Your guide to Supply Chain graduate programmes

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A Supply Chain Graduate Programme is designed to pick out strong graduates to work in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) supply chain - which in short is the process of getting products onto shelves so that consumers can buy them. 

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The goal of a successful operations and supply chain team is to monitor supply chains and evaluate purchasing strategies in order to help the company to become more efficient in an increasingly competitive global market.

A career in operations is not only about moving commodities. You'll be involved in strategy and planning and will work closely with other departments such as IT, HR and Finance, making sure that things tick over successfully across the whole organisation.

Supply chain is almost always an inherently international role as you could find yourself sourcing Chinese-made electronics, transporting them on Brazilian shipping to a Polish lorry convoy, for it to end up in a Parisian boutique. 

Operations also has the ability to throw up some intriguing specialisations. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) often falls under this category so operations could be the department that drives through the use of Fairtrade products, sustainable natural resources, and factories with ethical labour practices.

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What is a supply chain?

Let’s imagine a company that makes and sells soap. To do this, it has to:

  • Decide how much soap consumers need
  • Source the raw materials at a good price and get them to the factory where the soap is made and packaged
  • Manage the factory and manufacturing process
  • Sell the soap to retailers at a good price
  • Store the soap before transport
  • Distribute the soap around the country or the world, so it can be put in front of consumers.
  • The steps in that process form the supply chain and each step has to be efficient, cost-effective and (ideally and hopefully) environmentally friendly.

For example, when selling lettuce, time is of the essence. In a company that sources materials globally there will be language barriers to work through. Supply chain management is a complex and varied area, but if you’re willing to tackle challenges like these it offers some great opportunities.

What do graduate programmes involve?

Many larger companies such as Boots, Nestle and Tesco offer paid supply chain training programmes. They’re designed to get new graduates ready to step into a supply chain management job. A supply chain graduate programme usually lasts 1-2 years and is split into placements in different areas of the supply chain. Each placement lasts several months.

For example, you might find yourself working in:

  • Procurement – buying raw materials
  • Demand planning – ensuring supply matches the demand from your customers
  • Logistics – such as organising distribution or running a warehouse shift

While you’ll have plenty of support, you’ll have a lot of responsibility from the word go and be expected to learn on the job.

What are the benefits of doing a supply chain graduate programme?

Because you take on work placements in several areas, a supply chain graduate programme is interesting, varied and challenging. It’s designed to prepare you to move directly into a management position, skipping over entry-level roles.

If you do well you’ll probably be offered a permanent job. Even if you decide to move out of supply chain work, having such a competitive position on your resume can be a great career boost. You’ll also take away excellent transferrable skills: planning, communication, leadership and many more.

Who’s a good candidate for the job?

Most programmes don’t require a specific degree, though you should always check the person specification. You’re likely to need a 2:1. To be a good candidate for a supply chain programme you need to demonstrate that you are: 

  • Analytical
  • Well-organised
  • Commercially aware
  • Highly numerate
  • A problem-solver
  • An effective communicator
  • Strong management and people skills

Some relevant work experience would be a great help. While there are few formal internships available, even a low-level job in any part of the supply chain is worthwhile – for example, work in a warehouse. Even if you’ve done some supermarket shelf-stacking, you’ll know about how goods are delivered to stores.

What’s the application process like?

As with most graduate schemes, application windows are from around October to February. Generally, you’ll start by completing an online application, followed by several different rounds that may include aptitude tests, phone or in-person interviews and an assessment centre day. The selection process can be quite drawn out because employers will be narrowing down from a field of hundreds of candidates.

What salary are you looking at?

Graduate programmes generally offer somewhere around £25,000 per year, often with a signing bonus and competitive benefits. If you do well when you complete the programme you can expect a permanent job and a raise to around £30,000.

Discover supply chain graduate jobs

Browse graduate jobs in Bright Network's list of consumer, retail and FMCG jobs today to kick-start your journey into the sector.