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WPI launches a master’s degree program in supply chain management

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Because every product, from a ballpoint pen to a jetliner, is the result of a supply chain, the market for professionals who can manage the movements of raw materials, parts, and finished goods is booming, with companies ranging from Boeing to Amazon.com seeking to hire thousands of supply chain management experts. To prepare students for this burgeoning field, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is launching a master’s degree program in supply chain management this fall.

The program is the first in New England to receive a STEM designation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“We are all part of multiple supply chains,” said Amy Zeng, assistant dean and interim department head of WPI’s Foisie Business School and director of the new program. “Every single product you buy, whether it’s a pack of gum, a winter jacket, a cup, or a toaster, lands in your hands because people have analyzed inventory and shipment quantities, trucking routes, and demand patterns,” she noted.

Supply chain management—also known as the business of logistics—involves the orchestration of a series of events associated with the production and distribution of products. In short, it is about the flow of three things, Zeng said: money, materials, and information. While supply chain managers may work behind the scenes, all businesses—whether mom-and-pop stores, major retail chains, or manufacturers—depend on them for their smooth and efficient operation and their bottom lines.

WPI’s 36-credit degree program, which may be completed on a part-time or full-time basis, includes an intensive analytical curriculum and a required Graduate Qualifying Project (GQP), a consulting project in which students work on real-world problems and come up with solutions and ideas for companies. (WPI also offers two 12-credit, four-course graduate certificates, called Supply Chain Essentials and Supply Chain Analytics, which provide more focused learning opportunities for students who cannot commit to a full degree.)

Zeng says the program covers the art and science of supply chain management and emphasizes five principles: analytics, leadership, technology, global perspective, and social responsibility. The program’s strong technological focus and close connection with industry are its most distinctive feature, Zeng noted.

“Given WPI’s technology strengths, we are able to give our students the data analytics skills they will need to succeed in their careers, as well as critical soft skills, such as negotiation, communication, and teamwork,” she said. “Companies rely on large volumes of data to help them make decisions, for example where to locate warehouses, what and how much to stock in specific facilities, how to get goods made with the right materials, and how to determine the most efficient routes and means for getting goods to buyers. Our students learn the techniques and tools they will need to collect and analyze that data and to make sense of it to help inform decision making.”

WPI is launching its supply chain management program just as demand for professionals in the field is growing, the result of companies worldwide grappling with burgeoning logistics needs. Amazon.com, 3M, Estee Lauder, General Electric, and Boeing are among the many companies that are currently hiring supply chain managers. Recently, analyst firm Gartner Inc. reported that the supply chain management market will surpass $13 billion by the end of 2017, up 11 percent from 2016. The market is on pace to exceed $19 billion by 2021.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based executive outplacement firm, supply chain management is a high-growth area, in part, because the new economy (with people shopping more on-line and less in stores) has shifted the responsibility for how goods are delivered, but also because the growth in the use of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence, has increased the need for people who can manage that information. “Today’s supply chains are becoming more connected and racing to digital transformation,” Zeng said.

“Supply chain ties directly to a company’s bottom line—its profitability,” she added. “There may be thousands of ways to make the same product, but to be competitive and have acceptable prices you have to predict your needs, work with suppliers, factor in logistics, and so on. Our graduates will be prepared to do all that and more.”

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