It’s a career that consists of many hours of planning, purchasing, strategizing, and delivering. The supply chain and logistics industry continues to evolve and create jobs for young Canadians across the country.
Supply chain and logistics (SCL) is the branch of business that overlooks the strategic sourcing and flow management of a product or service to an end user. To ensure the complete process is executed smoothly, SCL companies like UPS house a wide range of departments from direct operations crews to marketing and solution development groups to finance teams.
“You end up with a fairly broad group of people involved,” says Jim Ramsay, vice-president of Global Freight Forwarding at UPS Supply Chain Solutions. “In terms of grads coming in from school today, quite often with some sort of background in finance, marketing, or operations; when you work for a company like UPS, there’s all of that.”
Supply chain management often uses a tool called strategic sourcing which aims to drive savings through building strong company-supplier relationships, while also incorporating research of market conditions, customer needs, and organizational goals.
“We offer our clients assistance in demonstrating their savings,” says Lindsey Fandozzi, director at Source One Management Services. “We do that through different types of reporting tools that we have, we help them track things like compliance and loss-saving opportunities through these tools that we’ve put in place.”
Source One Management Services is a procurement service that focuses on guiding clients to ultimately drive cost savings. They provide expertise in not only strategic sourcing, but also in project management, negotiation, and inventory management, just to name a few.
“We’re really there to be an extension of [our clients’] team,” says Fandozzi. “The reward is really getting the results for the clients and demonstrating the value that the supply chain team can bring to an organization.”
In the earliest days of supply chain and logistics, the abundance of resources, strategic minds, and technology ceased to exist as much as it is present today. “When you think about supply chain and logistics, it really has been through a remarkable evolution—almost to the point of a revolution—in the 106 years that UPS has been in business,” says Ramsay.
The company started solely as a package distributor, providing delivery services within cities. “Today, supply chains typically cover thousands of miles, dozens of time zones, hundreds of suppliers and customers,” says Ramsay. “They brought a whole new level of complexity and excitement to what’s involved in the supply chain and logistics business.”
The development of supply chain management and logistics has resulted in a much faster turnaround of products regardless of its location. “Whether that product is manufactured in Asia, as a lot of high-tech product is, it really is astounding how quickly you can get product from Asia onto a store shelf here in North America or Europe for that matter,” he says.
Supply chains have developed into a vital part of a company, says Fandozzi. “It’s really important to have a supply chain be a central part of an organization and make sure supply chains are aligned with the company’s goals. I think that’s how things have shifted within the industry itself. It’s moving more towards that proactive approach to get the results and value that you see today.”
According to Fandozzi, supply chain is about change management. “It’s really about demonstrating supply chain value, showing that sourcing and supply chain groups are more strategic than tactical,” adding that the operations within the industry used to be very tactical.
There’s no doubting that the advance in technology has contributed to the growth of the supply chain and logistics industry. It has enabled more efficient interaction between customers, companies, and suppliers, while also introducing services on a worldwide scale. Databases, online resources, and tracking systems are just a few examples of how technology has engrained itself into the industry.
“From a technology perspective, we have proprietary databases of price points and suppliers, and that really helps us quickly identify areas of opportunity for our clients,” says Fandozzi. “We have a lot of real-time data when it comes to markets, tariffs.”
The ability to receive real-time data is a huge advancement for the Global Freight Forwarding department at UPS. “UPS is a transportation company that used a lot of technology, but in many ways, we’re becoming a technology company that provides transportation services,” says Ramsay. “The reason why I word it that way is we’re seeing more and more companies wanting to integrate their computer systems with our computer systems.”
One particular way this is achieved is through a cloud-based system, which allows Canadian companies the opportunity to coordinate with UPS overseas to manage orders, quantities, and deliveries in a cost-effective manner.
In the supply chain and logistics field, the learning never stops. The Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC) at York University offers a master’s certificate in supply chain and logistics management for professionals in the field.
The course, with 13 classes spread over a three-month period, including 11 different modules and discussions in everything from supply chain strategy, inventory management, sourcing, transportation, among other topics. “The reason that we do that is we like to have a solid basis of the supply chain and logistics approaches and concepts,” says Mark Edward Thomas, program director of the master’s certificate in supply chain and logistics at SEEC. “It’s like the wheat from the field all the way to the bread on your table—all of those things have to be coordinated all the way through the supply chain.”
With an executive certificate in supply chain and logistics comes the opportunity to grow as a future leader in the industry. “They’re people that see themselves as upwardly mobile and they really want to take on more of the world and have that kind of energy,” says Thomas. “We get a wide range of people coming, but they all contribute well to the discussions.”
As a course that is tailored to accommodate the busy schedules of business professionals, Thomas stresses that the course less resembles a lecture-type environment, but instead acts as an opportunity for discussion. “This is a course where the facilitators come with a whole range of material and concepts to bring to the class; they engage the class to bring out good ideas that others have and cement ideas,” he says.
The added learning experience at SEEC allows for professionals, with little or ample training in the field, the chance to develop skills they otherwise may not have acquired solely through their work experience. Thomas says it’s crucial to apply the knowledge through the course into the field. “It’s one thing to learn the techniques, but it’s another thing to actually put them in place and be an effective manager. We try to make effective managers that have a supply chain expertise.”
The opportunity to participate in an industry knowledge refresher and the chance to network and collaborate with other professionals is what makes having the executive certificate in supply chain and logistics management beneficial. “They come out with clarity, knowing what the supply chain is about, and confidence in what they’re doing, so when they go back to work or in an interview they know that what they say has solid grounding,” says Thomas.
“The industry has been doing nothing but growing over the past 20 years,” says Thomas, adding that most companies today employ chief logistics officers and supply chain vice-presidents, when physical distribution in the past used to report to the sale departments. “Companies realized that it’s how you deliver to your customer that’s going to make them come back and buy more from you,” he says. “With that realization, companies are going to look for skilled professionals and the people that can relate to other companies’ supply chain people, so that they’re talking the same language.”
Challenges and rewards
“I actually consider it part of the fun of the job,” says Ramsay, when speaking on the challenges of working in supply chain and logistics. “Part of the fun of the job is the fact that you’re dealing with a high level of complexity, meaning multiple countries are typically involved with transactions.” Issues with working with 12–14-hour time zones, cultural differences, and unpredictable weather conditions can add to the challenge (or fun) of working in the industry.
“Anytime you have a supply chain that covers the distances that today’s supply chains cover, there’s always the opportunity for something to happen that causes a disruption in the supply chain,” he says, adding that despite those issues, SCL companies are on constant deadline.
For a company like Source One Management, who helps to manage the supply chains of its clients, at times, may find challenges with stakeholders who feel uneasy with the sourcing process, fearing disruption of their current strategies. “They’re also afraid of sacrificing quality or they feel like the stakeholder doesn’t have enough time to participate in an actual sourcing process,” says Fandozzi. “We work through these issues everyday, and getting through those internal challenges and being very collaborative with the stakeholder, keeping them involved in the sourcing process, and let them know that our role is not by any means to take over.”
However, with the challenges come the rewards and Ramsay says it’s a very exciting time for supply chain and logistics. “In a lot of ways, [the industry] is a well-kept secret, but it shouldn’t be because there is some very interesting and fun stuff that happens behind it.”