Daily Archives: March 25, 2011

Can We Fix Supply Chain Education?

For the most part, supply chain education is broken. Consider this quote from a recent ChainLink Research article on the 2011 Supply Chain Education Survey Findings that was contributed by an anonymous respondent:

“Offered programs are parochial in nature, designed to drive sales of a vendor’s tools or services, or are too generic to be of value. For example, [a major prestigious university] doesn’t even understand its own legacy in systems thinking. Supply chains are complex and there are no easy fixes. Grossly simplified views perpetuate myths and drive the wrong solutions.”

From my vantage point, most of the educational options, as pointed out by this astute survey respondent, fall into:

  • Academic programs that are more outdated than bell-bottoms
    And if they are that recent, you’re lucky. Plus, most of the professors only have expertise in one or two areas, and it typically revolves around whatever technology or model they’re researching, or should I say, trying to push on the real world. And the gods forbid if you try to change the curriculum without full approval. Unless you’re a full professor with tenure, they’ll smite you down so hard that you’ll never crawl back up. (And by the time you’re a full professor with tenure, you’ve had all the life sucked out of you and don’t have any energy to make drastically sweeping changes for the better.)
  • Third-party programs from associations designed to please the lowest common denominator
    In these organizations, with boards and steering committees as large as the pool of high paying organization members, the motto is none of us is as dumb as all of us and it shines through in the program that is developed. Full of useful topics, but the content is so watered down it’s worse than a self-serve soda at a Kwik-E-Mart trying to save on syrup.
  • Private programs from companies set up by people that used to purchase (but don’t anymore)
    Unlike academic programs which at least have competing theories (but no guarantee that any will be right), these typically have one theory from the energetic individual who started it, and a big slant to whatever type of procurement or logistics management he or she was doing. If all he really did was buy office supplies and equipment, or manage 3PLs, you might as well take your check and give it to some massive charity organization like the United Way. At least 10% of the money will help someone.
  • Vendor programs from vendors that sell a service or solution
    These can actually be quite good, but the content will be carefully designed to insure that you can’t put anything into practice without a tool to support you, and, surprise surprise, it will be ten times harder to use a tool that isn’t the vendor’s.

Now, there are a few good courses out there, delivered by consulting firms who tailor them to client needs, but the consultants get big bucks for these courses, and then more money to identify the next need and design the next course, so it’s actually in their best interest to get it right. But, by the same token, it’s also in their best interest to keep the courses targeted, specialized, and not widely available.

The net effect is that, at the end of the day, the overall state of supply chain education is poor. And the question we need to ask is “can we fix it?”.

I’m not sure. I see a solution, but it would involve invalidating pretty much all of the current theories on higher education, angering large groups of people in the process, and going against the grain of modern western culture.

The answer lies in the past. Years and years (and years) ago, there was a time where only a few people went to College. Higher education was reserved for those who intended to make a career of the intellectual pursuits, and the rest of the population chose a vocation, went into the trades, and apprenticed under a master. The answer is that newbies need to be hands-on trained by professionals, using curriculums selected or designed by the organization as relevant. The masters nearing the end of their careers need to be relieved of some of their leadership and management responsibilities and refocussed on training the new generation who will be tasked with capturing their knowledge and updating the company curriculums as they learn.

These curriculums can be shared among a network of peers, who embrace a co-opetition model where they compete for sales but cooperate on curriculum design and best practices, and refine over time. And we’d solve the talent crunch at the same time.

But as long as we culturally believe that College is a right of passage and all knowledge should reside within ivory walls, we’ll never get back to a societal organization that made sense for thousands (and thousands) of years (as apprenticeships date way back to the beginnings of ancient civilizations) and still do.