Historically, one does not need a degree to be successful in the day-to-day functions of the supply chain. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable and intricate the sector really is when it comes to its workforce.
That idea has served to highlight the need to expand the knowledge of those working in the industry to build resilience and stability, creating a shift toward more people exploring certificates or degrees in supply chain management, according to Tim Engstrom, senior vice president of supply chain for Essendant, a distributor based in Deerfield, Illinois.
In general, there is a shortage of labor across all areas of the supply chain, specifically due to the growth of the industry. Many in logistics are arguing that there aren’t enough qualified or experienced candidates, thus worsening the current labor pinch.
Engstrom believes having more people obtain a supply chain-related degree could help with the current recruiting challenges, at least when it comes to overall industry knowledge.
“A degree in supply chain management doesn’t replace experience, but it will shorten the learning curve of the areas supporting the overall flow of goods,” Engstrom said.
Outside of his day-to-day executive role at Essendant, Engstrom works as an adjunct professor at Elmhurst University in Illinois, where he has the opportunity to teach courses in the master’s in supply chain management (MSCM) program. Each year, he mentors a group of graduate students in implementing a capstone project that analyzes and implements solutions to supply chain challenges for local businesses.
“As a professional navigating a complex and global business environment, you need a degree that adds value,” Engstrom said.
Elmhurst University, an accredited university since 1924, offers a variety of degrees — both undergraduate and graduate. Students can choose from more than 70 different majors, 15 preprofessional programs and many places to study abroad.
With the Elmhurst supply chain management degree, graduates can offer organizations much-sought-after knowledge in designing, planning and operating well-run supply chains. The program is a two-year cohort model, where each student makes connections and learns, not only from the professors but with other members of the group.
The degree teaches students to be well versed in the roles that a business plays in the supply chain and the cross-functional collaborative strategies needed to operate within it. It directs its students to research, analyze and summarize findings in an executive brief and, most importantly, present the story to drive change.
“But it will be the depth of your Elmhurst-acquired analytical skills that will give you your true leadership muscles,” Engstrom said.
Engstrom pointed out that Elmhurst’s program is unique, taking a hands-on approach, especially in its final capstone assignment. Once credit hours have been met, each cohort is divided into teams that work on a capstone project for a local business — researching, benchmarking, analyzing and developing a recommendation for improvement. This project encapsulates all the learning from each class into a single project — taking theory and putting it into practice.
Another trait that sets Elmhurst apart, according to Engstrom, are its professors. All courses are taught with a mix of educators and practitioners bringing actual experiences into the classroom.
“People working in the supply chain or in functions that support the supply chain can benefit from a master’s degree in supply chain,” he said. “The curriculum touches on all of the areas within the supply chain and how they interrelate with each other.”
Another unique aspect of the program is the flexible class format. Students can attend in person or online or any combination of the two depending on their schedule. Classes meet only one evening per week, and the program can be completed in less than two years, creating a low-stress environment for busy students potentially working full-time jobs.
Engstrom believes many employers may find a higher education in supply chain management attractive in a prospective employee.
Because the supply chain is always evolving, having the ability to adapt is a key attribute for future leaders and Elmhurst’s degree delivers that, according to Engstrom.
This MSCM degree can benefit both the prospective employee and the employer. Many companies assist interested candidates in achieving it, and Engstrom recommends it to any company interested in enhancing its overall efficiency.
“The supply chain is complex and having employees with a knowledge of all the different parts and how they integrate with each other drives effectiveness and efficiency,” he said.
According to Engstrom, Essendant has a build-the-bench philosophy that identifies ascending leaders and then funnels them into the Elmhurst supply chain program to prepare them for future expanded roles.
“We at Essendant developed a partnership with Elmhurst University where we have six participants in the current cohort, and it is driving excitement across the organization having more inquire about participating in future cohorts as well as others researching roles to join Essendant to have the opportunity to participate in the program in the future,” he said.
To learn more about the Elmhurst master’s in supply chain management program, visit its website.