Logistics and supply chain jobs might not be the most obvious choice when planning a retail career, but thanks to the growing e-commerce sector they provide talented graduates with a challenge
Why choose logistics and supply chain management?
'The importance of logistics and supply chain management has grown significantly,' says Dr Ki-Soon Hwang, course director of the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management degree at Kingston University Business School. 'In any industry goods need to be procured, stored and dispatched. Efficient and effective management of all these business functions is critical in the current business world.
'Someone equipped with comprehensive and integrated knowledge of logistics is a strong candidate in the job market.' The career opportunities afforded to graduates are a massive draw. Every retail organisation has a supply chain, so this is an area where there are multiple opportunities for employment.
'In the retail sector, perfect order deliveries, customer responsiveness and cost efficiency are key competitive priorities,' explains Dr Kostas Selviaridis, senior lecturer in management science at Lancaster University Management School. 'It comes as no surprise then, that logistics and supply chain management are critical competence areas that contribute to satisfying customer demand in a timely and cost-efficient manner.
'Delivering products and services at the right time and place, right cost, and at the right quantity and quality is at the heart of logistics and supply chain management.'
Do I need a logistics degree?
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 highly-skilled graduates rising there is a variety of postgraduate 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.
'A Masters degree provides a framework for developing the knowledge and skills required for a successful and rewarding career in logistics and supply chain management,' says Dr Selviaridis. 'More broadly, a postgraduate degree in logistics and supply chain management helps graduates to advance their careers and secure promotion.'
One such course is the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management programme at Lancaster University. This one-year, full-time course is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and requires at least a 2:1 honours degree or equivalent for entry.
'The programme runs in two phases,' explains Dr Selviaridis. 'The first phase (October to April) involves attending a number of compulsory and optional modules to develop your understanding and knowledge. This is combined with the development of core quantitative skills including statistics, analytics, spreadsheet modelling and problem solving and consultancy.
'The second phase (May to September) involves a dissertation project, where students work as consultants on real-life assignments.'
Tuition fees for UK and European Union (EU) students are £13,000. This rises to £20,000 for international students.
The Logistics and Supply Chain MSc at Kingston University London takes one year to study full time (two if you opt to do a professional placement as part of the course). The course has full accreditation from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) and requires a good honours degree (usually a 2:1) in any relevant discipline.
'In the first semester you will study modules in the fundamentals of business management, logistics management, operations and supply chain management and strategic operations and outsourcing,' says Dr Hwang.
'The second stage of the course consists of independent research via the dissertation module.'
Graduates of the course have gone on to work for companies including Thames Tideway Tunnel, World Food Programme, University of the Arts London, Candy Kittens and GlaxoSmithKline.
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.
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 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 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 and varied. 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. Jobs within logistics and supply chains can include logistics and distribution managers, purchasing manager or warehouse manager.
According to Dr Selviaridis, 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.
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. For example, Boots runs a two-year supply chain graduate scheme for those with a 2:1 or higher. On the scheme you'll rotate around different areas such as retail supply, pharmacy delivery and distribution and innovation.
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 2:2 graduates onto their 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
- Gain an insight into the retail sector.
- Find out more about the transport and logistics sector.
- Discover how to get a job in online retail.