About SCM in UCC

Introduction to Supply Chain Management in UCC

In recent years Supply Chain Management (SCM) has emerged as a major competency that supports global business networks, with considerable investment in systems and processes. In parallel the role of continuous improvement approaches (such as Lean*)have also emerged as key competencies for both multinational and indigenous companies as they adopt process-oriented approaches to innovation, order fulfillment and order-creation. The need for effective and efficient coordination of key business processes is common to all businesses and cuts across functions and operations. While process design and continuous improvement concepts and tools have been traditionally associated with manufacturing operations, considerable opportunities exist in the development of efficient and responsive Lean supply chains. In recent years, many multinational companies in Ireland have expanded their perspective beyond the traditional factory to organisational-wide activities including global supply chain management. The opportunities to develop soft skills to support and use these systems and processes exist across a range of industries and organisations.

This is an area that Ireland is well placed to excel in through leveraging our manufacturing capability and thus moving up the ‘value chain’ from ‘factory to service’. Over the past decade University College Cork (UCC) has developed a range of part-time SCM programmes (undergraduate and postgraduate) that aim to improve global operations and supply chain management competency. Employment opportunities include: logistics, customer service, procurement and inventory management.

We seek to contribute to the value creation capacity of key indigenous enterprises and Irish-based multinational sites, and also attract multinational company’s global supply chain management centers of excellence to Ireland. In achieving this we endeavour to build an academic centre of international standing in this field and thus create a synergetic relationship with the emerging global business eco-system around us.

To date we have developed a range of innovative Supply Chain Management programmes that aim to:

  • blend academic and practical expertise,

  • create an interactive learning environment including workplace and classroom learning,

  • enhance individual and company capability.

We place a strong emphasis on workplace learning and endeavour to provide an interactive learning environment that promotes continuing education and supports a knowledge-based business environment. 

* Lean is a philosophy and a systematic approach to creating value, eliminating waste and non-value-add activities, smoothing process flow and addressing overburden.  Lean programmes seek to educate staff within organisations in the principles and techniques of Lean so that they are empowered to implement sustainable continuous process improvement.

Response to the Labour Market

The National Skills Strategy Research Report’s (2007) conclusions and recommendations for ‘Skills for the Enterprise Sector’ highlight the importance of supply chain management and related skills: “the ESG identified skills in the area of sales and marketing, supply chain management, R&D, language skills and management skills in general as important from an enterprise development perspective” (p.99). This Certificate programme addresses global supply chain management needs of companies that are predominantly in the high value-added manufacturing sectors (medical devices, pharmaceuticals/biotechnology, ICT, engineering, food and consumer goods) as identified by the report. It supports further education and professional development in these sectors building and strengthening people-related and conceptual skills and thus responds to the government’s Building Ireland’s Smart Economy (2008) strategy.

Furthermore, the Future Skills Requirements of the Food and Beverages Sector (EGFSN, November 2009) reports that “the significance of supply chain managementfor the sector is relatively new and is widely seen as a huge skills challenge” (p.14).  The report specifically focuses on the importance of Lean and six sigma competencies to future development:  people working in the supply chain need to apply lean principles and therefore need training in lean. The goal should be to achieve a lean supply chain and this requires building the lean and six sigma competency among the supply chain” (p.161).Hence, there is a need to build the skills required to deliver an efficient supply chain.However, the report finds that “On examining the range of 3rd and 4th level courses it was notable that lean operations did not feature with any prominence and was only offered on a limited number of courses” (p.157). With reference to the ‘limited number of courses’ University College Cork’s SCM programmes (including the Certificate in SCM) are specifically highlighted throughout this report for their contribution in SCM education/training. 

