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How to Learn Supply Chain Management: Free Online Courses and Resources

Sunayana Samantaray - November 30, 2020

Learning supply chain management could help you break into the best business careers , including customer service, project management, or logistics. As you get started in the supply chain management industry, there are many courses and resources available to help you.

You could choose to learn supply chain management concepts and how to manage suppliers through online videos, in-person classes, or articles. But before you start, you should understand what supply chain management entails.

In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide to learning supply chain management. We will also touch on what supply chain management is, how and where it is used, and the resources you can use to learn it.

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What Is Supply Chain Management?

Supply chain management (SCM) is a business process that connects a company with the suppliers it uses to produce and distribute a product to a buyer. It involves actively managing the flow of goods and services between two or more parties.

The phrase also includes the processes involved in transforming an initial product into the final item that is purchased by the customer. The ultimate goal of this network is to help a business use its finished product to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

A company’s SCM system should utilize its supply chains efficiently and effectively. It is a key part of any business that makes and sells products.

There are several important areas within supply chain management, including:

  • Supply chain logistics
  • Sourcing
  • Production planning
  • Product and service development
  • Investment recovery
  • Distribution
  • Inventory management
  • Manufacturing supervision
  • Quality control
  • Receiving
  • Transportation and shipment
  • Warehouse storage

From these topics, you can choose which interests you the most before you begin to pursue studies or a career in the subject.

Types of Supply Chain Management Flow

To understand the types of supply chain management, you must first understand the core ideas of the supply network. Supply chain management is built on two main ideas.

The first is the basic idea that multiple organizations are involved in the supply chain that delivers a final product to the consumer.

The second is an understanding of the supply chain beyond the transactional. The parties involved in the supply chain have five major flows: product, information, financial, value, and risk.

Product Flow

Product flow, or physical flow, refers to the most visible aspect of the supply chain. It involves the transportation, storage, and transformation of a product. It covers the movement of a product from the supplier to the end-user.

Furthermore, it also covers product rejections and returns. Companies often only pay attention to this obvious, visible side of the supply chain, which can lead to inefficiency.

In summary, product flow deals with both the supplier to customer and customer to supplier product flows.

Information Flow

The information flow involves coordinating orders and updating delivery statuses. It includes the management of a business’s long-term plans and the day-to-day flow of materials.

This flow encompasses demand planning, product data, descriptions, pricing, customer and order information, delivery schedules, and supplier and distributor information. It also covers commercial documents, current cash flow, financial information, and the title of goods.

The key to information flow is using efficient communication systems to keep suppliers, subcontractors, distributors, and transportation vendors coordinated and well-informed.

Companies use information technology to improve information flow, thus boosting the overall supply chain process.

Financial Flow

Financial flow revolves around the monetary aspect of the supply chain. It includes managing credit terms, payment schedules, and title and consignment ownership arrangements.

It concerns both cost and investment, and the flow of funds within a supply chain. The careful management of the total cost of the supply chain directly contributes to its gross profitability.

The entire process of the supply chain involves managing financial inflows and outflows, with the main source of revenue derived from the customer.

The financial flow of SCM is crucial and needs to be handled and monitored with great caution.

Value Flow

Value flow refers to the value added to a product during the SCM process. It is linked to the product flow attributes of production, product development, and distribution.

The products within a supply chain gain value as they move from the company to the supplier to the end-user. The supply chain and value chain complement each other.

Value flow helps determine how parts of the supply chain, for example, drivers, should be financially compensated to improve a company’s standing in the marketplace.

Risk Flow

Risk flow is the process of identifying and addressing risks that occur in the supply chain. Risks are inevitable and depend on aspects like demand, supply, price, and lead time. They can be caused by incident failures, delays in distribution, quality control, or a  failure to utilize profitable opportunities.

All these may result in financial loss. Thus, it is important to manage risk flow to avoid unforeseen glitches in the chain.

Supply chain risk factors depend on external and internal risk drivers. Some internal risk aspects include planning and control risk, manufacturing risk, business risk, and contingency risk. Mitigating these risks is up to internal operations.

