within tight deadlines and is dedicated. If there is a problem anywhere in the chain, a good supply chain manager will go to where the problem is -- for example, the port, if materials are held up at customs. She will talk to the customs officers, inspect the materials with them, deal with whatever the problem is, and get the materials released. If you are a good negotiator in such circumstances, you are likely to be a good team player, too, which is another important quality for working in this field.
A supply chain manager is responsible for sourcing and purchasing materials, transport, warehousing and distribution. Typical activities include planning delivery timetables for materials and products and tracking the movement of goods through various depots. You would do this using specialist computer software packages and through communicating personally with other managers in the supply chain, such as transport managers. You would oversee ordering and packaging of goods in a warehouse so that they are ready to be shipped out. You are also expected to communicate with your manager, typically the operations director, to suggest ways of improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the supply chain. For example, you might recommend saving money by introducing lighter packaging.
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