Upon joining our current company, chemical manufacturer and distributor Actylis, we embarked on a remarkable journey into the world of supply chain. Neither of us had prior experience in the field; nor had we considered supply chain as a career. But like countless others, COVID sparked our interest in the field, so we took the leap. At first, we weren’t certain we would enjoy the job and be able to succeed. We didn’t know if there would be solid opportunities for growth. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t long before we both wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. However, the experiences we’ve had thus far have exceeded our expectations. So, in this article we reflect on our first year in the hopes that it’s valuable to others who are considering joining the profession or are similarly new to the field.
First, supply chain is broader than we ever imagined. Beyond the specific terminology, we were surprised by the breadth of the profession and the impacts external economic, political and natural factors have on the way we conduct business. Prior to joining Actylis, we had not fully grasped the extent to which the term "supply chain" encompasses manufacturing, sourcing, transportation, warehousing, distribution, customer service and so much more. The realization of how many different parties play roles and bear responsibilities in these processes was also a revelation.
Supply chain is challenging work that’s about far more than simply moving products from point A to point B. From quoting and finding carriers to calculating lead times — from warehouse management to verifying documents and meeting specific customer requirements — the challenges within the transport side of supply chain are abundant. Then, on the manufacturing side, there are delays and production stoppages, raw material shortages, and workforce issues. We have learned firsthand that the master planner is entrusted to identify their root causes and design solutions that will help ensure a continuous and efficient production schedule that’s aligned with forecasted demand data.
Meanwhile, there’s an expectation of reducing costs, in addition to performing your job well. Having a great procurement team around you makes this easier. But it gets difficult when the time comes to negotiate new prices with existing suppliers or submit RFQs to find a new, more economical supplier that can seamlessly transfer into your production process. Supply chain work is a constant exercise in problem-solving and perfecting processes. It requires precise handling of customer requirements and adherence to regulatory agencies' demands. It’s not easy work, but it’s definitely rewarding.
Our journeys began with a clear understanding that there’s a steep learning curve, so we would need to deeply immerse ourselves in the "language of supply chain." We were inundated with unfamiliar terms, phrases and concepts; far more than we expected. We dedicated ourselves to understanding International Commercial Terms, identifying the specific ones we handle, understanding their significance and figuring out the necessary actions to accommodate each order. (Who knew a simple little code could tell us who’s responsible for what in a trade deal?) Additionally, we familiarized ourselves with various regulatory agencies and the rules that each one applies within the supply chain. Moreover, we grappled with the concept of clear communication with our regulatory and accounting teams, as each product discussion requires different information.
As a result, continued learning and professional growth are foundational. Our development is a top priority of our leadership. It feels like we’re asked daily whether our “heads are hurting” from the knowledge we’re acquiring. Our offer letters included incentives for DOT HAZMAT compliance training and earning the ASCM Certified in Logistics, Transportation and Distribution designation. The acquisition of these certifications has been rewarding, and our company's support has instilled in us a great sense of independence and increased our job satisfaction, even with the added stress of studying. As we internalize this, our own hunger for knowledge continues to grow. With every new term and concept, our understanding of the interconnectedness and complexity of supply chain deepens. No individual topic is too daunting; there’s just a lot to know.
We have been incredibly fortunate to gain lots of hands-on experience, which really brings supply chain to life. We've actively participated in many site visits to warehouses and production facilities. We’ve taken part in physical inventory counts and interacted with seasoned warehouse and production professionals, allowing us to bridge the gap between theory and real-world application. We’ve witnessed the meticulous storage and stacking of inventory, its seamless movement, and the intricacies of record-keeping. Seeing how a product is manufactured on the frontline and picking the brains of supply chain experts have been memorable and illuminating highlights.
Still, supply chain isn’t for everyone. It requires talented people who can manage daily chaos and give their work unwavering attention. The field values driven, detail-oriented individuals with a passion for continuous learning and growth. Moreover, supply chain organizations are desperate for talent that can be leveled up through cross-training, certifications and graduate degrees. Being flexible to changing stimuli, whether it’s a raw material shortage or a rerouted shipment, is essential. In short, success is determined by one's commitment and willingness to embrace new challenges and concepts every single day.
Our journey into supply chain has been marked by surprises, learning opportunities and continuous personal growth. After overcoming the initial learning curve, we have developed a deep appreciation for the complexities and interconnectedness of supply chain operations. We find fulfillment in the challenges it presents and remain committed to expanding our knowledge, embracing new challenges and contributing to the success of our company. It’s not a typical “destination career,” but supply chain is most definitely our career destination.