Many people working in supply chain will attest that a career in the sector is filled to the brim with opportunities.
Some say the beauty of supply chain management is that there are very few aspects of business that it doesn’t touch. While some find this overwhelming, many agree that the sheer amount of career opportunities in this field make it an exciting and prosperous career venture. For millennials, the sector can be especially appealing; being able to physically see the results of your work and learn skill sets that are invaluable for career advancements later in life.
Regardless of the aspect of supply chain management you want to pursue, it’s no secret that you need to work hard in order to achieve success. Everyone's career goals are personal to them; some pursue a specific career to reap financial rewards, whilst some have more of a passion about a certain area - such as ensuring a customer’s needs are always met - and therefore work their hardest to get there. But, as with every industry, working in the logistics and supply chain sector faces its own challenges; for example, consistently creating efficient and effective supply chain processes and ensuring costs are always controlled.
As Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and Electrocomponents plc has experienced, career development in logistics and supply chain simply isn’t linear. From studying the number one course for supply chain at Pennsylvania State University in the USA, to undertaking her first professional job role at a food and beverage company working in a customer-facing role - Debbie’s journey to her role as President of Global Supply Chain at a FTSE 250 company hasn’t followed a direct path.
Below, Debbie shares the experiences she’s encountered that have helped her to get to the position she’s in now.
More experience equals more opportunities
To progress in any industry, hands-on experience is vital; it’s not just about knowing the theory, it’s also about doing it in practice. The discussion of whether experience or a degree is more important has been ongoing for a number of years. These days we’re seeing experience coming out on top in terms of what employers are looking for more and more often.
In order to continuously keep learning, Debbie has placed an emphasis on networking throughout her career. She says:
“Looking at the bigger picture is vital in order to keep on moving through the ranks in the supply chain sector. Not only does networking with other people in the industry open your eyes to other opportunities that are out there, it also helps you meet people who may currently - or soon will be - hiring for a new role and if they’re not - they could even introduce you to another employer that is.”
Keep a look out for upcoming conferences and events in the industry to attend and, taking it one step further, look for opportunities to speak at these events too. Not only will you be able to deepen your knowledge by hearing from other people, people will also start to recognise you. By showing what you bring to the industry, you’ll become someone who businesses and employers want on their team.
“Don’t underestimate the power of networking online too. The internet is full of opportunities to deepen your experience without leaving your laptop; whether that’s creating a blog, interacting with other people in the supply chain sector on LinkedIn or contributing tips-led articles to industry publications. Better yet, if you know the area you want to hone in on in your career, keep this the focus of your online networking activity.”
Aim high in order to get more responsibilities
In order to move up through the ranks, employees in every industry need to seek and gain more responsibility in their role - and the same goes for the supply chain sector.
“As we all know, the supply chain is broad. From supply chain design and planning, to inventory management and control, what does the ‘top’ look like for you in the position you aspire to be in? Once you know this, and you’ve decided what your ‘dream role’ is, you can start to move towards translating this directly to your personal career path in order to get there.”
Debbie also encourages being vocal about what you want from a business, and using this to your advantage when seeking higher levels of responsibility within your role:
“To get to the next step of my career, I knew I needed project management skills, so I worked out the next position I needed to be in so that I could get these skills under my belt - and I was open with my leadership team about my ambitions to get there. I also followed this open approach on a personal level - I was noisy within the company about wanting to work internationally; I wanted that for myself and my children, so that they could experience diverse cultures. Whilst it’s not about causing a commotion, if the leaders within your company aren’t aware of your ambitions or where you want to grow your skills set, you can’t expect these responsibilities and opportunities to be handed to you.”
Seeking responsibility and being open with your line manager does require confidence; for many of us, speaking up about not only our career goals but our personal goals too, is a big step outside of our comfort zones. Keep a lookout for confidence focused workshops, or seek a mentor to support you through these difficult conversations so you’re able to aim high and achieve big.
Make purposeful career movements
It’s important to remember that a career step-up is unique and different for every individual. Not everyone will see ‘success’ or ‘a career peak’ in the same way.
Often, a step up in a career could start with a sideways move. Debbie explains:
“A sideways move could look like moving to a different position but staying in your current company, or moving to a new company but keeping a similar job title, salary or even responsibilities. What makes it a lateral move is that the new position could give you an array of new skills you need to make that step up, or the new organisation could be far more profitable or in line with your career aspirations.”
By looking at the bigger picture and removing the need for instant satisfaction or gratification, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits further down the line. Your path to the top could actually be a lot faster than if you keep your career moves linear.
Within the supply chain sector, there’s no doubt that the more education and experience you have, as well as how up to date with industry changes and progression you are, the more you’ll be able to reap the rewards in the long run. Debbie advises:
“Keep up with the latest technologies whilst continually seeking to expand your knowledge. Whether that’s working to get an advanced degree or professional certifications - such as an APICS CSCMP or Six Sigma Black Belt - keep your personal career aspirations in your mind whenever you seek to make a lateral career move.”
For anyone at a crossroads in their career path in the supply chain sector, or wanting to achieve their long-standing ambitions and make the life and career they’ve always wanted, mapping out a clear career plan is a great place to start. Draw on the use of a mentor and don’t rule out lateral career moves, and the route to the top of the tree will start to get a lot clearer.