Top Tips to Advance in Supply Chain Roles

Business professionals shaking hands in front of supply chain concept.

Starting a few years ago, most forecasts indicated the supply chain industry would likely add 270,000 jobs per year through the end of 2018. With most of 2018 behind us, the state of the supply chain is even more rife with potential than many expected. In fact, the shortage of applicants in this field has emerged as one of the few bottlenecks in its future growth.

If you're currently in a supply chain role, watching Boomers leave the workforce in droves even as new faces begin learning about this rewarding career track for the first time, perhaps you've identified this moment as the perfect time to seek advancement in the field.

Understanding Horizontal and Vertical Growth

It's not unique to this industry, but having a choice between horizontal and vertical career growth is an appealing opportunity. No matter which one you want to pursue, you'll have to take an honest inventory of your existing skillset first.

Why? Because supply chain is an exciting and broad line of work. Maybe you work in food processing right now, but the skills you've been honing in your current role could just as readily apply to healthcare, chemical processing, retail, transportation, and industrial manufacturing, too.

Here are some of the immediate choices you'll have to make:

  • Do I want to climb the ladder quickly at my company (vertical growth)?
  • Do I want to broaden my skill set and responsibilities by earning a new certification or undergoing training in anticipation of future advancement (horizontal growth)?
  • Do I want to apply my existing skills at another job elsewhere because it offers a different experience but draws on similar skills?

One thing you have on your side for any of the growth tracks you choose is the aforementioned talent shortage. The industry's demand for professionals to successful hires currently stands at a ratio of 6:1.

The other piece of good news is the high degree of skill and role overlap in the supply chain industry. That means you'll likely find yourself with opportunities to cross-train or study under a mentor from your company without abdicating your responsibilities. The horizontal growth path means seeking out ways to make yourself a better-rounded professional with more to offer your current company in the short-term and a far higher likelihood of formal advancement in the future.

Pursuing Additional Education and Certification

The supply chain is a diverse industry that calls upon a wide variety of "hard" and "soft" skills, as well as individuals from all educational levels. Whether you want to lay down roots and pursue horizontal job growth where you are now, climb the ladder aggressively, or jump onto another branch of the supply chain entirely, the next step after appraising your skills and intentions is to better understand what kind of instruction you'll require.

For example, some supply chain roles can draw upon an associate's degree, while others might require a master's. See if your employer offers reimbursement for relevant college courses or whether there's an organization in your region that offers self-study for relevant certifications in place of more formal education.

It’s also important to remember the increasing dependency on technology among all branches of industry and commerce as you think about your next career moves. When you're considering additional training or education, keep in mind the roles these fields are playing in supply chain now and how essential they'll be in our increasingly digital future:

  • Computer science
  • Information technology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Advanced engineering
  • 3D printing and other next-gen manufacturing

As supply chain management draws on high-tech solutions for automation, logistics, data gathering, shipment tracking, vendor transparency, and loss prevention, there will be more career opportunities to work with these and other exciting new technologies.

How to Give Yourself an Edge at Promotion Time

Maybe a five-year plan can seem unrealistic in an economy that fluctuates and changes so swiftly; Even so, you might have a role in mind for the short- or medium-term.

You could have your eye on a management level position in operations, procurement, logistics, or engineering. Technical expertise and knowing how it applies to the position you want is just one part of staying current in your industry and demonstrating your fitness for career advancement.

You need a working knowledge of the technology your operation relies on daily, but you also need to remember there are other forces at work, including regulatory pressures, globalization, changing demographics among consumers, and many others. A big part of making yourself attractive as a candidate for advancement is being able to foresee which direction the current is heading and having a plan for how you can help your business navigate it.

Finally, you need to know how to present your "soft" skills — because they're playing a larger role than ever in who gets promotions and who doesn't. You might be surprised at how frequently an even-keeled, rational mind can triumph over one laden by protocol and cold data. When you sit for your next interview, understand you're selling your expertise, as well as your people skills, listening skills, ability to communicate clearly, patiently, and compassionately, and talent for solving problems.

Skills like these might be harder to learn than how to operate third-party logistics software, but they'll probably take you just as far.


Image Credit: MNBB Studio/

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