In today’s globalized economy, supply chains are increasingly complex, and more critical than ever before for the success of businesses across industries. This has driven a rising demand for supply chain professionals who can ensure that goods are produced, stored, and transported in a way that’s efficient and sustainable. In this article, we’ll highlight the supply chain roles that are most in-demand today, the skills and roles that will be needed in the future, and the overall employment outlook supply chain workers can look forward to as they start and grow a career in this dynamic field.
Overview of the supply chain industry
Just about every business that makes, sells, uses, or distributes physical products relies on the supply chain. This includes delivering raw materials to manufacturing companies, the transportation and warehousing of finished goods, and the delivery of products to retail stores and customers.
That variety of functions and roles included under the broader umbrella of the supply chain is what makes this such an exciting field to work in. It’s also why professionals with experience in supply chain management are consistently in high demand.
Types of supply chain careers
There are supply chain roles in almost every industry, from the expected sectors like manufacturing and retail to less obvious areas like healthcare and government. Across these industries, though, supply chain management involves five core functions: purchasing, operations, logistics, resource management, and data and information management. Executive-level positions, like Chief Supply Chain Officer or Supply Chain Director, may be in charge of all of these functions, but roles that are entry-level or mid-level often have a tighter focus on one or two of these aspects.
A career in procurement often starts with an entry-level role as a Buyer or Purchasing Agent, advancing into roles like Category Manager or Commodities Manager. These roles are available, though they haven’t seen the impressive growth of other areas in the supply chain.
Entry-level operations roles include Warehouse Fulfillment Clerks, as well as those on the front line in manufacturing facilities, and positions like Packaging Engineer or Industrial Engineer. These professionals can advance into a position as a Plant Manager or Warehouse Manager, and you may see senior-level roles focused on the operations side of the supply chain, too, like VP of Manufacturing Operations.
Logistics is the area where the most growth and career opportunities are currently available. These roles oversee the movement of products and supplies from the companies that produce them to the organizations or people who use them. Entry-level roles in this area often overlap with operations, and include warehouse clerks and drivers. Moving up the ladder, professionals can shift into a role as a Logistics Coordinator, Transportation Manager, or VP of Distribution, Transportation, or Logistics.
Similarly, resource management careers often overlap with procurement, operations, and logistics, especially at the entry level. Advancement is usually into roles involved with strategic sourcing, inventory planning, or supply and demand planning. This is the area of the supply chain where analytical skills are most valuable, making this a great career path for those with strong skills in gathering and analyzing data to produce actionable business strategy.
The last supply chain function, information management, is also an excellent career path for data-oriented professionals. Like logistics, this is an area where demand is growing as supply chain organizations implement big data techniques and other technology in order to streamline and improve their supply chain process and planning. This area also includes roles like Continuous Improvement Specialist and Quality Assurance Specialist, who utilize data to monitor the overall performance of the supply chain and identify areas for improvement.
Employment outlook for supply chain professionals
The supply chain industry has seen consistent year-over-year growth, and that trend is likely to continue through the next decade. According to data from Grandview Research, the global supply chain industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.1% through 2030. Employment in logistics and supply chain will likely grow along with the industry’s value. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 195,000 jobs for logisticians in 2021, a number expected to grow by 28% through 2031, a significantly higher rate of growth than the 5% predicted for the job market as a whole.
What makes the job outlook even brighter for those interested in supply chain occupations is that the number of experienced professionals hasn’t kept pace with the positions that need to be filled. Recent studies indicate there are roughly two open frontline supply chain jobs for every available worker, according to Agile Business Media COO Gary Master in an interview with DC Velocity.
This translates to ample career opportunities and high job security. In the ASCM’s 2022 Salary Survey, only 9 respondents (less than 1%) reported a layoff, and three of them had already found a new job by the time of the survey. In addition, people working in the supply chain were less likely to take part in the Great Resignation than those in other industries, indicating that the job growth is a true indication of job creation rather than positions open due to layoffs or job changes.
Typical compensation of supply chain roles
The lack of available people with skills and experience managing supply chains has led to employers increasing salaries to attract the top talent to their organization. The ASCM Salary Survey reports an average 9% increase in base salary and a 12% increase in overall compensation for logisticians and supply chain managers in 2022. The median total compensation across the industry was $96,000 per year, including their salary and additional compensation in the form of cash bonuses, profit sharing, and incentive and overtime pay.
As is the case in most industries, the payscale for supply chain workers rises as they advance along their career path. At the entry-level, those with less than two years of experience earned a median wage of $60,000-$67,000 per year. On the other end of the spectrum, professionals with 20 or more years of experience earned an average annual salary of $125,191, an increase of more than $10,000 over their median wage in 2020.
In terms of the highest-paid job titles, those in leadership and management both made the most money and saw the most significant change in their earnings year over year. The top-earning job titles are Supply Chain Director and Director of Operations, who saw a median annual salary rate of $155,000 and $141,000 respectively. Management roles like Supply Chain Manager, Operations Manager, Logistics Manager, and Inventory Manager are the next-highest earners, with median salary rates in the $93,000-$105,000 range.
The education and certifications that a professional has also affect both their career outlook and what they can expect to earn in their position. Higher degrees translate to higher pay. Roughly a third of supply chain professionals have an MBA or other Master’s degree, and earn a median salary of $108,000. The median salary for Bachelor’s degree holders is $84,000, about 15% higher than those with a similar education level in other professions, while those with an Associate’s degree earned a median salary of $66,811.
