Reader Mailbag: Should You Get an MBA in Supply Chain, or a Designation?

January 24, 2017



Here’s the first instalment of a new Argentus feature where we answer your career questions. We’re starting this feature to help put our years of recruitment experience to good use, whether your questions are specific to our recruiting specialty of Procurement and Supply Chain or more general.

Drum-roll please for our first question:


What value do you see in getting a Master’s Degree in Business/Supply Chain vs. some of the designations out there? (APICS, SCMA, etc.)?

Thanks, Vince C.

Thanks for the question, Vince. First of all, we aren’t experts in the curricula of both of these types of programs. Every university program is different, just as every professional designation is different. So we can’t speak to the specifics of various programs. However, we can speak to what companies are looking for in hiring, and how graduating from these programs builds your personal brand. We talk to lots of people in the field.

The short of it is that both an MBA and a Supply Chain designation such as APICS or SCMA can be a boon to your career, but your mileage may vary. It’s fairly common that a client looking to hire has designations as a requirement. It’s less common that they’ll ask for a particular designation (i.e. SCMA), although it’s certainly happened before. Companies are often looking to see that candidates are invested in their continued career development and education. A designation is a good way to establish that, and to pick up some valuable skills in the process.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that a designation is also often valuable for newcomers to Canada who might have overseas Supply Chain Management experience, but haven’t yet secured that all-important first Canadian role in the field. A designation can be a great way to learn about local Canadian Supply Chain practices and increase your initial marketability while searching for that first role. While this option isn’t financially feasible for all newcomers, we’ve heard of candidates using it successfully in the past.  A designation can provide networking opportunities, make you more marketable, and boost your income.

So is a designation the right move for your career? One thing to keep in mind is that roles we get that “require” designations are typically at the sole contributor level – meaning below the “manager” level. Sole contributor roles can pay anywhere from 50k to 130k, so it’s not necessarily a roadblock, but it’s less common that leadership roles require designations. And while many designations offer strategic components to their curricula, we’ve had feedback from certain executives that a lot of the education offered is more transactional in nature – and that can be a limitation. For example, learning how to fill out a purchase order might make you a more immediately employable Procurement clerk at the junior end, but when looking for future leaders, executives want to hire people who have a holistic understanding of business strategy. Why are you filling out that purchase order? What’s the impact on the business? Should we be purchasing from someone else? Can we streamline our purchasing process? Should we be purchasing this at all?

The key to progressing into leadership is an understanding of strategy – so if that’s your goal, assess designations based on their strategic content.

Which brings us to MBAs – the coveted Master’s of Business Administration. It’s becoming more common for hiring managers to require Bachelor’s degrees, but it’s rare that they require an MBA. It’s also pretty new to have Supply Chain as an MBA specialization in the first place, and some people have used them to good effect to boost their careers.

The perception is that an MBA is going to be strategic. That they’re polished. That they have enhanced presentation ability. All of these are leadership qualities, and that’s why MBAs are seen as future leaders, even if the degree isn’t an absolute requirement to advance into business leadership – especially within Supply Chain.

However, there’s also the perception that an MBA isn’t going to be hands-on. From our perspective, an MBA isn’t going to work as a replacement for solid work experience. There’s a reason why people often work for 5-10 years in the field before pursuing an MBA: it’s going to augment your leadership potential, but it’s not going to give you leadership potential if you don’t have a variety of experience beforehand.

MBA programs encourage their students to think ambitiously, but it’s important not to let an MBA “go to your head.” We sometimes hear from recent MBA grads who expect to earn 150k+ on the merits of their degree rather than their experience, and they often find themselves in a 70k job a few years after graduating. If you’re prepared for this possibility, an MBA can be valuable, and it can help make you more marketable as a business leader.

So if you’re looking to slot into a Sole Contributor role, a designation might get you there faster. But if you’re looking to eventually climb into a Director, VP or CPO or CSCO role, an MBA might help you more. But don’t expect immediate dividends. 

Again, we hope our advice is helpful! And every case is different, so take it with a grain of salt.

Oh, and send us more questions! Fill out this brief form below to submit your career question. It can be Procurement and Supply Chain-specific, or it can be about any career topic. 

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