Report: pandemic sparks major interest in supply chain courses

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The focus on supply chains during the coronavirus pandemic has seemingly been a shot in the arm for logistics courses at numerous universities, which are being revamped to include new methodologies amid significantly increased interest from undergraduates. According to a report by Bloomberg, major US universities are seeing more applications to supply chain courses this year, while the courses themselves are being modernised to concentrate more on risk management, data management and production reshoring.

Report: pandemic sparks major interest in supply chain courses
Kühne Logistics University is one of many institutions in Europe where budding logistics professionals are learning their trade (Photo: SteffenMH, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the aforementioned report, representatives from Harvard Business School, Carey School of Business, Smeal College of Business, Rutgers Business School, the University of Michigan, and Arizona State University, are all quoted regarding tweaks to courses or additional interest in supply chain.

Skrikant Datar, dean of Harvard Business School, told Bloomberg that the pandemic had caused the renowned educational institution to “rethink” supply chains, which had been “taken for granted”.

When it comes to the evolution of supply chain courses, Hitendra Chaturvedi, a supply-chain management professor at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, also told Bloomberg that the discipline had become too “rigid”.

This issue was touched on by renowned supply chain professional Dr. Muddassir Ahmed during an interview with Trans.INFO earlier this year. The popular supply chain blogger and vlogger, whose website contains useful resources for supply chain students, told Trans.INFO that the outdated knowledge was an obstacle for graduates:

The problem I see with this group [those who attend supply chain courses at university] is that the knowledge is not updated. And if you review the knowledge content, the knowledge content is still very much from the nineties and the noughties. They still talk about supply chain competencies, or demand forecasting or logistics.

In Dr. Muddassir Ahmed’s opinion, the teaching of this knowledge has its merits, but also means there is a “big gap” between what is being taught at top universities and the current requirements of the supply chain. He adds that many professionals currently working in the supply chain industry are lacking in some key areas:

In every conversation including this one, we have talks about the technological advancement of the supply chain, and how technology will play in the development or risk mitigation of the supply chain. And this is where many of the supply chain people I know lack the awareness and technological know-how to understand which technology is most most suitable to which part of the supply chain.

It appears that the lessons learned from the pandemic have nonetheless acted as a catalyst for greater flexibility and diversity at universities, with topics such as risk mitigation and data analytics all reportedly coming to prominence. Areas like ethics, communication, and sustainability are said to be in the mix too.

Other themes set to be covered include the limits of just-time and legacy systems, the pitfalls of supply chains relying too much one country, as well as the importance of new technologies like machine learning and AI.

Such changes can be seen at prestigious universities in Europe as well. Earlier this year, Trans.INFO spoke exclusively to Dr. Susana Val of  Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC), who explained just how courses have developed amid recent developments:

Some courses have been incorporated in line with digital transformation, sustainability or urban transport networks. Our professors are in continuous training, since they are immersed in research projects promoted by the European Commission or directly working with companies. Therefore, they are familiar with these challenges [caused by the pandemic]. Hence the ability of ZLC to adapt to all this transformation.

Dr. Val too has observed extra interest in the supply chain discipline in recent times, telling Trans.INFO that the greater standing of logistics professionals is one of the key factors facilitating this change.

One of the educational institutions that is reportedly seeing increased interest in its supply chain courses is Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, whose supply chain management course enrollment is up from 270 to 400 this year. Such is the degree of extra interest, Alok Baveja, a professor at Rutgers Business School, even told Bloomberg that “business students who once defaulted to finance or marketing now want to explore supply-chain management.”

However, despite all of these seemingly positive developments, Jarrod Goentzel, principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s school’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, still wants to see more done in the way of certification.

Goentzel told Bloomberg:

“Any company that says they fully understand their supply chain is lying. It’s time for the profession to wake up. The 20th century was about finance. The 21st century should be about supply chains.”

Photo: SteffenMH, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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