Click HERE to view Preparing for a Career in Supply Chain Automation as a multimedia presentation.
When’s the last time you arrived home to find a brown box of goodies sitting on your front porch? If you’re like many Americans, that’s a scene that’s become much more commonplace since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the early months of 2020.
Whether it’s a box of basic supplies or the latest technological gadget, consumers have turned increasingly to online retailers to do their shopping in the wake of restrictions put in place during lockdown. Even as restrictions have eased, many people have come to prefer the convenience of online shopping.
What many people do not understand is the complexity of the supply chain and the logistics involved in getting those products packed and shipped to you in a matter of days. Most people would be amazed if they could track a single item’s trip from manufacturer to distribution warehouse to packaging and ultimately shipping.
Today, much of that process involves advanced automation technology, such as barcode scanners, sortation systems, robots, and autonomous guided vehicles. These high-tech machines have created a growing need for supply chain automation professionals with the specialized skills needed to install, operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair equipment.
These highly-skilled workers are already in short supply, and even more will be needed in the future. That’s why a career in supply chain automation offers a great opportunity to those seeking challenging work that’s also financially rewarding.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at a few of the types of careers available in supply chain automation. We’ll also discuss the importance of industry-standard certifications and how they can help to prepare you for a promising career in the logistics industry.
A Positive Outlook for the Logistics Industry
Some readers may question just how promising careers in the logistics industry will be given the roller coaster ride that was 2020. After all, weren’t supply chains upended by the lockdowns that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
While it’s true that the pandemic caused unprecedented supply chain disruptions, experts believe these disruptions will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As Amar Hanspal notes in a recent Forbes article, “economic uncertainty aside…they encouraged the often stagnant [manufacturing] industry to move faster and become more resilient than ever before.”
Hanspal believes that “as the industry realizes they must diversify their factory operations and embrace Industry 4.0 technology to become more resilient…[d]igital transformation of the factory floor will accelerate. Fortunately, advanced technology – sensors, machine learning, computer vision, robotics, cloud computing, edge computing, and 5G network infrastructure – has proven to increase supply chain resiliency for manufacturers who adopt it.”
And if you’re worried about those advanced technologies replacing jobs, Hanspal dispels those fears. He believes “[w]e’ll see increased investment in the workforce,” because “automation is not just replacing existing work but creating new work…creating better, higher-paying jobs for factory workers.”
What Types of Supply Chain Careers Are There?
One way to categorize the types of supply chain careers is to break them down into four basic areas:
- supply chain planning;
- manufacturing and production;
- sourcing and purchasing; and
- logistics and transportation.
As a recent Logistics Bureau article notes, “[t]he scope of supply chain management and operations is very broad, and no two companies necessarily have the same approach to it. Therefore, there are no real defined supply chain career paths — but this is a good thing, because your career can take you anywhere.”
To narrow our focus for this article, we’ll concentrate on opportunities in manufacturing and production. There are many types of supply chain careers within the production environment, including: supply chain technician, robotics technician, maintenance technician, engineer, quality manager, production planner, and warehouse manager.
We’ll discuss a couple of these in greater depth in the next sections. Rest assured, though, that whatever supply chain career path you choose, you’re likely to find a satisfying, rewarding career. As a Penske Logistics and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Young Professionals in Supply Chain 2017 survey found, 81% of young professionals working in supply chain strongly agree that it was a good career choice.
What Is a Supply Chain Technician?
The National Center for Supply Chain Automation (NCSCA) defines a “Supply Chain Technician” as “a person who installs, operates, supports, upgrades, or maintains the automated material handling equipment and systems that support the supply chain.”
Supply chain technician is an umbrella term that encompasses many different roles reflected by a wide variety of job titles, such as:
- electro-mechanical technician,
- robotics technician,
- conveyor systems technician,
- maintenance technician, and
- electronics engineering technologist.
We’ll take a closer look at two of those specific roles — robotics technician and maintenance technician — in the sections that follow.
Supply chain technicians work closely with a variety of advanced supply chain automation technologies, including: “optical scanners, conveyor systems, Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), sensors, robotics, data base management systems, inventory control systems, and local area networks.”
It’s therefore critical that technicians possess a wide range of specialized skills in areas such as electrical, electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanical, and safety. They must also be highly-skilled problem solvers who can communicate and work well as part of a team.
If you acquire these skills, you can expect to be paid well for your services. According to the NCSCA, supply chain technicians earn a median wage of $24 per hour and advanced technicians with several years of experience can earn as much as $84,500 per year.
In addition to manufacturing, supply chain technicians are in high demand across many different industries, including retail, automotive, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, defense, healthcare, and mining.
