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What Is a Supply Chain Specialist?

Supply chain specialists are an integral part of the supply chain. But what does the role involve and why is it necessary?

Supply Chain Specialist: Backbone of The Supply Chain

On a flat timeline of a successful business, at the beginning is an idea and at the end is a final product in the hands of a satisfied customer. But it’s neither the big idea nor the product that makes or breaks the business - it’s what happens in the middle of those two phases. The business exists in the middle.

Supply chain specialists are masters of the middle.

The overarching role of a supply chain specialist is to oversee and ensure proper flow of the supply chain; the process from ordering materials all the way until product deliverance. This looks like: coordinating the receiving of materials, ordering and tracking inventory, sending shipments, facilitating billing and customer service, and a couple thousand little nuances in between. Building supply chain strength is no easy feat so the operative must be analytical, yet people-minded. A proprietor of specific skills, yet a generalist. A time management all-star, with a touch of creativity.

An influx of data and technology continually evolves the demands of the role. Job descriptions of a supply chain specialist may look a little like a combination between a supply chain analyst and a supply chain strategist. They take the ability to gather and analyze data while negotiating vendor prices and mix it with the ability to implement strategy and oversee subordinates to ensure a proper ROI.

If you are looking for this person, or you are this person, then keep reading because this article was designed as a resource for both the employer and employee.

What Does a Supply Chain Specialist Do?

An efficient, intelligent and dynamic supply chain specialist is a crucial role for small to medium sized businesses. Of course, having the right people is mandatory for any operation - but especially for the non-titans of the industry. In order to achieve higher value, a small or medium business has to capitalize on every part in the supply chain. There’s not nearly as much wiggle room that a major player enjoys. Therefore, the person overseeing their supply chain is a crucial role for these organizations. When the right person is in the right role, a business can build supply chain flexibility - allowing the organization to pivot as necessary and open up the opportunity for advanced manufacturing as well.

But what does the supply chain specialist actually do? 

The supply chain specialist job description predominantly involves procuring materials, maintaining inventory, responding to demand, and processing orders. 

Procure Materials

In order to manufacture and then ship the product, materials are necessary. The specialist procures these materials by identifying and ordering the correct quantity, negotiating the terms of pricing and shipping, as well as ensuring delivery of the materials which will then be manufactured to fill the consumers’ need.

Maintain Inventory

Once the materials are on hand, it is the supply chain specialists’ job to properly maintain that inventory. This means coordinating the scheduling and receiving raw materials with the manufacturing schedule. The supply chain specialist is often responsible for physically receiving and organizing shipments of inventory.

Demand Response

This is a delicate one. Assessing the current orders must be balanced with forecasting future demand in order to ensure the right amount of supplies are available at all times. If there’s a significant change in supply chain and demand it is the supply chain specialist’s duty to respond to these changes in demand as well as solve the peripheral problems that arise from that demand change. Communicating consistently with customers is a regular part of the job. This ensures no surprise orders or unforeseen changes.

Order Processing 

Inputting and processing all orders is of particular importance for the supply chain specialist. All documentation from both supplier and customers must be completed and submitted, in addition to overseeing the billing process and any other paperwork that comes with this task.

Supply Chain Specialist Skills

You hear the phrase, “must be able to wear a lot of different hats'' often. Particularly when an employer is referencing dynamic ability. Well, the supply chain specialist doesn’t wear a lot of hats as much as they have to wear the entire closet from time to time. Multitasking on important duties is a part of the job, but so is the ability to analyze, strategize, and communicate with people while filling in all the gaps in between. Robust knowledge of processes is combined with an eye for analytics. Above-average knowledge of IT systems is combined with the ability to negotiate. Leading a team of employees and machines is combined with a problem-solvers mentality. The supply chain specialist has to seamlessly transition from very different roles, without skipping a beat. 

Aside from leading the way in multiple important roles, the specialist possesses a certain set of hard and soft skills. These skills include:

Hard Skills

  • Experience with SAP software
  • On-the-floor experience in the supply chain
  • Computer proficiency, particularly with spreadsheet programs
  • Analytical/Mathematical Skills
  • Technologically savvy
  • Project management
  • Understanding of contract management or ability to learn

Soft Skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time management
  • Leadership skills
  • Vision and desire to learn
  • Ability to mentor

What Education Does a Supply Chain Specialist Need?

