Supply Chain

What Is a Supply Chain Internship, and Is One Right For Me?

June 17, 2021

A successful supply chain internship can bring your business heightened operations through a new perspective and high-value potential from a low-risk opportunity.

What did you do yesterday? 

You probably had breakfast, or at least coffee. Perhaps you drove to work. Did you have to stop for gas? Lunch was good, hopefully. Were your clothes comfortable, stylish? Last night’s game was a good one.

The reason we ask is to direct your attention to the wide array of products you encountered yesterday. Think about each different product your hands touched yesterday. These products probably ranged from industries like textiles, transportation, healthcare, electronics, oil and gas, and many more. And behind every one of the products you used yesterday is a successful supply chain.

You’re here because you have a vested interest in supply chains. Perhaps you’re looking to land a supply chain internship and are wondering how to start and where to apply, or perhaps you’re a supply chain manager and you’re curious about if a supply chain internship program is a good idea for your business.

The world of supply chains is wide and deep and it can be overwhelming. Supply chain fields and supply chain positions are all over the place. But this is actually a good thing because as a prospective supply chain intern you have the ability to hone in on an industry that really attracts and interests you. An internship is the perfect way to expose yourself to a variety of fields and positions within supply chains.

Why Is a Supply Chain Internship Role Worth Considering?

Supply chains aren’t plug-and-place. Each one is specific to the business, the product, and the industry. The daily operations of an electronics manufacturer’s supply chain contains processes and knowledge that is wildly different from the capabilities needed for supply chain operations of a trucking company. By becoming a supply chain intern, you will directly shadow the professionals of your chosen industry and gain in-field job experience and exposure. This foundational knowledge will build off what you’ve learned in the classroom, except it will feel different and more exciting when you witness that education played out in real time, with real tools, real products, and real money.

To level up in the supply chain world, you have to prove you know what you’re doing. Meaning, you’ve got to start from the ground up. Becoming an intern is an excellent first step to eventually becoming a supply chain manager - a stable and well-paying position. Managerial roles within the supply chain are expected to grow steadily in the future, earn an average a 24% higher salary than the national average, and frequently receive cash compensations in addition to base pay for a job well done.

So what’s the difference between a supply chain internship and an entry-level supply chain job? Quite a bit actually. An entry-level supply chain position tends to be more generalized, less incentivizing, and will likely result in employment stagnation faster than with a job that was chosen specifically after an internship role. Remember: the goal of the internship is educational, not occupational - it’s an investment. 

A supply chain internship is particularly beneficial because they do not usually require any prior industry-related work experience - so it’s perfect for the average college student. Internships are usually for a defined period of time - so there’s no long term commitment from either end. Many times, as you’re probably aware, internships are unpaid. Not all the time - and we’ll get into the average salaries for interns and full-time employees in a little bit - but most of the time the main benefits you receive from completing an internship will be in the form of experience with what a supply chain looks like from the inside, the networking that comes with the role and the industry, and a more defined path towards success in your related field. 

What Does a Supply Chain Intern Do?

Within a robust, flexible and successful supply chain there are people who are excellent at jobs like: supply chain manager, logistics analyst, purchasing agent, supply chain specialist, supply chain analyst, transportation manager, etc. These job roles are interconnected, interdependent, yet totally independent roles, which all oversee a variety of channels of the supply chain. Within these positions’ realm of responsibility, there are many duties that are perfect for an intelligent supply chain intern to gain a learning opportunity while affecting real outcomes for a business. That type of experience is critical for a young professional looking to crack into the industry.

So what does a supply chain intern actually do? Generally, interns are expected to communicate and coordinate suppliers, complete data entry and analysis, buying and expediting, aiding with forecast and spending analysis, inventory control, project management, or developing cost-saving measures - just to name a few. Specifically, interns will complete specific tasks like: automating repetitive tasks by coding macros using VBA, overseeing RGF for a high-volume system and evaluating suppliers’ quotes, coordinate TL and LTL shipments, handle the phase in/phase out process for NPI builds, and many more. Of course, there’s also the chance you’ve got to make an occasional coffee run. 

