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How to advance your career in Supply Chain and Logistics

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Supply chain management has become a popular career choice in South Africa with employees in this industry being in high demand in both large and small businesses. 

Whether you’re still in school, have just started your career in supply chain, or already have a couple of years of experience, this article will help you accelerate your career and set you up for success.

Here, you’ll find answers to all your questions, including the type of jobs you can get in supply chain and logistics, what qualifications and skills you’ll need to start or advance your career, and more.

What career opportunities are available in supply chain and logistics?

A supply chain and logistics career can take on many different shapes and forms. This is because this vast industry consists of many different job titles with varying responsibilities. 

Some of the most popular careers in the supply chain field include:

  • Supply Chain Manager: People in this position coordinate, organise, and oversee all activities involved in the acquisition, production, and transportation of business goods.
  • Supply Chain Analyst: People in this position analyze data and processes to determine what can be done to improve the business’ delivery of goods and services to customers.
  • Production Planner: Employees in this position are responsible for scheduling the use of production materials and evaluating the quality and timeliness of suppliers to guarantee optimal production levels.
  • Purchasing Manager: These managers lead a team responsible for buying goods and services for company use or resale. They search for the best available quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices. Negotiation is a huge part of their job.
  • Inventory Controller: Employees in this position need to manage inventory (stock) levels and develop effective inventory management systems to simplify the process. They’re primarily found in retail, commercial, and industrial industries.
  • Load Planner: These employees are responsible for streamlining the freight transportation process. They need to find solutions to reduce shipping time, speed up delivery routes through effective planning, and maximize loads for different types of transportation.

Your career path and income potential will depend on your initial position, the industry you choose, and whether you have qualifications, experience, or additional skill sets.

What do you need to pursue or advance a supply chain management career?

The type of qualifications or experience you need to get into the supply chain industry will depend on the kind of job you want.

While some positions, such as inventory controllers and load planners, don’t always require tertiary education, manager positions such as supply chain management or logistics management usually do.

Therefore, if you want to become a supply chain, logistics or purchasing manager, the best path would be to start with a Higher Certificate or  Bachelor of Commerce degree in Supply Chain Managment.

Suppose you are already working as a manager in the supply chain industry and have several years of experience but no formal education. In that case, you can also consider pursuing a degree to stand a better chance of landing management positions.

Your chances of getting a higher position (and higher income) will also depend on your skill set. For example, data analysis, problem solving, and inventory management are all skills that can bring your salary up and give you a better chance to land more superior roles.

In fact, according to Payscale, supply chain managers with project management skills can earn up to 11% more than average, and those with leadership skills can earn up to 40% more. 

Things to consider when going after a career in the supply chain industry

Here are some of the most important things you need to know about having a career in the supply chain:

The supply chain industry is always busy

Being a supply chain professional means that your job will never be boring. This isn’t one of those jobs where the day feels like it drags on forever before it finally ends, and you get to go home.

On the contrary, working in this industry means that you’ll be a part of many moving parts where you’ll need to manage unexpected problems whenever they arise on top of your regular daily duties. You may sometimes have to jump in yourself to keep a machine operating so that processes can continue moving forward.

While this can be hard at times, it’s gratifying and is the perfect career choice for someone who doesn’t like mundane tasks and doing the same thing every day. 

Supply chain is data-driven

There’s a lot of data involved in supply chain, and managers need to be able to draw quick conclusions from large amounts of figures. This is especially true for businesses that have hundreds or thousands of products.  

As such, managers need to be able to quickly and effectively summarise data to give both employees and customers the answers they need.

Supply chain management requires people skills

To stand out in this industry, you need to communicate and negotiate with many people to keep supply chain operations and processes flowing. In other words, you need to be a people person.

You’ll have to be a strong leader and demonstrate teamwork, customer service, and problem-solving skills so the employees working under you can live by your example.

How to set yourself up for career success

While career ladders (where you work yourself up from bottom to top within a single company) were popular a decade ago, it’s a lot less common these days.

Instead, the typical career path for supply chain employees today involves making several job changes, including taking jobs at different employers, making lateral moves instead of just taking promotions, and sometimes, even starting a company.

Your career path ultimately depends on you, your goals, and your ambitions. You can either take a proactive or reactive approach to plan your career.

Proactive approach: By taking this approach, you’ll plan your career journey and create certain goals that you want to achieve at specific points in your career. You’ll constantly search for ways to enhance your skills and knowledge so that you can be offered better opportunities at numerous employers. With this approach, you’ll make strategic choices that bring you closer to your end goal, continuously market yourself, and build your network.

If you want to take this approach, you need to set S.M.A.R.T goals for yourself:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and usually has a number linked to it.
  • Measurable: You need to be able to measure your progress in some way.
  • Achievable: It should be possible to achieve (i.e., don’t set an impossible goal).
  • Realistic: The goal should be within reach and something relevant to your experience, skills, or qualifications.
  • Time-bound: You need to set a deadline for each goal — a target date.

Reactive approach: With this approach, your main aim will be to work hard and gain promotions. You won’t focus so much on making strategic moves but rather on working yourself into senior positions and getting higher levels of income. You’ll only build and leverage your networks when you’re ready to make a career move or when you find yourself unemployed.  

How to take your supply chain career to the next level

If you already have a supply chain job and you want to advance your career, then here are a few tips you can follow to help you achieve this:

Do more than what is required

It pays to go above and beyond. If you genuinely want to be noticeable, then you can’t stop at simply fulfilling your primary job duties and objectives that were assigned to you by your manager. Instead, you need to go out of your way to do more.

For example, if your boss needs someone to help with a complex project that may result in you working overtime, you should volunteer.

By working harder and delivering more than you need, you’ll be seen as a star employee, resulting in faster promotions.

Never stop learning

Staying up to date with the most recent technologies and expanding your knowledge and education, whether it be through tertiary education or learning from mentors, is a great way to stand out.

Investing time and money can help boost your career into senior positions that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Also, try to enhance your skills by watching videos or reading articles that show you how to develop specific abilities.

Network internally and externally

The earlier you can start networking in your industry, the better. You need to go out of your way to talk to people that are in your industry — both internal and external.

For internal networking, you can talk to your boss and colleagues, go to company events, and talk to peers during lunch breaks.

For external networking, you can go to industry events, connect with people on LinkedIn, or even ask mutual friends to introduce you to others in the supply chain industry.

Ready to go after a career in supply chain?

A career in supply chain is a great choice as the industry continues to expand with more businesses being built and expanded into new territories.

Whether you’re still in school or have been working in this industry for a while, it pays to advance your skills and knowledge.

Are you thinking of studying for a BCom degree? Learn everything you need to know about getting a BCom in Supply Chain Management and what the industry requires for success.

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