While not the career that springs to mind when thinking of retail, logistics and supply chain graduates are in demand in a sector that relies on delivering goods to customers in a timely manner

Why choose logistics and supply chain management?

Delivering products and services at the right time, right place, right cost, and at the right quantity and quality is at the heart of logistics and supply chain management and in the retail sector, perfect order deliveries, customer responsiveness and cost efficiency are key competitive priorities.

Every retail organisation has a supply chain, so this is an area where there are multiple opportunities for employment.

'Logistics and supply chain management is regional, national and global - it is everywhere,' says Dr Graham Wall, MSc course leader in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Portsmouth. 'Without it, the wheels of industry and ultimately the UK economy would grind to a halt. Logistics is a key part of the UK economy, contributing over £127 billion and employing 1.7 million people, around 5% of the workforce.'

'Once considered 'trucks and sheds' and a low-skilled industry, logistics and supply chain management today is emerging as a highly desirable sector for employment providing an exciting high-tech career,' explains Harold Hamley, teaching fellow at the University of Portsmouth and ex-European Supply Chain Director. 'This is due to the deployment of cutting-edge technologies in many of the key areas. Amazon and Ocado are examples of companies that are utilising innovative cutting-edge technologies in their logistical operations.'

Do I need a logistics degree?

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

For example, the three-year BSc in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Hull teaches you how to manage complex supply chains and the interconnected relationships among stakeholders. Modules include 'Oprations, Supply Chain and Business Practices', 'World Economy', 'Supply Chain Information Management and Big Data', 'Consumer and Business Buyer Behaviour', 'Supply Chain Network Design' and 'Supply Chain Sustainability and the Environment'. Tuition for UK students is £9,250 a year.

With the demand for highly-skilled graduates rising there are a variety of Masters courses on offer to meet this need. Whether your first degree is in an unrelated subject or you'd just like to further your knowledge in the field, qualifications of this nature could give you the edge when trying to secure a logistics or supply chain job.

'Logistics is above all a practical activity, so it is possible to progress through the ranks wherever you start. However, graduating with a Masters degree will accelerate your career prospects and enable you to achieve senior management level positions such as strategic operations or supply chain director once you have the required level of experience,' says Dr Wall.

The MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management at University of Portsmouth takes one year to study full time. The course is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and requires a good honours degree (usually a 2:1) in any relevant discipline.

'Successfully completing a Masters degree which has been accredited by the CILT, such as the one at the University of Portsmouth will accelerate the graduate's opportunity to become a chartered member of the CILT,' explains Dr Wall.

'The employability aspects of the course have been enhanced and now include industrial visits, industrial projects, guest speakers from industry, research-informed teaching, group work, reflective writing, oral presentations and written reports in both the syllabus and assessment methods,' adds Dr Wall.

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

If you're looking for an alternative to university you can study for a logistics or supply chain apprenticeship. Logistics operations apprenticeships are available at intermediate and advanced level and lead to careers as logistics operatives and logistics operation leaders/supervisors.

Supply chain management schemes are available at advanced and higher level and result in careers in supply chain management, supply chain control and international procurement management. To find out more, see retail apprenticeships.

What skills do I need?

People with inquisitiveness and a desire to understand patterns and trends within data are particularly employable. Simulation, modelling, forecasting, problem solving and negotiation skills are extremely useful, as is the ability to think on your feet when under pressure. Being able to respond to new situations in a calm and considered way is also important.

Successful candidates need to understand the increasingly complex technical aspects of supply chains and be able to communicate these to non-technical colleagues and customers in a clear and succinct way. 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. Discover how to get a job in online retail.

'Managers of the future will not just need in-depth expertise in one area but a range of soft skills such as leading change, building effective teams, persuading, influencing and relationship management,' advises Dr Wall. Additionally, language skills may be an advantage when working in global networks. For an idea of in-demand soft skills, see what skills do employers want?

For a career in logistics or supply chain management you'll also need to be committed to continuing professional development (CPD). Throughout your career you'll be expected to develop your knowledge and skills by participating in training courses, presenting at conferences and attending networking events.

Membership of a professional organisation such as the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) or the CILT is advantageous and demonstrates a commitment to the profession. Membership also provides access to a number of professional qualifications and training courses, which can contribute to your CPD.

What careers are on offer?

Upon graduation logistics jobs and supply chain jobs are plentiful. It's likely that you'll gain an overview of the profession before specialising - and then progressing to more senior positions.

Employers include third party logistics companies, organisations that sell directly to consumers (retailers and supermarkets) and logistics consultancies.

Graduates can also pursue a career in:

  • supply chain design and planning
  • procurement and supply management
  • freight transportation
  • warehouse design and management
  • distribution network design and planning
  • inventory management and control.

'There's an increasing demand for graduates who have the technical skills in mathematics, statistics, and operational research to help improve decision making and reduce costs,' says Dr Wall. 'Roles in logistics and supply chain management can provide challenging and satisfying careers which typically combine the responsibility for 'day-to-day' operations with long term projects implementing major business changes.'

Can I do a logistics graduate scheme?

Within the retail sector a number of big-name companies offer graduate schemes in logistics, supply chain and distribution.

Department store Harrods provides a 15-month distribution scheme for those with a passion for retail logistics. You'll gain an insight into shop floor functions and supply chain operations, with six months spent with the retail team in store and nine months spent working with the Knightsbridge and Thatcham distribution teams. You'll also complete a management training programme.

Morrisons accept graduates with a 2:2 onto its two-year logistics and supply chain programme, where participants get to explore every aspect of international supply chains from forecasting, distribution planning and working in distribution sites, to merchandising and space planning for products.

Find out more about retail graduate schemes.

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, industrial placements on your course, or through internships and work experience. Demonstrating strong commercial awareness and knowledge of the company will also stand you in good stead. Enthusiasm and attention to detail will also set you apart from the competition.

Find out more

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