Most professional supply chain careers require at least a bachelor's degree, and many supply chain executives hold master's degrees or even doctorates. The following are the most common areas of study for material handling, logistics, and supply chain professionals.
Industrial engineers look at the big picture, working with large systems and processes rather than specific products or devices. These engineers specialize in analyzing data to design and improve such things as manufacturing processes and supply chain networks—making them faster, safer, or more efficient.
Industrial engineering is similar to systems engineering, a broader field that encompasses all types of complex systems, not just industrial ones. Studying industrial engineering is similar to studying operations management, but with a greater emphasis on mathematics and quantitative analysis.
A manufacturing engineer figures out the best way to make a product. Like industrial engineers, manufacturing engineers are concerned with developing and improving manufacturing processes, but they tend to work more closely to the manufacturing line—making decisions about specific tools, machines, and materials.
Because companies must produce goods at a competitive cost, most manufacturing engineering students are required to take some business and economics classes in addition to their more technical engineering courses.
Mechanical engineering is often described as the largest and broadest engineering discipline. Mechanical engineers work with tools, machines, and other mechanical devices. Within a manufacturing company, their role may be to design, test, and improve the company's products or to design and maintain the tools and machines used to create those products.
Electrical and electronics engineers are experts in the use of electrical energy. They design, test, and improve electronic systems and devices. They may work for an electronics manufacturer, designing and testing the company's products; they may also work for manufacturers of other types of products, designing and maintaining the electronic controls of the companies' manufacturing tools and machines.
Engineering technicians are hands-on problem solvers. Rather than designing new equipment and systems, they specialize in implementing and improving existing technologies.
Engineering technology students usually devote more time to lab work and less time to theory and math than do traditional engineering students. Engineering technology programs offer associates and bachelor's degrees but no graduate degrees.
Operations managers turn inputs into outputs. While a company's senior managers focus on strategy, operations managers plan and oversee the day-to-day business operations and production processes that turn a company's resources into its products and services.
Like industrial engineering programs, operations management programs teach students to analyze systems and plan flows of materials, but these programs often place more emphasis on procurement, personnel, and policy than on mathematics and quantitative analysis.
As fast and efficient supply chains have become more important to companies' bottom lines, more and more business schools have begun offering specific degrees in supply chain and/or logistics—particularly at the graduate level. While operations managers and industrial engineers often focus on the processes within a facility (such as a manufacturing plant or a distribution center), supply chain professionals optimize the flow of raw materials and finished goods between facilities—from the supplier, to the production facility, to the customer.