There are also external risks, like demand risk, supply risk, environmental risk, and physical risk. These are dependent on external sources of the chain like the suppliers, natural causes, and storage facility conditions.

The five flows listed above are integrated into the SCM system to make it more successful. You can choose to focus on studying any of the five if you are interested in a career in SCM.

Supply Chain Management Software Systems

Information technology is also a crucial part of the supply chain. Proper supply chain management requires certain software systems to communicate and effectively analyze a network.

Let’s explore the two main types of supply chain management software systems below.

Supply Chain Planning System

This type of system helps businesses plan out their supply chain. This includes estimating the number of products that need to be manufactured in a given period, establishing demand, manufacturing the goods, and finally, sourcing them.

It also helps a business find storage facilities and transportation, and take inventory of products.

Supply Chain Execution System

This system helps organize how best to execute a plan. It guides a business through all the details related to managing product flow and tracking and updating the status of orders.

It also tracks the shipment of products, including recording and relaying information regarding order returns and repair requests.

Learning Supply Chain Management

A group of people sitting at a meeting, a woman in white top and blue jeans is pointing towards a white board of sticky notes.
Employees from separate departments collaborate to ensure that the supply chain maximizes profitability and efficiency.

There are a plethora of online and in-person resources and courses available on learning supply chain management. You can use these resources to get started on the basics, then move on to specific segments within SCM systems.

You can choose to learn procurement , operations management , ERP , or many such supply chain processes to get a better understanding of the subject.

You could also choose to do a master’s in supply chain management online or take courses for online logistics degrees .

How Long Does It Take to Learn Supply Chain Management?

The amount of time it takes to learn supply chain management depends on your background and the time you dedicated to taking classes and courses. Regardless of your education preferences, learning SCM will involve research, study, and lots of practice.

It can take six months to one year to master the basics. One way to start is by getting an online business degree , then you can specialize in a particular area that is of interest to you.

You can also choose to enroll in business bootcamps and courses to get the business background required for SCM.

Overall, the process will be quicker if you already have a background in business.

How to Learn Supply Chain Management: Step-by-Step

Once you have decided you are interested in pursuing SCM, you can start studying. Below is a step-by-step guide of the learning process you should follow.

  1. Read about supply chain management. The first step is to understand what a supply chain is and how it is used. Read up on the strategies used to achieve efficiency in these systems. You can also enroll in online management courses to get this information.
  2. Decide which area of the supply chain interests you. Research the subsections of the supply chain and find out which you are keen to learn.
  3. Take courses and view other resources. Next, sign up for a course in supply chains and read up on the logistics behind SCM.
  4. Practice what you have learned. Practice the topics you have been learning about. One way to do this is by taking online quizzes to test your knowledge.
  5. Take a certification exam. Once you are confident in your understanding of the subject you’re studying, you can take a certification exam. Then, start applying for jobs that are available in your area of expertise.

The Best Supply Chain Management Courses and Training

There are several ways you can learn SCM, including in-person and online courses, books, and video tutorials. Below are Career Karma’s best recommendations for courses and other resources you can take to learn SCM.

Free Online SCM Courses and Training

You can choose from among these free online courses and training to start learning SCM. These sources will help you understand the subject better as you explore supply chain strategies.

Supply Chain Management Specialization

  • Provider: Coursera
  • Time: 6 months
  • Price: Free
  • Prerequisite: None

This Coursera course covers the fundamentals of supply chains. It teaches how businesses function concerning global supply chains and economics.

If you want a career in SCM but don’t know the basics, then this is the right course for you. It covers the basics of operations, logistics, planning, and sourcing.

It also offers a capstone project in which you will solve a real-life business SCM problem. If you pass the course, you can receive a certificate for an additional fee.

System Design for Supply Chain Management and Logistics

  • Provider: EdX
  • Time: 7 weeks
  • Price: Free
  • Prerequisite: None

This is an introductory course to logistics and supply chain systems. In it, you will learn how to design a system for SCM, and what makes the leading systems successful.

