The Importance of Supply Chain Technician Certifications to Industry
By Sara Pearson Specter
Supply Chain Technician (SCT) Certifications: An Introduction
A supply chain technician is defined as “a person who installs, operates, supports, upgrades or maintains the software, hardware, automated equipment and systems that support the supply chain.” To prepare for such a job description, a technician must possess an understanding of automated warehousing and the technologies and systems housed within it.
Further, technicians must demonstrate foundation skills in a variety of different fields, including:
General mechanics and manufacturing technologies
Direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) electrical and electronics
Pneumatic and hydraulic power supplies
Technical communications, including blueprint reading, documentation, analysis, mathematics and calculations
Scanners, microprocessors, control systems and programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards for general industry
It’s a broad field of expertise, characterized by the variety of different job titles used to describe the position. Among them: Industrial Machinery Technician, Industrial Maintenance Mechanic, Electromechanical Technician and Mechatronics Technician.
Regardless of the title given by their employer, supply chain technicians are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth in the field to be as high as 28%, or 120,000 new positions created, by 2020. Further, The National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (SCTE) found in a May 2013 study that “current employment for supply chain technicians is estimated to be 203,000. However, over the next two years this field is expected to grow at a significant rate… [projected at] an increase of 30%, or an additional 61,000 jobs in 24 months.”
The growth can be attributed to the need for supply chain technicians by every industry that utilizes a supply chain to produce and deliver its goods to market. Among them are retail, automotive, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, aerospace, durable goods and more. These valuable employees support, maintain and repair increasingly complex automated equipment and machinery: advanced technologies that are installed and used throughout manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facilities with increasing frequency.
The supply chain technician field is also one that currently lacks a formal certification process. Certification independently verifies that an individual can demonstrate a specific level of supply chain-related technical knowledge, skills, competence and ability. Such a certification process is currently in development.
This white paper outlines how the Supply Chain Technician (SCT) Certifications differ from the existing assortment of available logistics and material handling certifications, as well as details the multiple benefits they offer to industries in every field.
Supply Chain Technician (SCT) Certifications: Stackable and Complementary
There are several professional certifications currently in existence that are related to logistics and material handling. They include:
Certified Logistics Associate (CLA) and Certified Logistics Technician (CLT) are the two levels of an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited certification program from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC). The CLA is the foundational level for front-line material handling associates, and is a prerequisite for the mid-level CLT. ANSI, which is the United States’ division of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), accredited MSSC’s certification programs under ISO Standard 17024 (personnel certification). This standard verifies the organizations commitment to continuous improvement and assures employers that the skills of persons certified to MSSC’s standards are common and consistent. An assessment exam must be successfully completed in each level to be awarded certification.
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Outreach Training Program for General Industry provides training on prevention of safety and health hazards in general industrial workplaces. This voluntary program, offered as a 10-hour class for entry-level workers and a 30-hour class for supervisors and personnel responsible for safety, focuses on ten topics surrounding hazard identification, avoidance and control. OSHA itself does not run the training program; it instead authorizes trainers who conduct courses through an OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Center. At the conclusion of the required hours of training, the trainer issues participants a course completion card.
Mechatronics Certificate from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, is earned through completion of a series of assessments in the areas of fluid power, industrial electricity, mechanical components and programmable logic controllers. The certification program is part of the organization’s emphasis on supporting companies specifically in the packaging and processing portions of the supply chain.
Each of these certifications represents knowledge and skill sets complementary to those of supply chain technicians. However, none of these certifications fully encompass the broad spectrum of expertise required of workers who support, maintain and repair automation equipment throughout supply chain distribution operations.
In contrast, the new certifications—currently being developed by MSSC and MHI—will validate the proficiencies specific to the scope of the supply chain technician. Titled Certified Technician in Supply Chain Automation (CTSCA), this industry standards-based certification is based upon a definition of "supply chain technician (SCT)" developed by the National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education. The credential will allow individuals to demonstrate proficiency in four critical areas of work function germane to the SCT:
1) Demonstrating Basic Supply Chain Automation Competency;
2) Maintaining Equipment/Systems;
3) Installing, Modifying, Troubleshooting and Repairing Equipment/Systems; and
4) Installing, Modifying, Troubleshooting, and Repairing Basic Controllers and Networks
Candidates will have the option of securing certification in each respective function area and would receive a master CTSCA certification upon attainment of all four. Those possessing the MSSC Certified Logistics Associate certificate would be granted equivalency in function area #1, making these certifications truly stackable. Two Plus endorsements will also be available to those who have attained the master CTSCA and wish to add certifications for the still higher skilled areas of:
Installing, Modifying, Troubleshooting, and Repairing Advanced Controllers Systems and
Installing, Modifying, Troubleshooting, and Repairing Advanced Equipment Network Systems
All CTSCA certification options will carry the esteemed MSSC American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accreditation and are expected to be released January 1, 2016.
Supply Chain Technician (SCT) Certifications: Ten Benefits to Industry
With the establishment of the CTSCA Certifications, companies that rely upon manufacturing and/or warehousing and distribution facilities as part of their supply chains can expect to find benefits in as many as ten different areas.
Independent verification of skills. Certifications, such as the CTSCA, provide independent, third-party validation of a new hire or current employee’s knowledge and skills. Employers can be confident that the CTSCA Certificate holder has passed a series of tests covering multiple key areas crucial to successfully supporting, maintaining and repairing automated systems and technologies throughout their facilities in a safe manner. Additionally, these certifications offer the potential to reduce training costs because employers can be assured that certified supply chain technicians are already up-to-speed on the various disciplines required to work on such equipment. Indeed, MSSC has found that, “employers that use MSSC [certifications] to amplify the training of existing employees can expect a more agile and productive workforce with a broader understanding of manufacturing and logistics.”
