I really enjoy helping people move forward in their careers. I’ve benefited from the guidance of some great mentors over the years, and it feels good to pay that back by helping other people.
Mentors are valuable, in part, because it is tough for us to see things about our own situation that are obvious to other people. We tend to limit our thinking based on the job that we are in today, and trap ourselves inside a very small box. Getting an outside perspective can often be the spark we need to see the range of opportunities in front of us.
Earlier this year, economic futurist Jason Schenker published a book called Recession Proof. The book has a ton of good information about managing your career in times of economic volatility. One of the best pieces of advice he gives is to do a SWOT analysis and assess your options, because “your strengths and opportunities hold the key to moving forward.”
Schenker explains that many industries are cyclical, and that forces companies to go through periods of hiring, followed by periods of layoffs. That’s just the way these businesses work. That means that if your employer is in a tough financial situation, then you need think about how to protect yourself. There are plenty of other organizations that are doing well, and there are probably a lot of opportunities in your field... if you know where to look.
Even though supply chain management professionals are a hot commodity, it doesn’t always feel that way. That's because our field is so broad that there are going to be hot spots and cold spots. And if your company is in a cold spot, then most of the other companies that you work with are probably in trouble, too. So it can be hard to know where to start looking. In order to find the great opportunities that are out there, you need to be clear about where you are, where you’ve been, and the options that you want to pursue going forward.
To help with this, I’ve broken the supply chain industry down into ten individual segments. In each of these segments there are some organizations that are doing well, and some that are struggling. But this framework provides a simple way to think about where you’ve been and where you want to go. And, it can form the foundation for your supply chain career strategy.
10 Sectors in the Supply Chain Industry
Manufacturing Companies. Companies that make stuff all have supply chains. And there are lots of companies that make stuff. What you learn about planning, sourcing, making, and delivering while working in a facility that makes washing machines also applies to an automotive plant. Admittedly, there are some pretty big differences between discrete and continuous manufacturing processes. But there is still a huge amount of overlap. If you do a search today, I guarantee that you’ll find supply chain management jobs for industrial manufacturing, food processing, and consumer packaged goods companies. And the job requirements for all of them are virtually identical.
Retailers, Wholesalers, Distributors, and Dealers. Companies that sell stuff all have supply chains. And there are lots of companies that sell stuff. We tend to know the B2C companies because they build brands and try to sell to us personally. Whether it’s Amazon or Walmart, Lowes or the CAT Rental Stores, these business-to-consumer companies all have supply chains that involve planning, sourcing, delivering, etc. But there are also a huge number of companies in the B2B marketplace that don’t have well-known brands. Electrical distributors, industrial equipment dealers, and so on. Not only do these companies have supply chains, but very often their customers are supply chain professionals. So the fact that you have experience as a supply chain manager can give you an advantage in managing relationships with their customers.
Third Party Logistics. There are lots of companies in the business of moving and storing stuff. Some of these transportation and warehousing companies are huge: FedEx, UPS, and XPO for example. But there are also a large number of companies that serve a particular niche, or a particular region. G&D Integrated, for example, specializes in providing third party logistics services to industrial manufacturers. These companies have supply chain management in their blood, and rely on supply chain management professionals to support both their operations and their business development efforts.
Commercial Real Estate. There’s a big business around the real estate that manufacturing and distribution companies occupy. Changes in supply chain dynamics drive changes in geography and facility footprints. For example, the growth in e-commerce is forcing companies to start up new fulfillment centers. There are big (inter)national companies like JLL and CBRE. And in every community there are companies that develop industrial sites, and companies that buy, sell, lease, and manage these properties. Understanding the business that their customers are in can be a big advantage for commercial real estate professionals. A background in supply chain management will help you make bets about where to find opportunities, and help you build stronger relationships with your customers.
Staffing and Recruiting. There is a big business around helping companies find talent, and helping people find jobs. The cycle of hiring and layoffs that is now routine can make it hard for companies to match their demand for talent with the available supply. Basically, every company has to manage its talent supply chain, in addition to its product supply chain. (For a great book about this, check out Dr. Peter Cappelli’s "Talent on Demand".) This creates opportunities for companies that streamline the process by providing temporary staffing services. It also provides opportunities for recruiters who can build relationships with candidates who may already have good, comfortable jobs. Building these relationships is much easier if you can speak the language, relate to the jobs, and talk in practical terms about why someone is a good match with a particular role.
Equipment, Packaging, and MRO Suppliers. There is a big business around providing the tools that every company needs to make their supply chain work. When was the last time that you were in a manufacturing facility or distribution center that didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of racks, conveyors, fork trucks, dock levelers, and cranes? The companies that make, sell, and install this equipment all have their own supply chains, and most of their customers are supply chain professionals. And then you have the whole world of packaging solutions and MRO. Take a look, for example, at Sealed Air. Add to that a push for new technologies like drones and the Internet of Things, and it's easy to see that there are lots of companies - many of them start-ups - in this part of the industry. Your experience working in a supply chain gives you a unique advantage when communicating the value proposition and the proper use of these products.
Supply Chain Software. There are lots of companies out there selling supply chain software and helping to configure and install it. There are huge players like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. Then you have a range of niche providers like JDA, Infor, and Manhattan Associates. A little research on the Gartner website will provide a sense for just how many supply chain software companies there are. These companies all need people who really understand supply chain management in order to sell, configure, and support their software. Practical experience working in the field can help you see - and fix - gaps between the way computer programmers assume supply chains should function, and the way things actually happen in the real world.
Consulting and Analyst Services. The people who run supply chains rely on lots of outside experts to help them be successful. From consultants who suggest and implement improvements, to analysts who provide insights about trends and performance. People who can help companies run more efficiently and make better decisions are worth a lot of money. There are lots of big players in this space, like Gartner, Deloitte, and Accenture. But there are also lots of smaller boutique firms such as Tomkins, St. Onge, Miebach, and Supply Chain Insights. These companies are built around smart people with supply chain experience who can ask useful questions, interpret the results, and help their clients act on the findings.
Education. The huge demand for supply chain talent has led to a need for supply chain educators. High schools, community colleges, and universities are starting and growing supply chain programs all around the country, and around the world. Many universities have created new positions specifically for clinical faculty – professionals who do not have a doctorate, but have significant practical experience in the field that they are teaching. For-profit training firms are also finding plenty of opportunities to make money through certification training and custom-developed programs. One way to put your education and experience to use is by sharing it with other people as a supply chain educator.
Government and Associations. The supply chain industry is connected in complicated ways with lots of government agencies and non-profit associations. Many of these organizations need people with industry experience who can help them understand the needs of their constituents and act as salespeople or ambassadors. Each of the industry segments listed here has multiple trade associations that support it. Even, ironically, the government and association segment! And there are also several membership organizations that serve supply chain management professionals. Your experience managing supply chains can make you a great candidate for many of the positions with these organizations.
As a supply chain professional, you probably have more career options than you realize. But it might take some effort to target your networking, tailor your resume, and refine your personal brand so that you can connect properly with the jobs that are out there.
I believe that analyzing our career trajectories in terms of the ten segments of the supply chain industry helps us focus on the opportunities we should be pursuing. And this is a critical step for all supply chain professionals as we seek to advance our careers and make ourselves recession-proof.