The EGSFN’s Future Skills Requirements of the Bio-Pharma -Pharmachem Sector (November 2010) report also highlights how the sector has been changing towards higher value add and identifies Lean manufacturing as a current/future skills need: “From a skills perspective, these cost pressures emphasise the need for business acumen and productivity skills, particularly in areas such as lean manufacturing and Six Sigma” (p.27).The report identifies how biopharma-pharmachem companies are “actively seeking to regain competitiveness, and are embracing lean technologies and Six Sigma to maximize productivity gains and operational efficiency” (p.108). The report recognizes that Lean manufacturing is seen as “a long term initiative” due to the “scale of skill building and change involved” but that “training should be provided for those already employed in the industry” (p.108).  Similarly, the EGSFN’s Future Skills Needs of the Irish Medical Devices Sector (February 2008) , recognizes that medical device companies are under more pressure to reduce costs, “through reorganising supply chains, and through improving their own operations with automation, lean manufacturing and improved quality management” (p.29). The Lean SCM Green Belt modules of the Certificate in SCM embraces this philosophy of continuous improvement and aims to equip learners (both those currently employed in industry and those wishing to re-enter the labour market) with the leadership and analytical skills necessary to drive organizational change within organisations.

More recently, the Future Skills Requirements of the Wholesale and Retails Sector (EGFSN, May 2010) reports that “one of the major trends in retail and wholesale over the last ten to fifteen years has been ever more effective and efficient management of supply chains” (pg. 65). While the Certificate in SCM does not focus specifically on the retailing and wholesale sectors, generic principles and skills developed during the programme can be applied to this and other sectors, most noticeably in the area of Lean SCM, Information Technology, purchasing, negotiation, relationship building (with suppliers) and inventory management.  With the exception of one year, the programme has included participants from the retail sector since its establishment in 2002.

SCM Programme Delivery & Design

Delivery to post-experience cohorts is influenced by both the basis of engagement (post-experience and often part-time) and age (impacting on learning patterns). In the University sector pedagogical models have been adapted somewhat to deliver part-time and full-time business management programmes that include older and more experienced participants, however the basis of engagement often requires quite a fundamental pedagogical change.This typically requires an iterative learning process between both the classroom and the workplace/experience and between theory & practice. The role of such experiential learning is further influenced by participants’ motivation to pursue post-experience education. This typically requires an iterative learning process between both the classroom & the workplace and the between theory & practice. Hence the ability of the provider to engage not just with the student and with the student’s broader environment but also with the corporate world is of paramount importance. This requires a rather different philosophy, structure and culture to that normally found within a traditional University. 

Thus when designing and delivering post-experience education in the SCM field we have given particular attention to the development of ‘communities of practice’ and‘situated learning’.  In this context the role of action research, student-student andtutor-student interaction provides a platform for theory testing and critique and promotes an improvement-oriented dynamism within the learning community.  This has facilitated learning and application though specified assignment work including structured improvement projects such as the Lean SCM Green Belt and Lean SCM Black Belt projects in addition to various assignments associated with modules. This is an interesting challenge for us, as a balance between education and training is fundamental to the academic standing of our SCM programmes. Thus students are not expected to merely complete company-based projects of commercial significance but to broaden their mental models by learning how to adapt to real changes in the business environment.

This programme delivery model requires a partnership approach with both client companies and practitioners. This has been achieved through relationship building with companies in the region and further afield and working with various practitioners. A strong international and industry practitioner panel has been developed, for example leading supply chain academics from both the UK and the North America contribute to the programme as do supply chain practitioners from various industries (e.g. electronics, automobiles, retail, food & drink). Furthermore we work closely with the Leading Edge Group as they deliver Lean practitioner components.

Delivering Significant Benefits to Participating Companies

Over the last ten years the College of Business and Law have offered part-time programmes in Lean Supply Chain Management, in response to industry needs in the region and beyond. Initially programmes were offered at Certificate and Diploma levels, in recent years a Masters programme has also been offered and this is now well established. This Masters programme includes a Black Belt project in lean supply chain management. An analysis of reported benefits over the last three years estimates a total euro benefit to participating companies of €54.3m (plus an extraordinary project of €30m). This breakdowns into €13.4m in 2011 (achieved by 17 participants across 8 companies), €17.2m in 2012 (achieved by 15 participants across 8 companies), and €23.7m in 2013 (achieved by 21 participants across 15 companies). The total euro benefit for 2013 was actually €53.7m, however this includes one project that achieved a €30m benefit. Since this was a unique project we haven’t included it above as it skews the figures reported. Finally a number of these projects yield benefits that do not yield a quantifiable euro number (e.g. change projects), nonetheless these deliver key sustainable benefits to the participating companies and their extended supply chains.

Discipline of Supply Chain Management

Supply Chain Management Programmes, 2nd Floor, O'Rahilly Building, University College Cork