Companies’ cross-functional demands are calling supply chain managers to step up like never before.

Views from APICS 2018: The evolution of a fragmented supply chain industry

Why does a supply chain management professional education organization need a program for kindergartners? Ask Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM, formerly APICS) CEO Abe Eshkenazi, and he’ll tell you that’s how early he wants students to start thinking about the supply chain.

“We need to be relevant to every aspect of society,” he told Supply Chain Dive.

The kindergartner needs to start that early because the supply chain management field is heading in a new direction — a direction Eshkenazi has been hoping to see for years. “We’re starting to see supply chain professionals being recognized for the knowledge and value that they bring to organizations. We thought it would happen a lot sooner, and we thought it would happen more.”

At the APICS 2018 conference (the last with the former name), speakers and attendees described the expanding roles of supply chain professionals. Evolution is never clean, and certainly not all organizations have caught on to the strategic importance of the supply chain. But those that have are harvesting value and finding themselves more nimble in an age where challenges, competition and technology is setting a breakneck pace.

Four trends, based on presentations and conversations with attendees at APICS 2018, highlight these shifts.

An industry in transition

The supply chain industry and organizations such as APICS have been slow to adapt to what businesses need. As CEO Abe Eshkenazi said to Supply Chain Dive at the start of the conference, “We’d like to say we’re ahead of the game. We’re not.”

The entire rebranding of APICS to Association for Supply Chain Management, announced on day one, centers around not only continued education and training but looking at the workforce development in companies with a more holistic view. “For 60 years we focused on the individual, preparing them to get a job, be confident, be capable, advance their career, and it worked. It was very successful,” Eshkenazi said.

During the 2000s, this kind of success was due to a focus on individual professionals, but now everything has shifted toward companies developing programs for their teams as they want their supply chain professionals to go beyond subject matter expertise.

Now, “you’re expected to lead an organization cross-functional, cross-cultural, cross-country … and expectations are significantly higher than they were before,” Eshkenazi said.

The transformation to this kind of supply chain professional who can even earn a seat in the C-suite is encouraging, but there is a sense that some friction will result due to the gap between what the past generation of professionals wanted out of their careers and what the next generation seeks. The generation in the middle may find themselves challenged to fit into either group.

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