Better Luck Next Year

Better Luck Next Year

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

We hope it''s better next year and signals seem to indicate that it will be. The depressed economy has affected all areas of U.S. life, especially the lives of recent college graduates. Where once there were too many jobs and not enough applicants, the reverse is now true. Which means that logistics graduates, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, had a tough time last year getting jobs. Many didn''t have a job awaiting them after graduation.

Is there a silver lining in the cloud? Yes. Career counselors say logistics and supply-chain grads have an easier time getting a job than do graduates with other majors. And they see a better year ahead.

Nic Wegman, executive director of marketing and career development for the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, is vociferous on the benefits of a supply-chain specialization within a business degree. The school, previously known as the School of Management at Syracuse, offers such a specialization at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Out of about 320 Whitman School undergraduates, 52 have supply-chain as their primary concentration. At the graduate level, seven out of about 45 had a supply-chain concentration in 2003, he said.

In general, job and hiring trends are roughly the same as or slightly better than last year, said Wegman. That doesn''t mean good, though. "Last year was the worst we have experienced in quite some time," he said. However, "supply-chain majors faired better than any other majors in this particular job market," said Wegman.

Graduate students have been hit hardest by the slump and many "across all concentrations are struggling to find jobs," said Wegman. Even when a grad with a master of business administration degree does snag a job, it might not be as prestigious as three to five years ago, he added.

The downturn "has created a lot of compression around salaries of exiting MBAs. There are many fewer jobs that demand that corporations hire an MBA. The number of students getting MBAs is up a little or flat. And because companies are downsizing, they are reluctant to bring on MBAs at salaries" equivalent to the dot-com era, Wegman said. Before the downslide, the average MBA received a job at $73,000. That number is now down to the low or mid-60s, he said. "That''s the kind of decline you are seeing all around the country. MBA salaries have dropped in a very organized manner," he said.

But graduates with three to five years'' related supply-chain experience and a GPA of 3.5 or higher could get an above-average salary with a top-tier company in supply-chain management, said Wegman. "They would have a disproportionate opportunity," he said. "Other students are needing to find different paths to be successful. One of those paths is supply chain."

At the undergraduate level, salaries have been flat across all business disciplines and are currently around $42,000, said Wegman. "Our gut feeling is that the average supply-chain major graduate has an average salary that is slightly more" than the average for other disciplines, he said. More importantly, these graduates receive more job offers, have more interviews and get jobs at more prestigious companies, he said.

Most stunning is the lack of jobs for the newly graduated. All schools reported a dramatic drop in hiring and recruiting rates. Only around 30 percent of undergraduates of Whitman School of Management had jobs at graduation. That number also was weak for MBAs. On the positive side, however, within three months most undergraduates - over 75 percent - had jobs, said Wegman. More MBAs also got hired three months out, he said.

The types of companies hiring undergraduates and the types of jobs offered were broad, said Wegman, "everything from purchasing and procurement through all types of analytical - transportation analyst, logistics analyst - to the more technical, operations side of supply-chain management." Employers included pharmaceutical companies, freight companies, import/export, manufacturers and a few software providers, he said. Job titles for undergraduates included logistics analyst, account representative and buyer.

For graduate students, job choices were narrower, said Wegman. Many tend to take analyst-type roles and some choose international jobs or companies with a global presence, he said. And some aren''t looking for positions: some are in a special Army controllership program while others are continuing their education, he said.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also saw dramatic drops in hiring and recruiting from past years. MIT offers a nine-month program culminating in a master of engineering degree in logistics. Chris Caplice, executive director of the Master of Engineering in Logistics Program at MIT, describes the program as complementary to an MBA with a focus on engineering as opposed to broad management skills. "We are looking at people who want to be COO, executive vice president of logistics or supply chain, or chief supply-chain officers," he said.

Most entering students have between four and five years of experience, predominantly in supply chain and logistics, said Caplice. One-third have not worked in the logistics field before. About 50 percent are international, although this year 60 percent are international, he said. Class size is capped at 35.

