Not long ago, most people probably didn’t think much about the supply chain. We didn’t have to. But with port slowdowns, manufacturing delays and other pandemic-caused constraints in the past couple of years, you might say we are all a little more supply chain aware these days.
That’s playing out in higher education too. At some universities, the supply chain management major is suddenly hot.
These programs were seeing increased enrollment before the pandemic, but at some institutions, even more students want in.
Back in the ’90s, Kelly Lynch worked in supply chain management for the automotive industry. One night, while watching television with his wife, an episode of the show “Friends” caught his attention. It’s the one in which Rachel gets a job as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s department store, and, as Lynch remembers it, she was excited because she loves shopping.
“And that was her motivation,” Lynch said recently. “’Well, anybody can do this, right?’” I kind of laughed, and I remember saying to my wife, ‘If it was only that easy.’”
Lynch now directs corporate and student relations in the department of supply chain management in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University — one of the top programs in the country.
He said applications to the program are up by more than 10%. “We’re attracting students who may have never thought of supply chain management.”
Even undergrads. Last fall, for example, there were a lot of freshmen packing the seats at the first meeting of the school’s student supply chain association.
“I was able to really go around and be like, ‘Oh, nice to meet you. Do you need any food? Is this your first time?’” said MSU senior Kate Fehrle, the club’s vice president.
Fehrle said when the pandemic hit, suddenly there were real-time case studies to look at in class — from the toilet paper shortage to port slowdowns to transportation bottlenecks.
Practically overnight, supply chain experts became sort of … rock stars.
“We’ve gotten a deluge of requests for insight and perspective,” said Shay Scott, professor in the supply chain management department and executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee.
Scott said that’s validating, but points out that the supply chain is a complex topic. “And that doesn’t always lend itself to a one-sentence sound bite.”
Especially when you’re trying to get up to speed on it quickly.
At Arizona State University, Thomas Kull teaches his students that the supply chain is kind of like personal health.
“You don’t really notice an issue until you try to do something that you thought you could do, but you can’t,” said Kull, who is also the interim chair of the department.
And the past couple of years have brought about new challenges, from last-mile delivery to environmental sustainability.
Kull said consumer demand for greener products is something Arizona State students learn about in a class simulation about coffee. The exercise includes a challenge: Customers reject the coffee because the bean growers are destroying the rainforest.
“You’re losing sales because of this,” Kull said. “And the look on the students’ faces, like, ‘Why is that my problem?’”
That’s just the kind of thing that’s exciting to MSU senior Sydney Lintol.
“You’re always go-go-go and having to figure out or solve new problems because something always comes up, a shipment is wrong or things aren’t working properly,” Lintol said. “Or you need to negotiate a new price with your supplier because prices have gone up or down.”
Lintol already has a job lined up with a software company. “After the recruiting process, I received seven offers,” she said.
Many of which pay well. Salaries in supply chain management are going up and already average $10,000 to $20,000 higher than entry-level positions in other fields.
That’s because, as Lintol found, companies need people with her skills.
So there are now more jobs for supply chain professionals than there are candidates: a classic supply-and-demand problem.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.