The topic of supply chain has been in the news thanks to disruptions in the flow of goods caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
But when people hear about supply chains, what do they envision? Rob Hooker thinks he knows.
“They have these images of cardboard boxes and trucks and steel shelving,” Hooker said. “In reality, we’re talking about a very high-tech, strategic process. We’re talking about the life of a product from sourcing through the retail component. It’s the backbone of our economy.”
Supply chain is a fast-growing field with strong income potential. It’s also an area where USF has invested in undergraduate and graduate programs that prepare graduates and upskill working professionals for careers demanding advanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Hooker is an associate professor in USF’s Muma College of Business. He teaches in the supply chain management program, which was launched two years ago, and serves as the program’s director of student success.
Every graduate of the USF supply chain management bachelor’s degree program has landed a job with a starting salary of $65,000 to $85,000. Many now work for household names such as Amazon, IBM, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and Walmart, as well as such top Tampa Bay-area firms as Jabil and Datek.
Kaylee Botts graduated from USF’s supply chain management program and is a senior operation manager for Amazon Air in Lakeland. Her job requires leadership and operational knowledge – skills she acquired as an undergraduate.
“The classes balanced building my understanding of the industry and how to operate in it, coupled with intentional real-world scenarios and opportunities to lead my peers,” Botts said. “Having a foundation of technical and soft skills allowed me to hit the ground running.”
Supply chain’s most visible role might be the logistics of delivering goods to the consumer, but it encompasses management of finance, products and services and information flows. It uses technologies such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to enable companies like Amazon to suggest new purchases based on your shopping history.
As a result, it requires a talented workforce with the foresight to “predict what people will need before they need it and to think about how to solve problems that haven’t even been invented yet,” Hooker said.
Supply chain management programs were few and far between only a decade ago. Their emergence represents a response to the demand for graduates with specific skill sets needed in a fast-paced industry that’s been heavily impacted by recent events.
“The pandemic stacked layers of challenges, and it’s been frustrating at times,” Hooker said, adding that “without a doubt” news coverage of global supply chain issues has helped attract the kind of students who crave constant challenges.
Florida’s most comprehensive program
USF’s program was co-created in consultation with key industry partners such as Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb and C.H. Robinson, among others. Company executives helped identify the skills graduates needed and develop a vision for the program to grow and expand.
“We brought them on campus into the dean's boardroom, discussed needed skills and goals, and essentially white-boarded the curriculum over a series of discussions,” Hooker said. “Industry partnerships are a huge differentiator for us.”
From there, Hooker and Muma College of Business colleagues Donna Davis and James Stock worked with leaders in the college to launch Florida’s only global, end-to-end program focusing on every stage of supply chain:
- Procurement – the sourcing of materials needed to make a product
- Logistics – the movement of goods
- Reverse logistics – managing surplus goods through recycling, remanufacturing and reengineering to improve sustainability; this is an area where Stock, a distinguished university professor in the School of Marketing and Innovation, is a global expert.
Classes and experiential opportunities reflect supply chain’s agile, dynamic, tech-focused environment. Students use industry software during their first weeks on campus and receive Lean Six Sigma green belt certification designed to eliminate waste and improve performance. Paid internships are required.
Student Mitch Tosi is president of USF’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, a student organization that provides social and extracurricular learning and leadership opportunities.
Tosi said USF’s collaborative learning environment “encourages students to exchange ideas, apply our internship experiences, and strengthen our understanding of the current industry landscape. We’re provided with countless internship opportunities, exclusive networking events and industry connections that will pay dividends after graduation.”
Supply chain management faculty have strong relationships with industry partners who regularly visit classrooms in-person or virtually. The executives join discussions and sometimes bring along customers from across the U.S., Canada and Europe. These networks help drive placement for internships and full-time jobs.
Bart De Muynck is chief industry officer at project44, a global leader in logistics technology, and formerly vice president of research with Gartner. De Muynck is one of supply chain’s top analysts, and he spent time with USF students at the recent Florida Supply Chain Summit, sharing insight into where the field is headed.
“I was impressed by their maturity, passion and knowledge,” De Muynck said. “As one of the fastest-growing programs in the country, USF is an ideal place for students who are interested in supply chain areas such as visibility technology, data science, sustainability and supply chain engineering, along with foundational roles in manufacturing, distribution, transportation, import/export and freight forwarding. Students get a global end-to-end supply chain education and can expect placement in roles in a wide variety of industries.”
Ideally positioned to make an impact
Florida has 15 deep water ports, a land port, excellent airports and rail systems. It’s within a two-day drive of population centers along the U.S. Eastern seaboard and acts as a gateway to Latin American markets. Those factors position USF and the Tampa Bay region as a hub for supply chain research and executive training.
The USF Monica Wooden Center for Supply Chain Management & Sustainability is home to USF’s Supply Chain Innovation Lab, created through a partnership with Tampa-based Jabil.
Much of the lab’s work revolves around collaborations that address real challenges facing businesses and government partners. These include supply chain risk and resiliency, addressing empty backhaul and logistics activity center locations, and supply chain optimization for new biofuel products being used by airlines and reverse logistics.
USF also offers a master’s degree in supply chain management designed for working professionals with three or more years of experience. The graduate program requires only one week in the classroom each semester followed by fully online course delivery.
“The master’s degree in supply chain management is a great opportunity for those who want to enhance their credentials and advance their careers in a program that provides flexibility for working professionals,” said program director Alison Watkins, a professor in the Muma College of Business School of Marketing and Innovation.