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Building a Supply Chain Career

Building a Supply Chain Career


Now is the best time as any to be in the supply chain and logistics sector. With the rise of Asia as the new economic powerhouse, organisations are continually looking towards the region to expand their business. There is a surge of investments and trade agreements, which means the Asian region needs to move swiftly to accommodate incoming interests.

In addition, the growth of e-retailing customers are increasingly demanding rapid delivery of their goods. This demand has created a breadth of opportunities for today’s logistics and supply chain graduates.

Even traditionally held roles, such as distribution managers, that ensure the effective organisation, storage and distribution of products and purchases, play an increasingly vital role in the success of the retail industry. With the constant technological advancement of online operations, their work has never been more important nor their skills more sought after. In this current climate, the supply chain and logistics sector cannot get any more exciting or meaningful.

Potential to collaborate with robots

Do you like to work with robots and intelligence machines? In the coming years, more and more jobs with a high degree of physical activity will be replaced by the machines. With autonomous vehicles, the jobs of long haul truck drivers are in trouble. Amazon Go is a classic case of how a store can be operated with no human labour. Use of drones and robots in warehouses eliminates the need for humans picking, putting away, or counting inventories. While this means a good portion of workforce today will need to upgrade their skills, it also opens up a whole different spectrum of job roles. Future employees will be placed in charge of creating and maintaining the IT infrastructure and making sure the robots are doing all the hard work and tedious jobs.

Supply chain organisations will need to evolve and make use of big data analytics and cognitive computing in its operations. Beyond the physical labour, with the rise of prescriptive analytics, machines evolve beyond decision support to decision-making.

All in all, humans at all levels will need to retool their skills and continue learning. If you have passion or interest in technology, then moving to the next level in your supply chain career is a no-brainer.

Switch your roles often

Talk to most senior supply chain executives and you will realise that their career paths do not resemble narrow, ladderlike pathways; they consist of broad, irregular landscapes. Whether you are a new recruit or a seasoned practitioner, it is highly unlikely that you will rise through the ranks in a complete vertical ascension. So if you are staying in a job and have been waiting for a promotion for a couple of years, maybe it is time to pack up and look out for different opportunities. Do not be afraid to have a diverse and colourful background, even if your job title does not have the phrase “supply chain” in it.

This is because the supply chain management department is not an island by any means. A company’s supply chain management efforts are interwoven throughout the entire organisation. So wherever you are going in the company, you are learning new business aspects and operations. Over time, your accumulated experience and learning process will help you to manage a company’s overall supply chain operations, and even the company itself. Top chief executive officers, such as Tim Cook from Apple, Mary Barra from General Motors and Alan George Lafley from P&G, have had supply chain experience in their resumes.

Do not be shy to network

Networking has taken on a new significance in today’s cross-functional, global work environment. It is no longer enough to confine your professional circle to the function in which you operate. These days, your networking circle should include colleagues in other departments and geographies. Even if you are not in their organisational hierarchy, leaders of other teams and departments can still vouch for you when promotions are under discussion. LinkedIn can be helpful in this aspect, but effort is still required to make a meaningful connection.

Looking beyond your immediate functional area or locale is becoming especially important in the supply chain field. Operational teams are often dispersed across multiple countries and cultures. What’s more, supply chain often connects with other disciplines such as finance and marketing. The likelihood that you will be involved in cross-functional teams or initiatives is greater than ever.

Many people do not like to network. It can be boring and even terrifying, but it is important to network in today’s era. Just remember that when it comes to networking, it is a two-way street. This means that whenever you meet someone, you need to ask them as much as possible regarding their business, as well as informing them about yours. Start the conversion with the basics – your name, your company, affiliation and position – and take it from there.

You do not need to have a scheme or be sneaky to climb the career ladder. Simple and straightforward behaviours like a good attitude and actions that show your involvement and interest will go a long way to helping you achieve your career ambitions.

Ultimately, as long as you are passionate for the industry and continue to learn, you will remain a valuable member of the supply chain workforce.