According to career information provided by the NCSCA, “there will be as many as 770,000 job openings for Supply Chain Technicians in the U.S. between 2015 and 2025.” If you’re lucky, you might end up working for Amazon, FedEx Ground, UPS, Target, Walmart, or another large company on the front lines of supply chain automation.
Remember those old sci-fi movies that portrayed armies of robots taking over the world? Well, you might not think they’re so far-fetched if you take a peek inside the walls of the most advanced manufacturing facilities around the world.
In many factories and warehouses across the nation, robots have indeed taken over many of the processes previously handled by humans. They’re able to streamline production and complete repetitive actions precisely, quickly, and safely.
Don’t think that they’ve simply replaced humans, though. Instead, they’ve shifted the need for humans to more highly-skilled roles building, programming, installing, maintaining, and repairing the many robots required to automate supply chain processes.
Robotics technicians work alongside engineers to complete all these tasks, as well as to test and troubleshoot related automation systems, such as conveyors, sensors, and programmable logic controllers. The NCSCA estimates these critical technicians earn a median salary of $58,350 annually or $28.05 per hour.
Maintenance technicians are particularly important in the supply chain. As noted by Bryan Christiansen in a recent article on the Supply Chain Minded website, “delays in any part of the supply chain can cause significant problems and incur additional delays among the rest of the supply chain.”
Christiansen observes that “[t]here are two major philosophies that are used in maintenance management: [a] reactive approach where you wait for something to break until you fix it or replace it, and a multitude of proactive approaches that focus on predicting failures and doing preventive maintenance work.”
Proactive maintenance approaches are an absolute necessity throughout the supply chain. Indeed, many advanced automation systems now feature a variety of sensors that monitor real-time functioning of components to alert technicians before something is about to break.
Like other types of supply chain technicians, maintenance technicians play a crucial role in eliminating downtime and unnecessary delays. They must be able not only to maintain, troubleshoot, and repair advanced automated systems, but also to set up and program systems to monitor themselves in order to automate the maintenance process itself.
Training and Certifications Pave the Way
If a career in supply chain automation sounds promising to you, then you’re probably wondering what you need to do to set yourself up for success. While there are many supply chain technician positions to be filled, you’ll need to obtain the right kind of training and certification to secure the job you want.
Just like there are many different career paths within supply chain automation to choose from, there are a variety of ways to prepare for those paths. The basis of all preparation begins with a high school diploma. If you are able to take advantage of various career and technical education (CTE) programs in high school, you’ll likely have a leg up on subsequent training and certification efforts.
Exactly what type of technical degree you wish to pursue will be influenced by what type of supply chain automation career you desire. For example, many community and technical colleges offer two-year associate degree or technical certificate programs in fields such as supply chain automation, industrial maintenance, mechatronics, and automated systems.
For those who are interested in higher-level career options, many colleges and universities offer four-year degree programs in areas like engineering technology, mechatronics, and electronics technology. Of course, if you’re interested in a particular specialty within supply chain automation, such as robotics, you’ll want to focus on training that specifically prepares you for those career options.
In addition to a degree or technical certificate, most aspiring supply chain technicians will also want to pursue an industry-standard certification. For example, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) offers the following industry-standard certifications related to supply chain automation:
In addition, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) offers a wide variety of certifications related to advanced Industry 4.0 skills. Aspiring supply chain automation professionals would definitely benefit from certifications in basic and advanced operations, robot systems, or networking and data analytics.
Certifications are prized by potential employers, because they demonstrate that a person possess a set of specialized skills that industry has agreed are crucial for the job. A certification tells potential employers that a worker is ready to hit the ground running without the need for additional on-the-job training.
With more than three decades of experience designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art training systems, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in skills-based, interactive technical learning for industry and education. Working closely with MSSC, the NCSCA, and other industry experts, Amatrol has developed three interactive multimedia eLearning courses to thoroughly prepare students to earn MSSC’s three available CT-SCA certifications:
- CT-SCA — EM: Equipment Maintenance
- CT-SCA — ER: Equipment Repair
- CT-SCA — NR: Network Repair
Amatrol believes these new CT-SCA certifications will pave the way for the next generation of highly-skilled supply chain automation technicians. In fact, Amatrol was also tasked with designing and developing a new training and assessment system to be used in conjunction with the CT-SCA certifications to teach and assess hands-on, performance-based skills.
The result is a new training and assessment device called Skill Boss Logistics. Skill Boss Logistics is a working automated sortation system that features a wide variety of real industrial components commonly found in facilities that use supply chain automation technologies, such as PLCs, VFDs, electric motors, belt and chain drives, multiple types of conveyors, barcode scanners, electronic sensors, and electro-pneumatic sorters.
To see Skill Boss Logistics in action, click on the link below to watch a short video:
Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.