A supply chain is everything and everybody that is involved in bringing a product to a consumer. They are what make trade and commerce possible. There would be no supplies in our hospitals, food in our supermarkets, or products in our stores if it were not for supply chains that move all of these goods from being just raw materials all the way to the finished products in our hands. Supply chains make our modern lives possible.
For example, when you buy strawberries at Woolies, there is a supply chain at work. It starts with the farmer that grows the strawberries, and includes the workers that pick and pack them, and the trucking company that transports them. It also includes the people and companies that organise every part of the distribution process all the way to the store shelves where you buy them.
While some supply chains are simple, many supply chains can be very complex. Most of the products we see around us – a dress from Zara, an Apple iPhone, a Holden ute –have very complex supply chains behind them. These supply chains include all the companies that manufactured every component of the product, from raw materials to the finished good. They also include all the people that were involved in planning, sourcing, making, moving, storing and delivering the goods.
Up and down the supply chain, there is a constant flow of materials, information and money. Because we trade with countries all around the world, our supply chains often span across places where the languages, time zones, and laws are different from ours. Some countries have special rules about how goods can be manufactured, stored and moved. Also, different rules apply when the products can be harmful if misused, like medications or dangerous substances, to ensure their movement is done safely.
As consumers, all of us are directly impacted by the supply chains of all the goods we buy, be they groceries, electronics, medicines or cars. For a company, having a better supply chain than its competitors allow it to offer better products, faster and at a better price. This gives the company a competitive edge in the market.
A supply chain that is:
- less wasteful will result in goods that are more affordable.
- careful will result in goods that meet the quality we expect.
- fast will deliver the goods we need without unnecessary delays.
- compliant will provide us with products that are safe to use and for our environment
- visible and will ensure workers across the world are treated fairly
Here’s the thing: supply chains are changing fast. There are many exciting new things on the horizon – including technological innovations like robots, thinking computers and automated trucks – that will change the face of supply chain jobs forever. The 21st century has also brought with it new priorities: there is now a better understanding of the impact that we and our choices are having on the environment and on other people. As a result, there is a new urgency to make sure that everything we do – including our supply chains – is done sustainably and responsibly.
Another reason supply chains matter is because they create millions of jobs the world over. There are more than one million jobs in Australia alone in supply-chain related activities. People that drive trucks and sail ships, people that run ports, airports, warehouses and distribution centres, people that manage the inventory and distribution of goods, they all work in supply chains. But they are not the only ones working in supply chain: there are also good strategists, managers and directors, people thinking about how to design, run and improve these supply chains, using computers instead of trucks, working with data instead of boxes, working to optimise the system in order to make better decisions.
Exciting new jobs in supply chains in Australia and the world are now looking for talent. Many more jobs will be created in coming years. And, as always, talent is in short supply.