Becoming a Supply Chain Manager - Steps & Requirements


When it comes to making a modern business a success, efficiency is the name of the game. As companies increasingly source their products along a multi-national pipeline, they’re in greater need of experts who can optimize that pipeline. Those experts are supply chain managers.

Optimizing the supply chain can transform a business. Amazon re-designed the typical supply chain formula to remove latencies in inventory and lower prices beyond what competitors were capable of. DHL tackled the old paper-based processing system at border checks by sending its customers paperwork before it sent the package, greatly speeding up the delivery process. In each case, supply chain management was the secret sauce that saved both the company and the customer a great deal of time, money, and hassle.

Supply chain managers work in three key areas: logistics (uniting sales and operations departments to optimize procurement processes); operations (managing product flows, optimizing warehouse processes; restructuring transportation networks); and finance (refining budgets to accurately report costs of inventory management; comparing and contrasting different methods of inventory recovery). All this requires a unique blend of theoretical and practical business knowledge.

If a supply chain is not working, the larger business is not working either. That’s why, in today’s world, supply chain managers are critical. Supply chain managers may calculate how to bring manufacturing operations back to America in a cost effective manner. They may implement methods of making supply chains greener and more sustainable. Furthermore, automation and big data allow for complex calculations that can save resources and super-charge innovation.

If you’re interested in crunching the numbers and streamlining the future, check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a supply chain manager.

Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Supply Chain Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring supply chain managers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While there are bachelor’s programs that focus specifically in supply chain management, several other relevant majors exist: finance, business, or even engineering.

Admissions requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

According to US News & World Report, the online bachelor of science in supply chain management program at Arizona State University is the second best in the nation. Its curriculum includes courses such as: global supply chain management; business decision models; logistics management; supply chain strategy; and planning and control systems for supply chain management. The program consists of 120 credits and costs approximately $640 per credit for non-residents.

The number one supply chain management program on the US News & World Report list is the on-campus bachelor of arts option at Michigan State University. In addition to breadth-requirements that span across several areas of business, students take classes such as procurement and supply chain management; procurement contracting; customs, compliance, and security; end-to-end simulation using SCODE; and supply chain decision modeling. The program consists of 120 credits, and costs approximately $39,830 per year for non-residents.

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After earning a bachelor’s degree, aspiring supply chain managers generally need to get early work experience. This is a profession where people work their way up and early work experience often consists of roles with lower responsibility—but ones that maintain touchpoints with the supply chain.

Jobs and internships in supply chain analysis, product distribution, inventory management, and business operations can teach aspiring supply chain managers about the fast-paced workflow, data-based decision making, and interdepartmental communication that’s essential to supply chain management. This sort of hands-on education is invaluable in the early stages of one’s career and as a bonus, some employers will even subsidize their employees’ graduate-level education.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Three Years)

While some supply chain managers are hired with only a bachelor’s degree, it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to request graduate-level education. Dedicated master’s programs exist in supply chain management, but a master’s of business administration (MBA) can cover the fundamentals of all business processes, while still allowing for specialization in supply chain management or enterprise resource planning. Entry requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive (3.0 or greater) undergraduate GPA; GMAT and/or GRE scores; work experience; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

When it comes to graduate-level education in supply chain management, Michigan State University and Arizona State University once again rank at the top.

Michigan State University’s on-campus MBA with a concentration in supply chain management can also be completed in 21 months. The curriculum is broken down into 31 credits of foundational knowledge, 12 credits on the selected concentration, and 18 credits of electives. Concentration courses include emerging topics in supply chain management; manufacturing design and analysis; supply chain simulation; sustainable supply chain management; and integrated logistics systems. Tuition and fees total $52,502 per year for non-residents.

Arizona State University’s on-campus MBA with a concentration in supply chain management can be completed in 21 months. The concentration has several courses focused solely on supply chain management, including strategic procurement; services in the supply chain; sustainability and social responsibility; operations planning and execution; and project management. Full-time tuition and fees total $99,228 for non-residents.

Step Four: Gain Advanced Work Experience (Timeline Varies)

After earning a master’s degree, many aspiring supply chain managers focus on gaining work experience in leadership roles. This is the stage at which all of one’s graduate-level education is put into practice. Advanced work experience means learning on the job every day and teaching others along the way. While this could be seen as the terminal step for supply chain managers, it also builds towards the requirements for professional certification.

Step Five: Consider Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

While it’s not a requirement to practice, many supply chain managers seek to further their education and distinguish themselves in the industry by pursuing professional certification. Offered by peer-led organizations, these certifications demonstrate one’s industry expertise and a commitment to the evolving best practices in supply chain management.

The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) designation. Eligibility requirements include a bachelor’s degree or three years of relevant work experience. Applicants must pass a three-module exam that covers the following areas: supply chain design; supply chain planning and execution; and supply chain improvements and best practices. Exam fees total $965 for non-members.

CSCP-holders will need to recertify every five years by submitting proof of 75 professional development points and submitting a fee of $150. The ASCM also offers two other specialized designations of interest for supply chain managers: Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) and Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution (CLTD).

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) offers the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) designation. Candidates need a minimum of three years in a supply chain management role. Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a pass an exam in the fundamentals of supply chain management before earning their designation. For non-members, the application fee is $179, and the exam fee is $379.

CPSM-holders must recertify every four years by completing 60 hours of continuing education credits, as well as paying a renewal fee of $150. The ISM also offers the Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD) designation for those who wish to specialize further.

Finally, the International Society of Logistics (SOLE) offers the Certified Professional Logistician (CPL) designation. Eligibility requirements include a master’s degree and at least four years of experience in logistics or a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience in logistics. Once the eligibility requirements are met, candidates will need to pass an eight-hour multiple-choice exam, which is broken up into four two-hour sessions. Exam fees are $375 for non-members. The CPL designation does not expire.

Helpful Resources for Supply Chain Managers

Supply chain management is changing all the time. New developments in data analytics, sustainable sourcing, and procurement processes demand a constant re-evaluation of the supply chain landscape. If you’re interested in the conversations taking place in the industry right now, and where they’re headed, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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