How to Become a Supply Chain Associate

The supply chain associate role is an entry-level position college graduates pursue to grow their experience in the supply chain industry. Supply chain associates are individual contributors, meaning they are not in a management-level position and won’t oversee other employees. While it is an associate-level position, supply chain associates will usually have more exposure to management and advanced tasks than traditional warehouse/production associates on the floor. In a sense, this position is a middle-man role between associates and management.

What Do Supply Chain Associates Do?

The day-to-day responsibility of a supply chain associate is to get customer orders out the door to fulfill demand. The majority of supply chain associates are involved with inventory management, customer fulfillment, and demand planning. Supply chain associates will have a variety of broad tasks within a logistical/manufacturing setting, as the role enables an individual to gain exposure to the industry.

Management will often look at a supply chain associate as an employee capable of doing “on the floor” and office work. Those within this position will have systematic access that provides insight into data and metrics that are important to analyze. They may be asked to aid with scheduling shipments and deliveries and coordinate end-to-end movement of specific material. Supply chain associates may also need to participate in essential production/output functions and utilize forklifts, production machinery, and other types of equipment.

How to Become a Supply Chain Associate

Academic Requirements

Supply chain associate positions are designed for entry-level college graduates or capable warehouse associates, so degree requirements are light. The majority of listed job positions ask for a high school diploma, associate’s degree, or an in-progress bachelor’s degree.

Positions with a degree requirement typically prefer supply chain management or a related field. These related fields may pertain to anything in business, such as finance, marketing, or management. Companies searching for supply chain associates often want potential candidates to take over managerial positions down the road, which is why an associate or bachelor’s degree can help solidify that promotion when the time comes.

Professional Experience

More often than not, supply chain associate positions will require little experience. At the most, a supply chain associate job listing may ask for one to two years of experience in the company’s particular industry. The role usually allows an individual to gain further experience and exposure to the industry. Most of those who move into a supply chain supervisor position will have been working with the company for some time.

Professional Certifications

Certifications will not be required for a supply chain associate role. They are for professionals seeking higher positions within an organization. As a supply chain associate, the goal is to obtain as much experience, knowledge, and credentials as possible. If you aspire to a position above supply chain associate, then a professional certification can demonstrate advanced industry knowledge and insight. Speak with your employer to decide if pursuing a professional supply chain certification can help you advance within the company.

Important Skills for Working as a Supply Chain Associate

Supply chain jobs are fast-paced, data-centric, and overwhelmingly detail-focused. As consumer demand continues to increase at a record-breaking pace, the supply chain industry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Especially for high-volume output, a manufacturing/logistical facility can easily see large amounts of product moving in and out of an operation. This is where production and inventory management are integral to ensuring customer fulfillment, which is what a supply chain associate will assist with through data analytics and adequate oversight. To be a successful supply chain associate, you will need the following skills:

  • Ability to analyze data and utilize software (ERP, Microsoft Suite, etc.)
  • Planning capabilities to ensure customer fulfillment
  • Excellent time and stress management
  • Customer service skills to communicate with vendors/suppliers
  • Strong memory and a detail-oriented mindset

As there are a lot of moving parts, a strong memory and a detail-oriented mindset can be critical skills needed to conduct daily tasks as a supply chain associate. Having excellent time and stress management skills will also be essential, as the environment is time-sensitive and deadline-oriented.

The Career Path of a Supply Chain Associate

To work into management positions, you have to start somewhere. As stated previously, a supply chain associate position is an entry-level role that is designed for individuals to gain experience and move up within a company. Depending on the area that you and the company find best suited for your skills and capabilities, shifting upward into a new role can easily be done.

After one to two years of experience, supply chain associates can find themselves in roles such as a purchasing agent, warehouse/production supervisor, or even a full-blown management position such as an operations manager. This position is essentially a training period that allows individuals to develop their skills and get an understanding of which roles will be suitable for them in the future.

Supply Chain Associate Job Description

Supply chain associates will be responsible for inventory management, demand planning, sourcing, and customer fulfillment. Supply chain associates may also need to communicate with the customer and coordinate material availability dates with vendors. Here is a breakdown of the general roles and responsibilities of a supply chain associate:

  • Track shipments and material lead times
  • Coordinate delivery and material movement
  • Oversee receiving and accuracy of inventory locations
  • Oversee material availability for customer fulfillment
  • Collaborate with warehouse associates

Like all other aspects of supply chain, fulfilling customer orders is the top priority of an operation. Supply chain associates will need to work within a time-constrained environment while maintaining production/output accuracy.

Career Outlook for Supply Chain Associates

The outlook for the supply chain industry has continued to drive upward as consumer demand is increasing. Specific subsets of the industry in the United States, such as warehousing and logistics, will primarily see this growth, as manufacturing has continued to shift overseas due to lower costs.

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand has outpaced supply in an unprecedented manner and has pushed supply chains to the brink. This unprecedented demand led to a shift in the need for supply chain professionals and associates. This is especially true for e-commerce and distribution facilities, as during the pandemic, many individuals converted to ordering online and at-home deliveries to avoid going out in public. While domestic manufacturing is on a downtrend in the United States, warehousing/logistical operations are booming. Supply chain associate roles are also relatively safe and growth-heavy positions, as the need for supply chain professionals is increasing and not going anywhere.

How Much Do Supply Chain Associates Make?

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average for a supply chain associate position is roughly $45,000 a year, or $22 an hour. This will vary by company and region, as experience isn’t always required for this particular position. With that said, prior experience can help you negotiate a higher wage.

Supply chain associate positions are perfect for new graduates and individuals who enjoy “on the floor” work. Supply chain associates roles are great positions for gaining experience and working your way into management, as you will be able to develop the tools and skills necessary to run an operation yourself and continue advancing in your career.