What’s in a Degree?

January 18, 2016


More and more companies are listing a university degree as a requirement for Supply Chain roles – but does that leave out some of the best talent in the field?

Anyone following the Supply Chain discipline knows that the field is undergoing a kind of renaissance, as well as a transformation. The field is becoming more strategic and higher-profile, with more oversight over various aspects of business. As we’ve covered many times on the Argentus blog, gone are the days when the discipline was seen as the purview of blue collar workers. Consideration of Supply Chain issues – sourcing strategies, supplier relationships, the complexity of manufacturing, and others – is now a white-collar concern, moving right into the boardroom alongside more traditional business leadership functions such as Finance and Marketing.

As Supply Chain’s responsibility and importance to business strategy rises, so too do the expectations that companies place on professionals in the field when they’re looking to hire. Organizations want Supply Chain professionals to not only have hard analytical skills (the ability to draw Supply Chain insights from complex data, and to use complex software), but also “soft skills” such as written and verbal communication, presentation ability, and relationship-building skills. Today’s Supply Chain professionals are expected to be curious about the world – to understand major issues from Dalian to Delaware from a Supply Chain perspective. Depending on the role, (for example in Electronics Manufacturing or IT Sourcing) Procurement professionals in particular are expected to have an intimate technical knowledge of the products they’re sourcing, not just how to source them. And as expectations of Supply Chain professionals rise, we’ve observed one trend we’d like to comment on today: companies (especially in the Fortune 500) requiring that new hires possess university or college degrees.

We get it. Companies, especially multinational companies, want to ensure that their employees are well-educated, and requiring a university degree is one way to ensure that candidates are able to compete in the global economy – even if the company requires just a degree, and not necessarily one in Supply Chain.

The trend towards requiring degrees for any position isn’t limited to Supply Chain: analysts have remarked for a while about how an undergraduate degree is the new high school diploma. A certain amount of inflation has taken place across the marketplace, and now top companies are treating a degree as a baseline requirement for Supply Chain professionals in a way that they weren’t a decade ago. It’s common for companies hiring for permanent roles to require a university degree, and a college diploma for contingent (contract) roles. In a hiring market that favours companies looking to hire, for example when there is still high unemployment and overall slack in the labour market, it’s natural for companies to be choosy and specific about such requirements. And even if a degree doesn’t confer skills that are exactly applicable to a Supply Chain role, it still signals, in employers’ minds, a candidate’s ability to focus and work hard towards a goal. But with the resurgence of the economy, and the looming potential shortage of Supply Chain talent, is it possible that the hard-and-fast degree requirement is causing companies to lose out on some of the top talent in the field?

There’s always been the idea that experience can be just as valuable as education, and this is definitely also true in Supply Chain. While more schools are offering dedicated Supply Chain management programs, both in undergraduate and as M.B.A’s, many executives we talk to agree that on-the-job training (combined with strong business acumen) is the most reliable way to develop junior talent.

At Argentus, where we specialize in recruitment for Supply Chain (as well as Procurement, Logistics, Operations, and Planning), our talent network includes people with a variety of educational backgrounds, including star performers with university degrees and graduate degrees. But our network also contains some great Supply Chain professionals who have risen through the ranks – into strategic, white-collar leadership roles, not just on the warehouse floor – without a university degree. Our network has individuals at the Senior Manager, Director, and VP level without degrees, impacting strategic business decisions at a high level. Some of these individuals have found their lack of a degree, despite their considerable accomplishments, to be stifling even at the leadership level, and some have gone back to University part time to finish their B.A.’s. Despite the increasing roadblock of strict degree requirements, many high performers in our network have achieved leadership roles without an undergraduate degree. But it’s changing.

It’s a complex issue with a variety of perspectives. We’re happy to represent Supply Chain professionals from all academic backgrounds – provided they have the skills. Just as we’re happy to source talent who possess whatever requirements are clients are looking for, including university degrees. But from our perspective, hard-and-fast degree requirements might be causing companies to lose out on some great candidates who have cut their teeth in the Supply Chain, and not in the classroom.

But what do you think? From a hiring perspective, or a candidate perspective: do “general” degree requirements serve a concrete purpose in terms of the sourcing of talent? Or does the right work experience, particularly in Supply Chain, serve just as well? Let us know in the comments! favicon

Thanks to Argentus recruiter Adele Casciaro for her input on this article! 

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  1. Kevin Allen

    Hi Adele
    I’ve always believed that experience and background outweighed a school degree. While schooling is certainly important it should not be a determining factor when applying for a job.

    • Brian Carstairs

      Totally agree with Kevin, a degree is important, but the hands on in the fire experience is significant in the fast paced world of Logistics and Transportation, much of what we do, can’t be taught in a book or referenced easily.

  2. Steve Forth

    Great article Adela, and yes I would agree. The skills that are hardest to teach are aptitude and attitude, regardless of the discipline, it is these two things that matter most. Education absolutely matters, but what kind of education? A degree demonstrates commitment and intelligence, which is a key building block for a solid employee. However, it’s not an sure thing in determining a best fit, or to be a strong contributor to the team and your organizations efforts. A different kind of education is the one that some of us have encountered when given the opportunity to work for a great company and a strong leadership that has offered mentorship and guidance. This is probably true of many areas of corporate life, but Strategic Sourcing is unique, as the article and comments have stated, because it is not a text book kind of training, except for the basics. There’s a lot of moving parts and a degree will cover those, but you still have to get your hands dirty and even then it will take a few years to master, degree or not. There have been a few articles lately on the potential for C-suite corporate leadership to come from within the ranks of Strategic Sourcing and Supply Chain because these roles are most often part of the core tenant of the organization. From this vantage point one can easily see the upstream and downstream impacts and be a strong participant in driving corporate success.

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