Ten to 15 years ago, purchasers who wanted to climb the ranks of purchasing at major electronics OEMs were wise to earn engineering degrees or MBAs, or both.
Buyers who had a strong business background as well as an understanding of the technology had a good chance of being hired and climbing the purchasing ladder.
Today, ambitious buyers and other supply chain professionals are still well served by having such technical and business backgrounds. However, more companies are also hiring graduates from schools that have robust supply chain management programs.
Patrick Curry, integrated supply chain skills development director at IBM, recently told me that while Big Blue has a long history of hiring industrial engineers for its integrated supply chain organization, the company is now also recruiting students majoring in supply chain management.
In fact, IBM is working closely with some of those schools by sponsoring supply chain projects and offering internships to promising students. Such schools include North Carolina State, Penn State, Michigan State and the University of Tennessee, among others.
It’s not just global electronics OEMs that are recruiting people with supply chain educational backgrounds, though. So are major electronics distributors, who are also offering internships to supply chain students. Supply chain programs and internships can give students a keen knowledge of the supply chain, according to some distributors.
“There are an increased number of supply chain programs at universities, and supply chain majors have a clear understanding of what distribution is about,” says Chris Kime, vice president, sales development for distributor TTI based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Pauline Crone, director of talent acquisition and staffing, Avnet Human Resources, added that there are “great supply chain programs at colleges across the country” and that “Avnet is tapping into them by posting our internships there.”
Industry analysts say the growth of supply chain programs at colleges and universities is due in large part to the growth of outsourcing in the industry over the last 20 years.
Years ago, many companies such as IBM were highly vertically integrated. IBM built its computer systems in-house, including the monitor, keyboard and disk drive. IBM also fabricated many of the chips that were used in the computers.
Other computer companies and electronics OEMs also built their equipment in-house, but now those companies outsource much of their manufacturing. Many semiconductor suppliers outsource chip production as the number of fabless semiconductor suppliers has grown over the past 10 years. Such companies rely on foundries to fabricate their products. In fact, even some integrated device manufacturers—chip suppliers that make their own semiconductors—are beginning to outsource production.
While outsourcing is a way to reduce cost, it increases risk as well as the need to manage suppliers handling the work that used to be done in-house. As a result, many companies have beefed up their supply chain expertise.
Since vertical integration in the electronics industry is not likely to make a large-scale comeback anytime soon, the need for supply chain savvy will increase. That’s good news for supply chain students hoping for long, successful careers in the industry.