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Do certifications clinch supply chain jobs & promotions?

Executives have a lot of learning opportunities at their avail. Here’s how certifications fit into the picture.

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This is an excerpt of the original article. It was written for the July-August 2024 edition of Supply Chain Management Review. The full article is available to current subscribers.

July-August 2024

Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days. But what if it isn’t? I would guess that at least 50%, and probably closer to 70%, of the article pitches I receive these days involve AI. Most conversations I’ve had at conferences this year have at least touched on AI and its impact on the supply chain. Almost every technology company touts its AI-infused software. It seems that AI is not only mainstream, it’s Main Street.
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In the constantly evolving world of supply chain management, the executive quest for new knowledge, qualifications, and skills never really ends. With new challenges, opportunities, and technologies emerging all the time, keeping up requires a continuous learning approach that includes—but isn’t limited to—higher education, hands-on training, certifications, well-rounded skills, and excellent problem-solving capabilities.
Figuring out which of these ranks high on an employer’s “must have” list isn’t always easy. Many universities offer supply chain management degrees that help individuals lay down a strong foundation for success. Online courses, roundtables, conferences, boot camps, micro-credentials and on-demand learning opportunities help fill in the gaps for executives in need of targeted skill development.
The question then becomes, which of these learning opportunities are most valued by employers? And, are they seeking out acronyms like CSCP, CPSM and SCPro when recruiting new executives or promoting existing ones? The answers to those questions really depend on whom you ask.

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Sorry, but your login has failed. Please recheck your login information and resubmit. If your subscription has expired, renew here.

From the July-August 2024 edition of Supply Chain Management Review.

July-August 2024

Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days. But what if it isn’t? I would guess that at least 50%, and probably closer to 70%, of the article pitches I receive these days involve AI. Most conversations I’ve…
Browse this issue archive.
Access your online digital edition.
Download a PDF file of the July-August 2024 issue.

In the constantly evolving world of supply chain management, the executive quest for new knowledge, qualifications, and skills never really ends. With new challenges, opportunities, and technologies emerging all the time, keeping up requires a continuous learning approach that includes—but isn’t limited to—higher education, hands-on training, certifications, well-rounded skills, and excellent problem-solving capabilities.

Figuring out which of these ranks high on an employer’s “must have” list isn’t always easy. Many universities offer supply chain management degrees that help individuals lay down a strong foundation for success. Online courses, roundtables, conferences, boot camps, micro-credentials and on-demand learning opportunities help fill in the gaps for executives in need of targeted skill development.

The question then becomes, which of these learning opportunities are most valued by employers? And, are they seeking out acronyms like CSCP, CPSM and SCPro when recruiting new executives or promoting existing ones? The answers to those questions really depend on whom you ask. In her recent Acceleration Economy podcast, Joanna Martinez of Supply Chain Advisors, LLC, discusses whether supply chain certifications are still valued by employers.

“Unfortunately, some supply chain certification programs are woefully behind the times. One research foundation found that just 18% of certifications issued through career and tech education programs are actually sought by employers,” says Martinez, who adds that “leaders who embrace transformation” are needed
at every level.

“We also need certifications in whatever technologies our companies have chosen to use so we can take the utmost advantage of that technology,” she adds. “We have a responsibility to understand how the certifications we’re pursuing will add value and result in a real payback.”

We asked Mark Baxa, president and CEO at CSCMP, whether employers value and seek out supply chain certifications at this stage of the game. He says it varies by business and industry, as well as what the company wants to accomplish. “Certification has its place, but it’s not the first thing that employers talk about or have an interest in,” Baxa says. “That’s just what’s happening today.”

High-level supply chain executives—CSCOs and EVPs of supply chain, for example—are looking for help upskilling their workforces. They’re interested in “raising the tides” of their organizations, Baxa says, but that doesn’t always include the intensive, well-developed learning process associated with formal certifications. For example, CSCMP’s SCPro certification encompasses eight core building blocks, each of which includes an exam. Students then sit for a final exam in order to obtain their certification. The process takes an average of 10 months to 12 months to complete and is generally most suitable for career professionals who want to enhance their knowledge and problem-solving skills. Instead, CSCMP has experienced more than 30,000 new supply chain course enrollments in the past 12 months through courses like the SCPro Fundamentals Certificate Program and others.

Practical skills and knowledge continue to be highly valued by employers who need executives who understand what’s happening in the marketplace and how those trends impact the supply chains they’re running. This less formalized “education” goes a long way in today’s evolving business environment, where a focus on best practices and industry happenings can help executives separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

To help in this area, CSCMP offers digitized self-paced learning and face-to-face group learning that’s focused on specific subject areas. “This is all part of a learning ecosystem that professionals at any level must participate in to have really sharp, top-performing supply chains,” says Baxa, who sees on-the-job performance and delivering on business expectations (e.g., cost optimization, delivery performance, etc.) as top priorities for employers right now.

