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UA business students cashing in on growing field of supply chain management

10/22/2014

The law of supply and demand has caught up with the field of supply chain management. For business majors at The University of Akron, that means more career choices and higher pay.

Supply chain managers choreograph the complex dance that puts a gem on your finger, a jar of jelly in your pantry or a car in your driveway. They do everything from sourcing raw materials to inventorying parts to warehousing finished products and shipping them to the point of sale.

As companies look for every cost-saving efficiency in order to compete, demand for supply chain talent is soaring, according to both industry and government.

UA supplies talent pipeline

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 22 percent growth in supply chain jobs from 2012 to 2022. And researchers at Penn State’s Center for Supply Chain Research recently warned that “a supply chain talent perfect storm could be in the offing.”

The researchers suggested that companies establish talent pipelines by collaborating with educational institutions to land the supply chain professionals they will need for the next decade.


VIDEO: Hear what students, grads and employers say


The field’s rapid growth is reflected at The University of Akron, where the number of undergraduate majors in the College of Business Administration’s nine-year-old supply chain/operations management program has nearly doubled since 2012, to 102 students. Additionally, the college this fall began offering a new graduate-level management degree with a supply chain focus.

“We see ourselves as a very important part of the whole business ecosystem in Northeast Ohio,” says Mahesh Srinivasan, Ph.D., coordinator of UA’s supply chain program. “We want to be the place where firms come to meet their resource needs for supply chain.”

The quality of the UA program is evidenced by the fact that a student team reached the finals in the annual International Student Team Competition put on by APICS Supply Chain Council, an industry group, in New Orleans Oct. 17-19. Using simulation software, students Courtney Ou, Patti Bailey Roach, Annie Nelson, Nicholas Waggoner and Mark (Xiao) Sun modeled a supply chain case. Jeong Hoon Choi, Ph.D., is faculty adviser.

The UA team, which took home the $5,500 grand prize earlier this year in a regional problem-solving competition against teams from seven mid-Atlantic states, was one of 12 earning spots in the international event — six from the United States and six from other countries. China’s Sun Yat Sen University team took the top prize.

Helping businesses survive and thrive

To explain supply chain management’s critical role in a business, Srinivasan likens it to a life-sustaining organ: “The heart takes the blood to all parts of your body, and you need that to survive.”

Traditional business fields such as accounting, marketing and finance also are important, he says. “But supply chain goes to the core of any business,” cutting horizontally across a company and touching all other fields.

“That’s what made Walmart Walmart — their expertise in the supply chain,” says Steven Ash, Ph.D., management department chair.

As more and more companies realize they need to invest in that same kind of know-how, the demand for supply-chain professionals is driving up salaries.

UA supply chain majors who graduated last spring reported an average starting salary of more than $51,600, according to a university survey. That was the highest among all UA business majors for the first time, and the highest for UA supply chain majors since the program began in 2005, says Susan Hanlon, D.B.A., assistant dean of the College of Business Administration.

Success = awareness

Awareness about lucrative career opportunities in supply chain management is slowly spreading, Ash says, thanks in part to managers and executives from Northeast Ohio companies who participate on Ash’s supply chain advisory board and come to the UA campus to talk with students about the field.

“I don’t think there’s anybody coming out of high school saying, ‘Boy, I want to be a supply chain major,’ ” Ash says. However, “As word gets out that there are good jobs out there, I think the interest grows.”

To learn more about the supply chain program at The University of Akron, visit the Department of Management online.

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Media contact: Roger Mezger, 330-972-4219 or rmezger@uakron.edu.