What is a Supply Chain Management Degree?

Supply chain management (SCM) is the management of the lifecycle of materials and products through a business, from manufacturing to distribution and returns.

It is a balancing act. It is about balancing inventory, service delivery, profit margins, and customer loyalty. It is about both operational and financial efficiency. What this means is that the supply chain manager is a multitasker and degree programs in the field teach students how to perform every task that the job entails.

The SCM curriculum focuses on the stages of the supply chain:

• Sourcing raw materials in the global marketplace
• Manufacturing – product development, finished goods, and quality assurance
• Shipping, receiving, and storing
• Distribution – order management, inventory management, packing, and fulfillment
• Reverse Logistics – managing repairs, exchanges, and returns

Students learn the particulars of these stages, how to build relationships with business partners, conduct negotiations, and implement strategies for supply chain profitability.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Supply Chain Management – Two Year Duration
Associate degree programs in supply chain management are introductory in nature. They provide foundational knowledge and skills in SCM, preparing students for further study and qualifying them for some entry-level roles in the field. The associate curriculum is made up of both core SCM courses and general education classes. Here is a snapshot of a typical program offered at this level:

• General Industry Safety
• Principles of Supply Chain Management
• Financial Accounting
• Professional Practices
• Principles of Business Management
• Warehousing and Distribution
• Logistics and Distribution Technology
• Transportation Systems
• Project Management
• Inventory Management and Control
• Information Systems for Managers
• Manufacturing Planning in Supply Chain Management
• Procurement Management
• Materials Transportation Safety and Security
• Materials Handling and Logistics Technology
• English Composition
• College Algebra
• Introduction to Statistics
• Business Law
• Introduction to Psychology
• SCM Industry Project

Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain Management – Four Year Duration
Most supply chain managers hold a bachelor’s degree. Because of the longer duration of a bachelor’s program, SCM students at this level have greater opportunities to do project work, in addition to completing a comprehensive set of required courses. Projects span various areas of the field and may include the following:

• International Business – examination of business conditions in a particular country, the logistics of entering an international market, import/export processes
• Transportation Systems – analysis of and interaction with a company in the transportation industry
• Business Consulting – SCM practicum at an outside company

These are courses that commonly make up a supply chain management bachelor’s program:

• Business Information Systems
• Business Communication
• Microeconomics
• Essentials of Marketing
• Introduction to Operations Management
• Business Mathematics
• Business Data Analytics
• Business Data Management
• Principles of Management
• Macroeconomics
• Accounting for the Manager
• Business Statistics
• Business Process Improvement
• Organizational Behavior
• Transportation Systems
• Business Finance
• Project Management
• Quantitative Methods for Business
• Transportation Economics
• Logistics Processes
• International Business Strategies
• American Business Law
• International Business Law
• International Finance
• Change Strategies
• Supply Chain Management – Supply
• U.S. Customs and Free Trade Agreement
• Compliance and Sustainability
• Intermodal Transportation
• Global Supply Chain Practices
• Cross-Cultural Negotiations

Master’s Degree in Supply Chain Management – Two Year Duration
Graduates of a master’s program in supply chain management are well positioned for executive careers in SCM consulting, manufacturing, distribution, and software. Programs at this level often have a combined focus on supply chain management, business administration, and extensive real-world experience.

Required courses may include:

• Design of Manufacturing System Supply Chains
• Networks, Innovation, and Value Creation
• Optimization Algorithms and Applications
• Enterprise IT Integration
• Supply Chain Risk Management
• Global Sourcing and Procurement
• Statistics and Operations Management
• Information Systems for Management
• Competitive Advantage and Operations Strategy

Depending on their structure, supply chain management master’s programs require students to complete a thesis or capstone project, or both.

Doctoral Degree in Supply Chain Management – Four to Five Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Supply Chain Management is geared toward students interested in an academic career, which typically combines teaching at the university level with conducting SCM research. While Ph.D. programs often have some required coursework, candidates spend much of their time conducting research in the area of their chosen concentration, to prepare for their dissertation.

Dissertation topics span the various activities and components involved in supply chain management and logistics management. Here are some samples:

• The influence of IT innovation on effective supply chain management
• The role of supply chain management in the success of multinational corporations
• How supply chain functions have evolved in the 21st Century
• The challenges and opportunities posed by the globalization of logistics and supply chain management
• Integrating risk management techniques in the supply chain

Degrees Similar to Supply Chain Management

Actuarial Science
This degree program provides students with in-depth training in mathematics, statistics, and probability. It teaches the use of models in analyzing risk and solving financial problems and includes coursework in economics, finance, accounting, and computer science.

Business Administration
Business administration includes overseeing finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. A business administration degree program, therefore, teaches students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve problems in business.

Entrepreneurship students learn how to build, promote, and manage their own or others’ businesses. Common classes are entrepreneurial finance, foundations of entrepreneurship, investor relations and funding, new product design and development, and business plans.

International Business
Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations. Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.

This degree field is focused on activities undertaken by businesses to promote the buying or selling of products and services. Students study advertising and promotion, marketing communications, international marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research, and marketing strategy.

Skills You'll Learn

Supply chain management graduates bring a considerable set of transferable skills to the work world:

• Analysis and critical thinking
• Attention to detail
• Business communication
• Business-oriented computer software and applications
• Change management
• Contract management
• Data and information management
• Flexibility and adaptability
• Fundamentals of business
• Organizational leadership
• Project planning and implementation
• Relationship building and negotiation
• Strategic planning and best practices
• Understanding of consumer buying behavior and market dynamics
• Understanding of international business, culture, and attitude
• Understanding of sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, and inventory logistics
• Understanding of risk and reward

What Can You Do with a Supply Chain Management Degree?

As noted at the very beginning of this article, the first four stages of the supply chain are sourcing, manufacturing, shipping and receiving, and distribution. The industries within each of these stages rely upon supply chain managers to reduce inventory while avoiding lost sales and maintaining service levels.

The list below is not meant to be exhaustive, but to show the mix of jobs that exist in the field. Depending on their employer, individuals working in SCM may hold a variety of possible titles, including supply chain manager, supply chain consultant, logistics manager, logistics analyst, purchasing manager, operations manager, and warehousing and distributions manager.

Sourcing – Suppliers of Raw Materials
• Non-metallic Material
• Primary Metal
• Petroleum, Plastics, and Rubber
• Wood

• Aerospace
• Automotive
• Building Materials
• Chemicals
• Computer and Electronics
• Defense
• Electrical Components
• Electrical Equipment and Appliances
• Renewable Energy / Oil and Gas
• Engineering
• Fashion, Textiles, Leather, and Apparel
• Furniture
• Glass
• Industrial Machinery
• Miscellaneous Consumer Goods
• Paper
• Pharmaceuticals
• Shipbuilding
• Steel

Shipping and Receiving
• Airlines
• Pipelines
• Railroads
• Shipping Companies
• Trucking Companies

Distribution – Wholesalers and Retailers
• Clothing
• Construction
• E-Commerce (examples: Amazon, E-Bay, Shopify)
• Food and Beverage
• Grocery Stores and Supermarkets
• Healthcare
• Home Improvement Products
• Hospitality – Restaurants, Hotels, Cruise Lines
• Miscellaneous Retail
• Multinational Retail (examples: Walmart, Starbucks, Costco, Kroger, Tesco, Home Depot, Target, H & M)
• Personal Care Products and Cosmetics
• Sporting Goods
• Tobacco
• Toys


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