Getting there requires good leadership and a commitment to continuous education, regardless of the specific format or how that learning is delivered. “Leaders develop good leaders,” says Baxa. “It’s incumbent upon the executive supply chain leadership to recognize that investing in their people delivers not only better retention, but also better competency.   

A double-edged sword

Certifications can be somewhat of a double-edged sword for employers who may find themselves paying larger salaries to highly credentialed individuals. This can force companies to choose between “clean slates” that need more on-the-job training and those who bring more experience
and knowledge to the table, but who command higher salaries.

For example, Douglas Kent, EVP of corporate and strategic alliances at ASCM, says the executive who combines a baccalaureate supply chain degree with one or more certifications earns an average of 30% more than their peers. “That’s great for the executive, who is probably happier, progressing in their career faster and sticking around longer,” says Kent. “However, from the employer perspective, it may cost more.”

The reality of having to shell out higher salaries to credentialed executives is probably easier to digest in the current labor market, where finding and retaining employees is tough and where 11,200 Baby Boomers will reach retirement age in the United States every week between now and 2027. “Replacing valued associates is expensive, and those costs will increase if the white-collar worker shortage persists,” says Kent, who advises employers to consider the return on education or “ROE” when deciding on which credentials to prioritize and/or invest in.

“The question employers have to ask themselves is, if I make this spend will I see improvements in critical metrics like attrition rate, employee satisfaction and even supply chain-specific metrics?” Kent says. “The ROE becomes very important to ensure that those investments have a true payoff, and particularly when budgets are tight, at which point training and development are often cut back first.”

Formally upskilling workforces with certification

The university perspective on the value of certifications in employers’ eyes differs a bit from that of the larger industry groups. At MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, for example, Director of Online Education Eva Ponce, Ph.D., says she’s noticed that more employers are emphasizing certifications as a way to “formally upskill their workforces.”

“More companies are reaching out to us to develop custom courses and programs in supply chain management to upskill and reskill their employees. This is becoming a crucial part of their talent development strategies,” says Ponce. “Other companies are interested in individual certificates, including programs with core and advanced courses, while others are interested in more comprehensive programs.”

Ponce says the specific preference varies based on the depth of content exposure required and the amount of effort and commitment available for employee development. For example, the MITx MM in SCM comprises five courses and requires about eight hours of effort per week, per course. The completion of this program provides a credential in SCM, equivalent to six months of graduate-level coursework at MIT.

There’s also more demand for MIT’s custom online certification programs, whereby a company chooses the topics that are covered and the amount of effort required. Right now, organizations are particularly interested in certifications that equip executives with advanced supply chain management skills. They also like programs that enhance day-to-day operational capabilities and introduce advanced analytics tools and techniques.

Specialized webinars that feature subject matter experts who discuss specific topics are also in high demand because they help executives absorb information about new trends, current challenges and future supply chain shifts. Looking ahead, Ponce expects the future of executive supply chain education to focus on more personalized learning experiences. “There’s going to be a bigger emphasis on ‘crafting your own educational pathway,’” she says, “and with more emphasis on lifelong learning.”

Assessing the landscape 

As he surveys the current executive education landscape, Steve Tracey, professor of practice and executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Research at Penn State University, says the many different acronyms that certified professionals can place after their names serve a purpose in the business world. For starters, they introduce a body of knowledge that not all students may be aware of or up to speed on. They also provide structure and knowledge based on theory and practice, although Tracey says the knowledge itself may not always be able to keep up with rapid changes in technology.

Take basic inventory calculations, for example. Historically, students learned economic order quantity (EOQ) to determine desired inventory-carrying quantities. This basic math equation is a discrete calculation that applies to a specific piece of inventory at a single location—something that may not be applicable for every organization anymore. “Now, with tools like multiple echelon inventory optimization, that calculation takes on a whole different light,” says Tracey.

Ultimately, Tracey says “no education is bad” and that certifications are one of many different educational opportunities that supply chain executives have at their avail. “As long as you remember what you learned and can apply it in practice, the education will deliver a return,” he points out. “However, if you’re getting the education simply
to get the credential, and if your current or future employer doesn’t value it, then it is literally just a number of letters after your name.” • 

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In the constantly evolving world of supply chain management, the executive quest for new knowledge, qualifications, and skills never really ends. With new challenges, opportunities, and technologies emerging all the time, keeping up requires a continuous learning approach that includes—but isn’t limited to—higher education, hands-on training, certifications, well-rounded skills, and excellent problem-solving capabilities.
(Photo: Getty Images)
In the constantly evolving world of supply chain management, the executive quest for new knowledge, qualifications, and skills never really ends. With new challenges, opportunities, and technologies emerging all the time, keeping up requires a continuous learning approach that includes—but isn’t limited to—higher education, hands-on training, certifications, well-rounded skills, and excellent problem-solving capabilities.
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About the Author

Bridget McCrea, Contributing Editor
Bridget McCrea's Bio Photo

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], or on Twitter @BridgetMcCrea

View Bridget's author profile.

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