Easier evaluation of candidates. For a company’s human resources department charged with recruiting and hiring supply chain technicians (or differently-named positions with similar responsibilities), CTSCA Certificate holders are easily distinguished from a field of multiple potential candidates with comparable skill sets. This designation on a résumé can save time in evaluating and assessing an applicant’s suitability for a position because the qualifications for certification have been clearly defined.
Enhanced knowledge of safety practices. Because the CTSCA Certifications include verification of the bearer’s competence in OSHA policies, procedures and standards, employers can be assured that the employee is well versed in proper safety practices. This significantly reduces the potential for accidents and injuries in the workplace.
Consistent and common skills and knowledge. Should CTSCA Certification be a requirement for employment or promotion, a company is assured that all of its automation support team members have been trained consistently across the same topics and share a common foundation of skills and knowledge.
Standardization of advancement and promotion opportunities. Companies that require their automation support, maintenance and repair staffers to have (or acquire) CTSCA Certification can align the certification to performance-based pay, promotions and raises—leveling the playing field for employees to advance in their careers within the organization in a consistent, standardized and fair manner.
Easier recruitment of qualified employees. Adoption of CTSCA Certification by employers as a requirement for hiring supports the development of a self-sustaining pipeline of qualified candidates. By utilizing the pre-determined standards as a basis for hiring and pay scale decisions, the hiring process can become easier, faster and less expensive, both in terms of salary stabilization and in the time it takes a human resources department to find and screen qualified candidates. MSSC’s research has also found that employers who implement the organization’s certifications as a part of their hiring practices “have seen reduced turnover, improved teamwork and lower recruitment costs.”
Incentivized training reduces turnover. Companies that implement paid training as an incentive for employees to earn CTSCA Certification can make a potential employer more attractive to a candidate. Such benefits also show a company values its employees’ growth and development. “Paying for custom training and providing sufficient time to attend also demonstrates to existing staff that you don't expect them to take on the additional burden of on-the-job training on top of their existing duties. Training provides opportunities for career development and job enrichment—both of which are likely to increase motivation and job satisfaction while reducing turnover. Training also leads to more ongoing commitment from your employees, which also results in decreased turnover.”
Continued education. Certain certifications, such as MSSC’s CLA, CLT and CTSCA, offer their holders the opportunity to re-certify after five years. While not mandatory for maintaining the credential, the re-certification process gives supply chain technicians the chance to demonstrate and document their increase in experience and/or education within the field. This process also lets employers know that the CTSCA certificate holders they employ are keeping current on the latest developments in automation systems and technologies.
Qualified in-house support reduces dependence on vendors. For companies weighing the option of keeping automation technology support, repair and maintenance in-house versus outsourcing these tasks to a supplier or vendor, it may prove less expensive to keep qualified employees on staff. That’s because not only can vendor service calls and contracted, in-house vendor-supplied technicians be more expensive, but also the cost-benefit analysis may be incomplete. Companies “frequently cite only the absolute reduction in costs…rather than looking at those savings from a net present value (NPV) perspective, including associated costs and effects on production levels. Companies also frequently ignore the fixed costs that do not go away when a task is outsourced…expenses can account for up to 30% of the total costs related to an outsourced function.”
Of critical concern is the potential impact on production levels. Companies that rely on external maintenance and repair service providers may suffer tremendous financial losses while equipment is down. Time can be lost waiting for an outside vendor to arrive, or bringing a service technician up-to-speed on the unique configuration of equipment within a facility, and its context within the operation. Further, the qualifications of external service providers may be unknown, whereas in-house technicians’ credentials—such as CTSCA Certification—can be easily verified.
Reduction in operational downtime improves customer experience. A reduction in operational downtime due to the employment of certified supply chain technicians also results in improved customer experience. Companies that are able to keep their systems up and running are better positioned to deliver on their promises, whether that includes maintaining adequate inventory of items or shipping those items on time. Because CTSCA certificate holders have a broad-based knowledge of the base mechanics of automated systems—as well as about the interdependency of the integrated components throughout an operation—they are better prepared to troubleshoot and correct problems quickly. They can also implement and adhere to scheduled preventive and predictive maintenance programs at regular intervals based on their personal knowledge of how a facility operates. Finally, thanks to their intimate knowledge of internal operations, in-house technicians can better assure functional quality control during both routine and peak operational times and seasons, helping a business meet its obligations to its customers.
Get More Information about the Occupation of SCT
Want to learn more about the occupation of Supply Chain Technician? Visit the National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education at http://www.supplychainteched.org/
About the Author
Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for MODERN Materials Handling and Material Handling Product News as an Editor at Large since 2001. Specter has worked in the fields of graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for nearly 20 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. She owns her own marketing communications firm, Sara Specter, Marketing Mercenary LLC (www.saraspecter.com). Clients include companies in a diverse range of fields, including materials handling equipment, systems and packaging, professional and financial services, regional economic development and higher education. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, KY with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she and her husband are in the process of establishing a vineyard and winery (www.BellsUpWinery.com
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The National Center aspires to increase the number of skilled technicians by serving as the national leader for supply chain automation education.
This Center is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education Program under Award No. 1601452. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented on our social media platforms are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.