Pam Powers
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Supply chain management: Critical thinking and continuous improvement attract students

Menomonie, Wis. – University of Wisconsin-Stout senior Greg Cops wanted a fast-paced and challenging career with no limits.

He visited 3M’s headquarters and met with five people working in supply chain management jobs and knew that was what he wanted to major in at UW-Stout.

Supply chain management has different paths working in procurement and sourcing, managing materials, logistics and transportation, and an operational side involving the flow of products and speeding up processes to eliminate waste, Cops said.

The operational side fascinates Cops.

“I find it interesting and challenging,” he said. “There is no right or wrong answer, and there is always room for improvement. There is no limit. I like projects that are large scale and you can dig your teeth into and require critical thinking and continuous improvement.”

Cops has completed two internships in his major. In 2016, during his second year, he did an eight-month co-op at Graco in Rogers, Minn., in a building where paint sprayers are manufactured. He was a sourcing intern acquiring the raw materials for road painting sprayers and dry wall texture units. He learned to look at demand, inventory and trends to allow lead time to get materials, which sometimes can be complicated by holidays in other countries.

His second internship was for three months at Plexus in Appleton, a contract manufacturer, in a plant that manufactured Coke freestyle machines, allowing customers to choose multiple soda products from one fountain machine in restaurants. As a continuous improvement intern, he made small process and facility layout changes that accumulate to major changes in the business.

“I went out to the main line, talked to people, learned processes, started looking at waste and how to make improvements,” Cops said, noting some work stations were moved to save steps and time. He also set up a couple of tools for purchasing by automating emails to suppliers so that materials could be ordered when they got low.

He had a third internship this summer with Boeing in Seattle.

Career field with many opportunities
The supply chain management degree at UW-Stout has 100 percent employment for graduates, said Gene Gutman, program director and assistant professor. Enrollment ranges from 80 to 100 students in the program.

Gutman describes supply chain management as the flow of materials and information from the lowest level of supplier to the end customer.

“Everything we have in our world comes to us through a supply chain – our food, medicines, clothes, cars, household items, gadgets,” Gutman said, noting most jobs in business are in supply chain. “It’s not just manufacturing, distribution and retail. It’s also in-service industries such as banking, hospitals and hotels. Every business has a supply chain. The difficult part is getting young people who are college-bound to understand how broad and vast this is as a career path. There are significant career opportunities for men and women.

“The jobs are very, very plentiful as evidenced by our placement rate,” he said. “Entry level salaries are in the upper 50 to the low 60-thousand dollars per year. Salaries advance quickly after that with experience.”

Candidates for supply chain management should be analytical, well-organized, detail-oriented, team players and hard workers looking to make improvements in business.

“You have to always be thinking how to improve what’s going on,” Gutman said. “We’re looking for people who want to improve efficiency, reduce time, improve quality and reduce cost across the supply chain.”

Gutman summarizes supply chain management as following the seven R’s: Right product, right place, right time, right quality, right quantity, right cost and right safety. This is extremely hard to do given the complexity of products and number of components that are produced around the world.

UW-Stout’s program is unique because the curriculum is deeper in core supply chain and engineering courses. The university also has industry executives who meet and mentor students through their senior capstone classes. They also evaluate their final presentations.

Bob Seidel, director of supply chain at JF Ahern in Fond du Lac, has been a mentor to students the past decade. He has worked in supply chain for more than 25 years. JF Ahern is a design and construction company in mechanical heating, ventilation and plumbing, wastewater and fire protection.

As a mentor, Seidel talks to students and teams to provide guidance and direction. “Supply chain management is multifaceted,” he said. “You have a number of career paths you can ultimately decide on.”

‘Real-time problem-solving’
Charles Bomar, dean of the UW-Stout College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management, said students studying supply chain management must have an array of skills to be successful including mathematics, logistics, basic engineering and the most important people skills.

“Supply chain is about creative, real-time problem-solving,” Bomar said. “Supply chain calls for an understanding of the nuances of global markets to be successful. The classroom experiences in combination with the internship in the field ensure the graduates of this program are ready to take on the business challenges of the 21st century.”

Destiny Vojtik, a junior supply chain major, started as a business major. After Gutman spoke in one of her classes, she knew she wanted to look further into the field.

“My business classes weren’t digging deep enough for me and weren’t really what I wanted to do,” she said. “I like to critically think more. I don’t enjoy classes where there is an answer. In supply chain you must get into the perspective of the customer and what they are willing to pay for or into the transportation and logistics of shipping. The goal is to reduce cost and do the best job you can.”

Vojtik did a nine-month co-op at Greenheck in Schofield in 2017. She started as a materials specialist working with engineering and parts. She then worked in continuous improvement helping to rearrange the facility and ended her internship working as shift supervisor in manufacturing working with employees on how to get product out faster and on time.

“There are so many areas you can go into and pursue,” Vojtik said. “Products are constantly changing. Markets are changing. You have to change with what the customer wants. I didn’t want a job where I sat at a desk every day. Supply chain is more about getting your hands dirty. It’s so hands-on and so different. You get what you put into it.”

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Greg Cops picked supply chain management as a major because he wanted a fast-paced challenging career with no limits.

Gene Gutman

Charles Bomar

Supply chain management major Destiny Vojtik enjoys the major because it allows her to think critically./UW-Stout photo by Brett T. Roseman

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