Operations Managers create and execute inventory, capacity, forecasting and other processes that help make companies more competitive. No wonder this is one of the fastest growing career areas for the coming decade.
In today's tough environment, businesses need to squeeze out every penny of excess cost and capture every cent of potential profit. Operations managers are on the front lines of that competitive battle. Labor economist Barry Bluestone has identified operations managers as one of the 15 most in-demand careers.
Peter Southard, assistant professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at the University of St. Thomas, agrees with Bluestone's assessment. The program had a 100 percent placement rate for 2009 graduates. "We were told that we had the second highest starting salary average, second only to accounting," Southard says.
The official definition of operations management is: "Understanding, creating, organizing, managing and improving the processes necessary to accomplish production and deliver a product that is of value to a customer."
No Typical Day
If that sounds like a broad field, it is. Responsibilities can include capacity management, facility location and layout, forecasting, inventory control and scheduling. "There is no typical day," Southard says.
Nor is there a "typical" title for operations managers. The list of positions for recent St. Thomas grads includes process analyst, production engineer, sourcing specialist, senior buyer and business analyst, as well as operations or supply chain manager. Employers include not only manufacturing companies like 3M, Land O' Lakes and Cargill but also service organizations like Metropolitan Life and U.S. Bank.
Quality processes like Six Sigma and TQM (Total Quality Management), as well as Lean or JIT (Just in Time) production systems are a major part of every operations management job, Southard says. Staying current in quality programs is a key to moving up the career ladder.
In addition, Southard says, "you need some math," although "not the level of math skills that an engineer will need." Aptitude for information technology is also helpful. In fact, Southard says, computerized analytical tools have helped to expand the capabilities of operations management.
As with anything in business, Southard notes, "people skills" are at least as important as technical skills. "The manager's job is getting things done through people. You have to motivate others to accomplish tasks."
And what's the single most important skill needed for success? "The best operations managers are those who can communicate the best," Southard says. "I don't care how well you understand and use the tools - if you can't communicate, you can't sell your solution."
For more information, visit the University of St. Thomas website at www.stthomas.edu and search for "Operations Management."