We’re not talking about doctors or lawyers here - so technically speaking there is no mandatory prerequisite degree to fulfill the role of supply chain specialist. But having a bachelor’s degree is the baseline education required by most organizations. This degree looks a lot better if it was earned in the fields of: business management, business administration, supply chain management, or marketing. Additionally, the leading supply chain specialists typically have professional certifications or internship/work experience in the supply chain field before becoming a specialist. The Supply Chain Management Association created a certification that makes a prospective employee that much more alluring. It’s called the Supply Chain Management Professional certification and can be earned via the combination of three years business experience and passing an exam.

How Do You Become a Supply Chain Specialist?

There’s not any one specific route to becoming a supply chain specialist, which depending on your outlook can be a good or a bad thing. Admittedly, there’s not a pre-paved path of checkpoints that you must reach in order to become a supply chain specialist. So if you’re the kind of individual who needs a road map for any decision, that may work against you. But the good news is that anyone who fits the bill can become a supply chain specialist as long as that person puts in the effort and demonstrates the proper skills and tools necessary. If you can do the job, it will be apparent.

Here’s a brief outline of the common route to become a supply chain specialist:

First, go to college. As we mentioned earlier, this isn’t mandatory but the odds of you becoming a supply chain specialist without a college degree is slim to none. Recommended college degrees are in the fields of business, economics, marketing, etc. Once you’ve graduated and achieved your degree, it’s time to go to work. An internship or entry level job with a supply chain or logistics company is a great start and will give you the introductory knowledge needed to progress through the ranks of supply chain positions. Supply chain software is only going to become more common - so do some research and arm yourself with as much knowledge (and even certifications) as possible in this field. Once you’ve reached three years of business experience, you are eligible to become a certified Supply Chain Management Professional. After that - start applying for full-time roles. Although the field is overall seeing a small decline in available positions, there are still plenty of jobs in the field for a tech-savvy, qualified supply chain specialist.

Roles before becoming a supply chain specialist include titles like buyer, senior buyer, customer service representative or purchasing manager. Roles after holding the supply chain specialist position include titles like buyer, purchasing manager, supply chain manager, or supply chain analyst.

This supply chain specialist role is ideal for individuals who want to handle projects and see them all the way through. A person who excels at starting a project from scratch, managing the project daily, and seeing it through to completion is the right person for this job. The individual is a routine-based, protocol-happy person, yet the need to be comfortable with risk is there too. This industry relies on process and procedure, with a dash of reasonable risk-taking. So if you’re scared to go out on a limb every now and again, this may not be for you. The supply chain specialist is directly responsible for delivering value out of the company’s investments in the supply chain, so if you can see yourself taking ownership for both profits and losses - then you’re in the right place.

Supply Chain Management Salaries

The average salary for a supply chain specialist varies greatly by location and industry. Overall, the average salary is $65,836/year. In the United States - the top 10 percent of the positions bring in over $103,000/year while the bottom 10 percent bring in less than $47,000/year. 

A good example of the variation of pay can be seen by looking at two very different industries that both employ supply chain specialists. WayFair, the furniture and home goods e-commerce company, pays their supply chain specialists about $55,000/year. Penske, the truck leasing company, pays their supply chain specialists an average of about $135,000/ year. See what we mean when we say that they pay varies by industry? 

The top earning cities for a supply chain specialist are:

San Bruno, California - $73K - $135K

Hoboken, New Jersey - $66K - $115K

Atlanta, Georgia - $65K - $109K

Norwood, Massachusetts - $61K - $107K

San Antonio, Texas - $59 - $101K

Overall, the top 3 states for supply chain specialist salaries are Washington D.C., New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. 

How to Hire or Find a Supply Chain Specialist

It’s not a simple job by any means; a job posting that simply calls for a ‘supply chain specialist’ may return less than desirable results. You have to be specific, because what the supply chain specialist will do for your company is tailored. Publishing a highly specific job posting combined with a thorough interview process will go a long way to ensure you find the right candidate. 

Browse through Indeed’s best practices for hiring new talent. We think that the following pieces of advice will specifically play in your favor when looking to hire the right person for your supply chain.