For the first three years of its existence, the program had trouble attracting students because many wanted to work for a dot-com instead of going to school, he said. One hundred percent of its graduating class at that time had between two and 10 job offers apiece. Those graduates went to startups, software firms and consulting companies, said Caplice.

From 1997 to 2001, jobs came to the graduates. "And now they don''t. It''s back to what it used to be," said Caplice. Now most graduates are getting jobs in traditional businesses, such as Toyota Motor Corp., Frito-Lay and Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Cos., he said. Hiring companies include manufacturers, retailers, buyers and sellers. A few went to software companies, he said.

Caplice believes average salaries after graduation have gone down. "Some people who were switching careers took a slight cut," he said. But Caplice sees a positive trend. "Hiring is starting to loosen" and recruitment is up at the school, he said.

And MIT is placing more emphasis on placement of its graduates, said Caplice. Last year the school introduced its Supply Chain Education Partners program. Local companies become affiliated with MIT''s Center for Transportation & Logistics and work with students on research projects. Many of these companies go on to hire these students, he said.

Jobs that graduates are getting hired into include vice president of logistics, senior consultant and supply-chain analyst, said Caplice. Caplice hasn''t seen any geographic hiring trends, although it is now more difficult for international students to switch visas and get hired in the United States, he said. Hiring into health care and pharmaceutical companies is up, he said.

LuAnn Jaworski, staff assistant for the Smeal College of Business Administration at Pennsylvania State University, sees the same trends as Caplice and Wegman. Jaworski has worked with students and collected career information on graduates of the school for about 20 years, she said. The average salary was $41,000 for undergraduate business logistics majors who responded to the most recent survey, said Jaworski. "I don''t think the starting salary has really changed that much over the years but there are not as many jobs right now," she said.

In the past the school averaged around 95 percent placement of its graduates, she said. "Maybe it was 40 percent for this last academic year," she said. Another difference was bonus packages. Only two people reported receiving bonus packages, she said.

Recruiting was down as well. "In the fall 2001/spring 2002 year, we had approximately 50 companies per semester for onsite interviews. This past spring we had only 10. It''s way down," she said. Jaworski attributes these lower numbers to hiring freezes at many companies. But she sees that beginning to thaw: there has been a slight increase in the number of companies contacting the school for student resumes, she said.

Most job titles this year were the same as in previous years, said Jaworski. Graduates got jobs in transportation, manufacturing, consumer production, third-party logistics and consulting companies, she said. The number of graduates going into consulting "dropped a lot" from previous years, she said. The largest hiring sector was consumer products companies, she said.

The last class to graduate with business logistics majors will be in spring 2004, said Jaworski. For the fall semester the school had 61 graduates and for the spring, 84 graduates, lower than average numbers due to the phase-out of the degree. Usually the school has around 100 graduates in the fall and 125 in the spring, she said. A few - 10 to 20 - graduate in the summer. Graduates receive a bachelor of science in business administration degree, she said.

Instead of a specialization in business logistics, the department will offer a new major: supply-chain and information systems. The department also has changed from the Department of Business Logistics to the Department of Supply Chain and Information Systems, said Jaworski. The new SC & IS majors will not start until the fall and the school still is matriculating business logistics majors, she said. There are other degree options as well, including a business logistics minor, she said.

Thomas R. Case, dean of the College of Business & Public Policy at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, strongly believes that supply chain and logistics are becoming increasingly important in the world and particularly for Alaska''s economy. The school is in the process of collating career data on its students, he said.

FedEx, United Parcel Service and a number of other logistics carriers have Anchorage as a global hub, said Case. "Alaska is the most central place in the world for aircraft operations," he said. "From Anchorage, 95 percent of the industrial world is accessible within 9.5 hours'' flight time."

The school offers both a master''s and bachelor''s degree program, both of which began in fall 1999. The school offers a master of science in global supply-chain management and a bachelor of business administration in global logistics management.

Many of the graduate students at the University of Alaska Anchorage already are working in the logistics field, said Case. "Our program requires seven years'' experience in logistics or related to logistics," he said. Most are mid-career or middle-management professionals. Undergraduates are more of a cross-section, he said. And some students are in the U.S. military, he said.