These past few days have taken me on the road to once again meet with many supply chain senior managers, peers, influencers, and academics.   Readers can note on my website that I continue as a volunteer serving on steering committees within APICS (Society of Operations Management) and SCOR (The Supply Chain Operations Council ). I’ve been attending back-to-back steering committee meetings with each these organizations these past five days.

Among various topics of conversation were naturally the ongoing global financial crisis, and what impacts that will have on the many aspects of supply chain management.  Specific conversations were focused toward what typically can happen when firms have to react to sudden economic downturns, which is to scrutinize any and all discretionary expenses both within and external to the supply chain.  Other targets for quick scrutiny or the chopping block invariably will include corporate-wide attendance at professional conferences, training and education.

While many of these decisions have to be made for the sake of the firm or the business, each of you as individuals also have to face decisions as to whether to curtail professional development until recovery occurs.  My advice is not to do this, for the following reasons.  First, as I outlined in my previous series of posts of the seven grand challenges for SCM over the next five years, firms in many industries will need to confront a growing management skills gap across the multiple disciplines of SCM.  These firms will continue to face challenges for more centralized planning, the ability to model or simulate multiple potential business scenarios, more  proactive supply chain intelligence and mitigating meaningful supply chain risk.  In short, the overall contribution of supply chain management will become more critical as the means to manage the effects of severe business downturn.  Second, we often cite the analogy of the way the Chinese language represents the term crisis, both as a graphic of danger, but also a second graphic of opportunity.  Crisis and recessions will invariably run their course, and the real advantage comes to firms who have prepared during the downturn to take full advantage of the pending recovery, and to jump over the competition in being best prepared to lead the recovery phase.

There are many inexpensive ways to continue with your individual development. Here’s just the start of a list of alternatives:

  • Continually visit the websites of APICS, CSCMP, SCOR, and other professional associations to learn the latest supply chain trends or understand the newest proven business processes or technologies. 
  • Take advantage of thought leadership available within management consulting, technology vendor or supply chain media web sites, or in no-cost webcasts that are often provided by these organizations.
  • Enroll in affordable courses at local universities, community colleges, or training firms.  Look for courses or seminars in leading-edge vs., well-understood topics, those associated with the challenges in the next decade.
  • Seek the advice, counsel and networking opportunities of active, retired or semi-retired management professionals who are more than eager to share their experiences or help you in mentoring your management and development skills.   
  • If at all possible, keep-up your individual membership or credentials in a professional organization. Suggest or seek to influence a corporate-wide membership arrangement that can reduce overall costs.  If your firm decides to terminate this support, try to find a way to maintain at least one membership that can provide you needed professional development.
  • Finally, continue to do exactly what you are doing right now by taking advantage of the knowledge and community that can be provided by Supply Chain Matters and other similar blogs that focus on the broad management topics of managing across global supply chains.

I encourage readers to also share in the comments section other suggestions or experiences in continuing their professional development. 

Rather than a victim of recession, take the role of opportunist and insure your readiness to be the future leaders of SCM. 

Bob Ferrari