Topics include increasing return on investment using logistics, the SCOR model, sustainability in supply chains, and strategies on storage, production, and distribution. You will also learn how to analyze the profitability of a system.

The course also offers a paid SCM certification upon completion.

Supply Chain Management: A Learning Perspective

  • Provider: Class Central
  • Time: 10 weeks
  • Price: Free
  • Prerequisite: None

This course is an overview of the ethical foundations of SCM. In it, you will learn about strategies on structural and infrastructural dimensions, as well as value and value creation. It also covers how globalization and sustainability affect supply chains.

There is a final exam consisting of 30 multiple-choice questions, and you will earn a certificate upon passing.

Supply Chain Management Modules

  • Provider: YouTube
  • Time: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Prerequisite: None

These introductory video modules are offered by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. The 12 tutorials cover topics ranging from managing supply to measuring performance. These helpful videos are a great idea if you don’t want to take a formal course.

What Is Supply Chain Management (Guide to SCM)

  • Provider: Anaplan
  • Time: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Prerequisite: None

For those who like to learn by reading, this blog provides a clear overview of SCM, starting with the basics.

The Anaplan blog discusses the processes behind chain networks and provides a list of supply trends for your reference. It also covers how to use technology to operate a network successfully. It will give you a broad picture of the subject and the skills required to succeed in the field.

Best Supply Chain Management Books

We have a list of our favorite supply chain management books below for those who want to follow the conventional way of learning and don’t want to spend too much time staring at their computer screens.

Essentials of Supply Chain Management. Michael H. Hugos

Essentials of Supply Chain Management by Michael H. Hugos

The Essentials of Supply Chain Management by Hugos is a must for those looking for a starter book. This book provides a clear and concise way to learn SCM and is an easy read. It also emphasizes the most important concepts and techniques a supply chain manager would use in real life.

Lean Supply Chain and Logistics Management. Paul Myerson

Lean Supply Chain and Logistics Management by Paul Myerson.

For those wanting to pursue the lean supply chain, this is a great book by Myerson. This book covers how to use lean tools for optimal supply chain and logistics functions in a business. It is highly recommended if you are looking to learn SCM using real business examples.

Operations and Supply Chain Management F. Robert Jacobs and Richard B. Chase

Operations and Supply Chain Management by F. Robert Jacobs and Richard B. Chase

Jacobs and Chase in this book cover one of the most important aspects of SCM: Operations and Supply Chain Management . This book will teach you how to improve productivity, establish a competitive advantage, and much more about running businesses. You can use this book to gain both theoretical and practical skills of how to run SCM operations smoothly.

Best Supply Chain Management Resources

If you are looking for other resources to learn and practice supply chain management further, we got you covered. Below are our two favorite resources you can use.

Association For Supply Chain Management

Online supply chain management resource.

The Association for Supply Chain Management is a great online resource that is one of the largest non-profit SCM associations. You can use this resource to connect with the global supply chain community, take courses, and earn supply chain management certification.

Council Of Supply Chain Management Professionals

Meet and network with Supply Chain Management Professionals.

As the name suggests this resource is a great organization for SCM professionals. You can sign up for their membership and attend their various networking events. This is an amazing resource for you to meet and further your career in the supply chain. You can also use their E-Learning offer to learn and understand the subject.

Should You Learn Supply Chain Management?

a woman in a white top holding a black marker and teaching on the computer screen. A person taking an online course while drinking a beverage on their silver laptop.
You can learn about supply chain management from anywhere in the world by taking an online course.

Before pursuing supply chain management as a career, ask yourself if creating, analyzing, and evaluating business plans interests you. If you are interested in studying market trends and tracking product statuses, you should sign up for a course.

Supply chain management is a great skill to practice if you want to learn how to maximize profits for your business. Moreover, logistics is a rapidly growing field and the demand for supply chain experts is growing, so your career opportunities will be plentiful.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Sunayana Samantaray

About the author: Sunayana is an experienced content writer. She has written about topics such as career changes, education, tech, sustainability, business, and data science. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in International Business and Human Resource Management from the University of Oklahoma.

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