Help Wanted: Hundreds of Thousands of Supply Chain Positions Unfilled in China

Even though we can laugh (or cry) at the quality of India's supply chain transportation system (e.g., ports and roads) given how the nation's physical infrastructure has not kept up with its virtual or manufacturing one, what the country has done right is to continually invest in its higher education system, churning out some of the best educated engineering and supply chain professionals in the world on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for China. AMR Research estimates that "China would need 400,000 supply chain professionals by 2010 (to meet demand)" but that its "universities produce only 10,000 graduates per year". Moreover, I know that many people I've spoken to in China question the average level of higher education teaching in the nation (versus the quality of education reserved for the top 20%). The situation is so critical, in fact, that the private sector and Western universities are teaming up and taking matters into their own educational hands.

Consider how Cisco and Stanford are working together on an initiative to provide "advanced management training" in the area of supply chain management to Chinese companies. Still, such a one-off effort is but a drop in the cost-savings, stock-out and PPM bucket given that in its first class, only "40 senior executives from multinational and local companies in China" participated in the week-long program. Still, the curriculum for the program, which includes "Supply Chain Management Strategies, Supply Chain Operations Best Practices, Supply Chain Logistics Best Practices, New Product Introduction and the Supply Chain, Emerging Supply Chains, Supply Chain Partnerships, and Managing Change" is sorely needed throughout the region.

Another route that China may opt to take to help fill the giant supply chain talent gap are programs modeled on apprenticeships and internships rather than simply degree and non-degree university classes. In fact, I'd argue that many of the skill-sets required in order to become a good supply chain or procurement manager are not academic at all and can be taught on the job provided that the candidate has both drive and intelligence. Maybe this is a place for unions to step in as well, providing an apprenticeship model (which was one of the original purposes of unions, at least in the North American commercial trades). Regardless of which option -- or combination of options -- China decides to take, one thing is clear. And that's in order to maintain the country's growth trajectory, it will become critical to train a new generation of supply chain managers in key operational/inventory, logistics and procurement areas.

- Jason Busch

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