When it comes to training the supply-chain professional of the future, what does the business world demand of academia — and vice versa? Frank Adams, associate professor at Mississippi State University, shares his view.
Q: What is the state of the industry-university partnership right now, with respect to supply-chain education and training?
Adams: It depends on where you are. There are some programs out there that have really strong interactions with their industry partners. Developing programs are building relationships, looking to ways to work with employers who have not yet been acclimated to doing a university partnership to help create the talent they need for the future.
Q: Do you receive feedback from industry on a regular basis as to how good a job you're doing in preparing your students for careers in supply chain?
Adams: If they're not giving it to me, I'm going out to get it. I want to know exactly where we are. I want to know what their needs are, and not just because I want to peddle them some students. We need to know in our classrooms what we're not doing right. That also helps to inform the research we do, which is probably the single largest part of our jobs.
Q: Looking back over the last five years, what would you say are the biggest changes in training students and preparing them for a world of supply?
Adams: Whether they like it or not — math. We still have to teach the core concepts about managing cost and the importance of service to customers, but we also have to get into analytics. We've got to be preparing them to hold roles where they can manage data. We don't necessarily need data scientists everywhere, but we do need people who know how to handle and process data, and do some forecasting.
Q: We hear that data scientists are in great demand.
Adams: They are, but not every logistics role needs a data scientist per se. We have a lot of managers out there handling drivers and purchasing transportation, and they too are going to have to analyze some data.
Q: Can you teach the soft skills too? The interpersonal relationships, the partnership requirements?
Adams: We probably do less of it than I would like, but we form a really tight partnership with our career center to try and help them develop those kinds of skills. We also do it by creating opportunities for our business partners to come to campus and interact with the students. That helps them to get out there and form relationships.
Q: Business leaders are actually part of the team teaching the curriculum?
Adams: Yes, I regularly invite partners in. If I have enough lead time, I’ll tell a company, "Here's my syllabus, the topics I'm teaching. Pick one you like, and want to tell a story about. I'll rearrange my calendar if I have to, and teach a lecture on the subject you want to discuss. Then you can come in and tell them how that works in the real world."
It’s a way for the students to really get their heads around the topic. For companies, it lodges their brands in the students’ minds in a way that nothing else will.
Q: Many years ago, people who ended up in supply-chain or logistics positions generally weren't trained for them. Today, how important is it to have an actual degree in supply chain in order to get a job in supply chain?
Adams: Every little bit helps. Having a degree, concentration or official affiliation is a branding signal that helps student to overcome H.R. resistance when they're going through resumes. We’re spending a lot more time educating our students about what this field is, giving them some of the basic jargon and lingo so they can begin interfacing a little more smoothly with practitioners.
Q: Are internships a must today?
Adams: Yes-ish. We're not quite to the point where you have no hope if you don't have one, but it’s very much becoming a path to the entry-level job. If a student has an internship, the full time placement is going to take care of itself.
Q: Where are the jobs in supply chain today? Are they with shippers, manufacturers and distributors? Or with logistics service providers and software vendors?
Adams: It depends on who's coming to your college to recruit. For us, we get a lot of 3PL traffic. C. H. Robinson is one of our steady employers. We’re also placing people inside the supply-chain organizations of companies like International Paper and Georgia Pacific. It's happening all over in consultancies, transportation firms, 3PLs and major corporations with a supply-chain function. Supply chain is simply everywhere.
Q: What’s your message to businesses about what they can do to facilitate this partnership with academia?
Adams: The most important thing they can do is involve themselves in their campuses. We go out and recruit for businesses to come to us. Sometimes those are our alumni, sometimes they're not. If no one's reaching out to you, look at your local university and say, "I want to see how I can better prepare students to come to me." Go back to your alma mater. Start asking who’s teaching supply chain, and how you can interact with them. Be welcoming when an academic comes knocking on your door, looking to see if they can partner with you. Those things will all help.
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