Jemma Smith, Editor
June, 2016

With the growth of e-retailing customers are increasingly demanding rapid delivery of their goods. This demand has created a breadth of opportunities for logistics and supply chain graduates

Distribution managers have always played a vital role in the success of the retail industry, ensuring the effective organisation, storage and distribution of products and purchases. However, with the constant technological advancement of online operations, their work has never been more important nor their skills more sought after.

According to Dorothea Carvalho, professional development project director at the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), there are many different roles available within the industry and employers are on the lookout for skilled graduates.

'Satisfying customer requirements is at the heart of supply chain activities in order to ensure that customers get the right products when and where they want them. Every retail organisation has a supply chain, so this is an area where there are multiple opportunities for employment.'

The disciplines, specific skills and adaptability generated by a logistics and supply chain management degree are vital

Why choose logistics and supply chain management?

If you're a natural coordinator and would like to put these skills to good use there is plenty of scope to do so. The career opportunities afforded to graduates of this discipline are a massive draw and the upsurge in distribution vacancies is hardly surprising. 'Logistics and supply chain management is increasingly being recognised as underpinning the long-term plans of many businesses,' says Dorothea.

Dr Leigh Sparks, head of Stirling Graduate School and professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling agrees. 'Logistics and supply chain management in the retail sector is a fundamental and complex component of all operations. Supply chains are challenging, operational and strategic and expose graduates to the 'glue' of the business. This area is increasingly significant and is therefore an ideal career choice for retail and supply chain graduates.'

Impressive job prospects aside, your training and qualifications could also help in tackling some of the retail sectors challenges. 'Supply chains are experiencing a transformation driven by the competing pressures of ever more demanding service customers,' explains Dr Sparks. This transformation is taking the shape of more complex and globalised operations, which in turn need more experienced managers to oversee them. Another issue within the industry is the ethical concerns that spring up from global supply chains, as not all chains adhere to the same ethical regulations.

If you think that you are up to the challenges that this crucial role presents then a career in logistics and supply chain management could be for you.

How do I get qualified?

Logistics and distribution/supply chain manager jobs are open to all graduates although you'll find that more and more employers are seeking graduates with a specific degree in logistics, transport or supply chain management.

With the demand for more highly-skilled graduates rising there are a variety of related postgraduate courses on offer to meet this need. Qualifications of this nature could give you the edge at interview.

One such course is the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management programme at the Cranfield School of Management. This one-year, full-time course is accredited by the CILT and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) and is ideal for both professionals and novices.

On the course you will cover 10 core and four elective modules and will be assessed by a series of assignments and exams.

Modules include:

  • freight transport;
  • information systems and e-business;
  • inventory and operations management;
  • logistics outsourcing;
  • retail logistics;
  • supply chain strategy and sustainability;
  • warehousing.

Whether you're aiming to enter the profession or advance your current position the University of Sussex also offers a Masters qualification in Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management. You'll be taught by leading experts in the field and receive the opportunity to attend industry events and conferences.

If you need reassurance of the benefits of postgraduate study in this area Dr Sparks says, 'The complexity of supply chains, the need to assimilate and use data both tactically and strategically and the necessity of building and maintaining relationships are all key elements of postgraduate supply chain and retail degrees. The disciplines, specific skills and adaptability generated by degrees of this nature are vital.'

You can study similar Masters degrees at a range of institutions. Search for postgraduate courses in logistics and supply chain management.

Employers are looking for young people with the ability to see the bigger picture and act strategically while delivering on short-term imperatives

What skills do I need?

To forge a successful career as a logistics and supply chain manager you'll need to possess specific skills and competencies. Graduates who have grown up in the age of the internet will be well placed to understand the dynamics of internet shopping and to contribute to the growth of e-retailing.

'It's important that graduates have the ability to understand the increasingly technical aspects of supply chains but are also able to communicate these in a clear and succinct way,' advises Dorothea.

'The ability to think on your feet and respond to new situations in a calm and considered way, even when under pressure is also important.'

Denyse Julien, director of the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Cranfield School of Management recommends taking the time to learn a combination of hard and soft skills while studying. Skills such as simulation, modelling, forecasting, communication, problem solving and negotiation will be extremely useful.

Language skills may also be an advantage when working in global networks.

What are my career options?

Upon graduation job opportunities are plentiful and varied. 'Supply chains are fast-moving and demanding. There are both tactical and strategic roles available and it's likely that graduates will gain an overview before specialising and then progress to more senior positions,' explains Dr Sparks. 'To do this, as well as excellence and ambition, graduates will need to continue to develop learning and skills. Lifelong learning is an increasing feature of this sector.'

To catch the attention of employers you'll need to show some experience of logistics and supply chains, either through previous or part-time work in the retail sector or through placements on your course, knowledge of the company and a hard-working attitude. Demonstrable enthusiasm and attention to detail will also set you apart from the competition.

'Employers are looking for young people with the ability to see the bigger picture and act strategically while delivering on short-term imperatives,' says Dorothea. 'People with inquisitiveness and a desire to understand patterns and trends within data are seen as particularly employable.'

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