Schooling up on supply

25 Sep 2003

As any discipline matures it moves from something you learn on the job to something that can be learnt in a classroom with a qualification at the end. Once that happens, no matter how experienced you are, employers will look for that piece of paper when deciding who to hire or promote. Supply chain management (SCM) is now in this situation.

Fortunately for those seeking a formal qualification, there are several options. One of the field’s most popular qualifications worldwide is the CPIM (certified in production and inventory management) from the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS), a US-based organisation. “CPIM courses and exams are run in about 30 countries worldwide,” says Peter Black, director general of the Cork-based Irish Production and Inventory Control Society (IPICS). “We run the courses and administer certification in both Ireland and the UK. The exams are set and marked in the US so we have no input.”

Black acknowledges that businesses around the world have to take local conditions into account but he points out that there is a technical basis for SCM that is generic and it is this that is covered by the courses. Black points out that while IPICS is affiliated with APICS, it is an independent organisation and is also a member of the Federation of European Production and Industrial Management Societies (FEPIMS), which promotes the diploma in European industrial management (DEIM).

“This is for people who want to broaden their knowledge after earning a CPIM,” he says. “US companies are supportive of the CPIM as it puts their people here on a par with employees back in headquarters. DEIM, however, is more attractive for people working in European companies as it takes account of the European industrial environment and has a broader scope incorporating areas such as marketing and finance.”

IPICS runs its courses in-house in Ireland and the UK, through public courses in colleges throughout Ireland and as part of distance learning. There are exam centres in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and London.

For those who prefer qualifications backed by academic rather than professional bodies there is the National Institute for Transport and Logistics (NITL) that is part of the Dublin Institute of Technology. “Our origins go back to 1995 and the Forfás report World Class to Serve the World, explains Edward Sweeny, director of learning at NITL.

“One of the key observations in that report was that companies in Ireland have to be particularly good at transport and logistics and supply chain management not least from a geographic point of view. The recommendations that followed on from the report included a centre of excellence in that area and that’s how we were born,” he says.

The institute’s remit is fourfold: research to ensure Ireland is at the top in terms of best practice; consultancy and advisory; creation of awareness of SCM; and learning. The institute offers a whole range of programmes, but three are designated ‘flagship’ and are aimed at people already working in the field.

The first of these is a Foundation Certificate Programme (FCP). “This is very much aimed at people with existing significant practical experience of one or more aspects of the supply chain but no formal qualification,” says Sweeny. “This would include existing or emerging supervisors or emerging junior managers.”

The course consists of an introduction module followed by five subject modules. This is rounded up with a module on IT. All of these last 20 hours and are typically run over a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but with six to eight weeks between modules. The students also carry out a major company project to apply what they have learnt. The second is the Executive Development Programme, which can lead to a certificate or diploma. Like the FCP, it is aimed at people with considerable practical experience, but who are existing junior or middle managers.

According to Sweeny, it includes specific supply chain modules and modules dealing with strategy, finance, project management and people management. As in the case of the FCP the course is modular. There is one mandatory introduction module and then students select 11 more from a menu of 20. Again, there is an in-company project.

“The third is our real flagship,” says Sweeny. The Graduate Development Programme is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and, he says, is aimed at real high flyers. “Again a post-experience course, it is a programme with rigorous and high academic standards, but practically oriented,” he adds. Modules on this course last 40 hours — over two weekends — and participants have three years to attend nine modules selected from a menu of 23. Students must also carry out a major in-company research project that leads to the writing of a dissertation.

NITL programmes are available in Dublin and are being rolled out at various locations around the country. The ultimate goal is to have all three programmes available in four locations other than Dublin: Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast.

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By David Stewart

Pictured at a recent NITL conference on supply chain management (from left) Edward Sweeny, Randal Faulkner and Philip McCormack of NITL