Logistics is a large, but often unnoticed, career field. Having skilled workers oversee the logistics of securing and transporting supplies is integral to the success of businesses in just about every industry. This job requires a college education, but your field of study could be as general as business or as specialized as systems engineering or supply chain management.
Logistics as a Career Field
We all manage logistics in our personal lives. We have to plan schedules, purchase the supplies we need and the things we want in our lives and manage our transportation needs. When it comes to a career in logistics, the complexities of coordinating schedules, supplies and transportation become so much bigger.
Careers in logistics include logistician and logistics manager. Logisticians are sometimes called logistics analysts or supply chain analysts. These non-supervisory roles involve coordinating the flow and transfer of supplies and materials needed for a business or organization to run. They oversee every part of a product’s acquisition, transportation, allocation, processing, design, manufacture or sale and delivery – what the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls the “entire life cycle.” A logistician’s job isn’t just to make sure that the right supplies get to the right place, but instead to make sure that supplies reach their destination on time, with as little cost and delay as possible. The most effective logisticians are highly organized and pay close attention to details. When situations go wrong, they are able to think critically about options and alternative and to solve problems. Success as a logistician also requires the customer service, communication and relationship-building skills to develop interpersonal relationships with vendors, suppliers and clients and to meet the needs of these connections.
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Logistics manager is a higher-level role that involves a leadership component. While logisticians focus on their assigned products in the supply chain, logistics managers have more big-picture responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is to supervise other employees who work in logistics, including logistics support personnel and logisticians. Logistics managers can earn a great deal more than logistics analysts, with a median wage of $92,460 annually, compared to $74,590.
Closely related to logistics are senior-level supervisory roles like supply chain manager. Supply chain manager roles encompass job titles such as Global Supply Chain Director and Supply Chain Vice President, and they earn a median wage of $105,610 per year.
Levels of Education for Roles in Logistics
The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for business careers in logistics. In fact, 56 percent of logistics analysts and 60 percent of logistics managers report having a bachelor’s degree as their maximum level of education.
Some logistics personnel choose to further their education by going to graduate school. One in five logistics analysts has a master’s degree, as do 17 percent of logistics managers. Another 10 percent of logistics managers pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate instead of a master’s degree. While graduate certificates may not confer the same amount of prestige that a master’s degree does, these specialized programs are considerably shorter than a master’s degree and will often suffice for learning advanced job skills and attaining a promotion to a logistics manager role.
Generally, a degree is not needed for logistical support roles such as clerk and dispatcher. These career roles, which are classified as administrative support rather than business professional roles, earn far lower wages and involve a much smaller scope of job duties.
Degrees in Supply Chain Management
Some degree programs that teach the principles and practices of coordinating product acquisition and transportation have the word “logistics” in the name. More often, though, the title of the degree revolves around the phrase “supply chain management.” Undergraduate degrees in supply chain management can be standalone Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree programs or concentrations within a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program.
When you study supply chain management at the undergraduate level, you complete coursework in subjects like supply chain application and policy, sustainable supply chains, logistics and transportation management, lean production, quality management and systems analysis and design. You learn skills such as supply chain modeling and manufacturing planning. In addition to learning the principles and practices of domestic supply chain management, you may also take classes in global supply chain management.
BBA programs tend to provide a broader business education, while BS and BA programs are more specialized. A BS in supply chain management degree comes from a more scientific and technical approach, while BA degrees tend to take a liberal arts perspective.
Systems Engineering Degrees
A degree in systems engineering is also acceptable for logistics career paths, according to the BLS. Because systems engineering is part of the engineering discipline, this major is best for students who enjoy the technology, physical science and math studies needed to be an engineer. However, the field is somewhat interdisciplinary, often combining elements of mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering along with business logistics and management.
Students in system engineering degree programs should be prepared for rigorous coursework in math and science, but they can also develop a deeper understanding of the systems and processes at work in the management of logistics and the supply chain.
Business Studies for Logistics Work
If a supply chain management degree seems a little too specialized for your taste and the math- and science-focus of a systems engineering program is daunting, you can still prepare for a logistics career by studying business. Many topics covered in supply chain management degrees are based in general business studies, like operations management and product management. You can continue developing your natural organizational skills and problem-solving skills through a business curriculum, just as you could as a supply chain manager. Finding an internship opportunity that allows you to gain some exposure to logistics work can help you learn on the job and develop the experience employers are seeking.
Supply chain management serves the purpose of assisting the business in its profitable operations. Employers value logistics personnel who understand the big picture of how their work coordinating supplies fits into the overall mission of the company.