Treat the candidate like a customer

When meeting with the person who is potentially your next all-star employee, it’s just as important for you to seem excited about the opportunity as it is for the person on the other end of the line to bring the energy as well. Their first impression of your company is critical. Remember: excellent, qualified supply chain specialists aren’t a dime per dozen. So if you’ve set up an interview with a candidate - be ready to wow them. Be hospitable, make yourself available and be respectful of their time. But most importantly - ask the right questions. Which leads us to our next tip.

Be prepared

This isn’t like the interview for entry-level warehouse roles - this one carries much more specifics with it. The supply chain specialist you’re interviewing has a particular set of skills, but are they the right skills for your business? Every business operates in their own particular manner. So when you’re interviewing, do a deep-dive into the position you’re trying to fill and make sure the conversation you have with the individual is conducive to finding out if the way they work falls in line with what you need. Have a list of specific questions, and provide specific examples that relate to your supply chain so you can get an accurate feel for the person you’re interviewing and their capabilities.

Implement an employee referral program

This piggy-backs off the last tip because your employees already know the ins and outs of your business, so if they think they know someone who will do a good job - trust them. And if the person is hired, reward them. Your employees are your biggest assets. You want to ensure they feel heard and trusted, so when there’s an open position with your company it is a wise choice to implement an employee referral program.

Search for existing talent

Check out competitors and other supply chain-heavy businesses for individuals already working as supply chain specialists, and cold message any whose resume fits what you’re looking for. You never know when someone is looking for a change of pace or scenery. By narrowing your search down this way, you guarantee that whoever you reach out to is already focused on the same procedures that you are.

Lean on the industry

Manufacturing or supply-chain industries have plenty of events and communities designed specifically for those types of employees you’re looking for. Use these as a resource. Groups like ASCM or a WERC local event are excellent opportunities to hone in on the talent you’re looking for.

When You Should Hire Interim Supply Chain Staff

Deciding between hiring a contract employee, or diving into a full-time employee can be a risky and weighty choice. There’s pros and cons, and many of them are likely dependent on your specific company, so it’s difficult to tell you how to handle it. But if you are pressed for a person to fill the role ASAP and don’t feel completely sold on anyone you’re interviewing - that could be a good time to offer an interim role with the possibility of full-time dependent upon success. Hiring plug-and-place interim supply chain staff isn’t rare, and it’s not a bad choice either. But you’ve got to make sure it’s the right one.

Promoting a Supply Chain Specialist from Within

Oftentimes, it is easier, cheaper, and beneficial in the long run to hire from within. Even if the particular team member doesn’t have every single one of the qualifications for the job. The time and money spent creating and posting jobs, interviewing, training and onboarding a new candidate could possibly be better spent by promoting and training from within. Now, there are skills that can be taught and skills that can’t. If the current team member doesn’t know how to operate a particular software set, that can be taught. If the current team member doesn’t have high-level organizational skills, you may be better off looking elsewhere. 

Do You Need a Supply Chain Specialist?

Only you and your company’s decision makers can know for sure if you need a supply chain specialist or not. But we’re willing to bet you do. Benefits of implementing a specialist includes increased profit, increased efficiency, optimizing value in dark areas, and potentially the ability to scale. A supply chain professional is trained and skilled in taking a good process and making it great. What is working for you now, could be working for you even better if aided by a trained eye. You may not know that your delivery schedule and procedure is costing you thousands of dollars every month, but the supply chain specialist does. That example holds true across multiple fronts.

How Propel Can Help

Everyday routines in your supply chain are just waiting to be optimized. That’s where the specialist shines; especially in a situation where software is a priority or a glaring need. Propel knows firsthand how much better a business becomes when the right person fills the right role, aided by intuitive technology that is operated by a skilled worker. Our software for operation teams is the service that fills in the missing puzzle pieces in your processes and supply chain. It provides supply chain solutions you may not find anywhere else by combining reports and dashboards for analyzing every step of your process. Sometimes, it takes an outside perspective to help you shift your own operations.

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Anna Troiano
Editor in Chief, Converged

Anna has spent her content marketing career honing in on the critical keys for successful consumer & industry-driven marketing. Before joining Propel, she developed and executed content strategy for TodayTix, Stella & Dot, Atlantic Theater Company, and Theatre Communications Group.

Fun Fact: Anna's birthday is Valentine's Day.

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Anna Troiano