Gaining a certification and undergoing professional development can have a similar impact on salaries in the supply chain occupation. Professionals with two or more certifications earned as much as 46% more than professionals without them. Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) was the most valuable for supply chain workers in terms of earnings, increasing salaries by an average of 40%. Other valuable certifications include Certified in Planning and Inventory Management (CPIM) and Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution (CLTD), which increased earnings by 23-25% on average.
Most in-demand supply chain jobs in 2023
Businesses today are eager to hire across all areas of the supply chain, but there are some specific skill sets that are particularly needed. In a survey of U.S. supply chain leaders, 57% reported difficulty finding candidates with end-to-end supply chain knowledge. Supply chain transformation experience is also in high demand, particularly digital transformation and the ability to make operational and process improvements.
Other in-demand skills include data analysis and reporting, project management, integrated supply chain experience, inventory planning, and distribution and warehouse management. Many soft skills also made the list of most-needed capabilities, with financial acumen, communication, collaboration, and multi-level team management at the top of that list.
These skills are needed and used across a variety of roles. Here are the job titles that are currently most in-demand based on both their current job prospects and projected future growth.
Median salary: $77,030 per year
Job outlook: 30% CAGR (195,000 jobs in 2021)
Logisticians manage and analyze the entire life cycle of a product, from its original design and production through its delivery to the end customer. Their typical responsibilities include overseeing the procurement and allocation of materials, choosing and developing relationships with suppliers, vendors, and clients, and developing strategies to lower costs, increase efficiency, or otherwise improve the production, storage, and distribution of goods. There are also sub-sets of this job title, like logistics analyst or business operations specialist, who oversee specific areas of a company’s logistics. The increased volume of eCommerce and online shopping is one factor driving the growing need for logisticians, and the role today often involves utilizing software and other technology to manage and analyze each step along a product’s supply chain.
Operations research analyst
Median salary: $82,360 per year
Job outlook: 25% CAGR (104,200 jobs in 2021)
Operations analysts use data and statistics to identify and solve business problems. Often, this starts with interview questions and surveys to help them gather data on the systems or processes used in the organization. They then study this information to identify problems and break them down into parts or steps based on these details. Finally, they use the data they’ve gathered in order to suggest improvements. This gives the role particularly high importance for supply chain businesses who are in the midst of a digital transformation or otherwise working to integrate technology into their processes.
Median salary: $94,560 per year
Job outlook: 10% CAGR (150,700 jobs in 2021)
Transportation is a sub-set of logistics and one of the most consistently in-demand aspects of the broader supply chain world. These professionals oversee the movement of goods between their producers and their users, whether those are resources a business uses to make products or the downstream distribution, fulfillment, and delivery of finished products to clients or customers. Their day-to-day responsibilities include developing an institution’s transportation strategy and best practices, addressing bottlenecks and other issues affecting goods in transit, and coordinating the drivers, warehouse workers, and other individuals involved in the travel and storage of goods. They often collaborate closely with other members of the leadership team, like the purchasing manager or warehouse supervisor, ensuring the smooth delivery of supplies and goods.
Storage and distribution manager
Median salary: $98,230 per year
Job outlook: 10% CAGR (132,210 jobs in 2021)
This role can also go by other job titles, including warehouse supervisor or distribution center manager, just to name a few. Like transportation managers, they supervise the workers who help get products and supplies from one place to another. In addition, they’re responsible for inspecting and maintaining the condition of the warehouse, including developing and implementing safety standards and ensuring the efficiency and accuracy of systems use to track and organize the things stored there. This is another highly collaborative role that requires strong communication and problem solving skills, in addition to an in-depth knowledge of inventory control and the technology used to organize it.
Industrial production manager
Median salary: $103,150 per year
Job outlook: 5% CAGR (203,800 jobs in 2021)
These professionals oversee the operations in factories, manufacturing plants, and other places where products are made. They’re responsible for hiring, training, and managing workers, along with planning the production of goods to align with current customer demand and ensuring all projects are completed on time and within budget. There’s an analytical side to a production manager’s job, too, and they’re often responsible for reviewing production data to improve its efficiency, lower costs, or adjust the amount of goods that’s produced based on customer and business needs.
Emerging supply chain jobs
Automation and other emerging technologies have changed the way that many people work, and supply chain jobs are no exception to this. In the 2023 Supply Chain Talent Agenda report, 52% of supply chain leaders reported they’re investing in automation, and an additional 43% plan to do so in the near future. Data management software, inventory management systems, and planning and forecasting tools are even more popular.
Knowing how to use these tech solutions is quickly becoming an integral skill for success as a supply chain manager. This broad adoption of technology solutions is also creating new roles within the sector. Data-driven supply planners are increasingly in demand, as are new job titles like Warehouse Technology Manager, Supply Chain Network Data Architect, and roles in Supply Chain Information Technology (SCIT). For students and early-career professionals, developing a combination of supply chain expertise and tech skills can prepare you to excel in these roles and make faster career progress as a result.
Another key area of concern for supply chain professionals today is sustainability. Consumers increasingly want to do business with companies that are aware of the impact their actions have on the environment and are actively taking steps to operate in a more eco-friendly way. This directly affects several areas of the supply chain, from what raw materials are used to manufacture products to how those items are transported and stored. Job titles like Logistics Sustainability Manager and Supply Chain Sustainability Director already exist in the job market, and are likely to become more common as companies seek out new ways to balance the cost and efficiency of global supply chains against their environmental impact.
The bottom line on supply chain careers
As long as materials and goods are being transported around the world, supply chain management will be a primary focus for businesses that make, sell, and use them. The specific roles that are most needed may change, but experience working with supply chains will remain valuable for the foreseeable future. That makes a career in supply chain management a great choice for long-term job security, particularly for those who also have skills working with technology and data that will be increasingly necessary for managing and improving the supply chains of the future.