Once in the flow of the organization’s operations, interns will be expected to float across multiple projects simultaneously, working well on a team and with other teams, meet the expected deadlines, and most importantly - the intern will be assigned tasks that fit the business’ needs, not the intern’s particular area of interest. Remember: this is educational, not occupational.

What Skills Does a Supply Chain Intern Need To Have?

If you’re in the position to apply for a supply chain internship then odds are, you’ve got the skills to succeed in one. The ability to understand and apply information is proven by your current college standing, a baseline understanding of supply chains is in place, and most importantly you’ve proven the desire to learn the industry and work towards a career in supply chain management. Beyond those important factors, there are some specific capabilities a potential intern should have under their belt.

Hard Skills:

  • Computer literacy - including program knowledge for widely-used applications like QMS, MRP, or PIM
  • Knowledge of supply chain processes
  • Business experience, customer service experience, etc.
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Data entry and analysis
  • Efficiency in Microsoft suite applications

Soft Skills:

  • Highly organized
  • Time management skills
  • Ability to work under pressure and multitask
  • Strong communication skills 
  • Ability to work with teams
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • How to communicate with both customers and suppliers

What Qualifications Does a Supply Chain Internship Applicant Need?

Now, while you don’t need any industry-related experience for most supply chain internship opportunities - there are a few “must-haves” to get your foot in the door. In order to apply for an internship you must be actively enrolled in a relevant course or study while satisfying your school’s requirements for participation (if the internship is a part of a university or summer internship program). Additional requirements usually vary by company - things like a minimum cumulative GPA, a minimum age, or particular geographical stipulations. But other than those standards which are met by most - an internship is available to any willing participant.

What Kind of Careers Can a Supply Chain Internship Prepare Me For?

Once you’ve decided on a career in supply chain - the type of company, the industry, and the position you choose is influenced mostly by you. That’s why a supply chain internship is so important. You get on-the-job knowledge of which positions and industries fit your brain the best.

Here’s some examples of supply chain internships:

  • Supply Chain Operations internship - in this internship, you’ll likely be working alongside one or more managers in areas like purchasing, inventory, or distribution. This internship is usually painted with a broad brush, and is a good opportunity to gain exposure in multiple areas of the supply chain. Perfect for someone pursuing a career in supply chain management. Roles that this would prepare you for: Inventory Clerk, SAP Certified Professional, Supply Chain and Logistics Coordinator, Import/Export Specialist, Purchasing Agent, Operations Manager.
  • Business Analyst internship - in this internship, you’ll likely analyze data in one or more channels of the supply chain and assist the supply chain team locate inefficiencies and make recommendations to upper management for process improvement. This is a good role for a business or computer science major. Roles that this would prepare you for: Supply Chain Analyst, Inventory Analyst, Logistics Analyst, Production Manager, Operations Manager.
  • Industrial Engineering internship - as an engineering intern, you’ll not focus as much on the general flow of goods through the supply chain; you will focus more on the specifics of one, crucial aspect of the supply chain. You’ll assist the planning and coordination of one specific area of impact like distribution or inventory, and ensuring the operations meet engineering standards. Perfect for a business major with technical experience or an engineering major. Roles that this would prepare you for: Supplier Quality Engineer, Supply Chain Engineer, Industrial Engineer, Logistics Engineer, Material Logistics Agent.
  • Logistics internship - as a logistics intern, you’ll focus on multiple crucial aspects of the supply chain at once. Coordinating information and analyzing data from vendors, to inventory, to shipping and more. Making sure that all business systems are as efficient as possible is the goal in this position. This one is for a problem-solver; someone with a keen eye for something that could be better. Roles that this would prepare you for: Supply Chain and Logistics Coordinator, Logistics Analyst, Supply Chain and Logistics Sourcing Specialist, Supply Chain Manager.
  • Manufacturing internship - in this internship, you’ll get hands-on experience in the world of production. This one covers every industry, so if you’re drawn to a particular line of products or industry this is a good option for you. This is perfect for a student looking to expand their technical skills and work with their hands some of the time. Role that this would prepare you for: Sourcing Specialist, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Consultant, Supply Chain Engineer, Supply Chain Director.

After completion, you are instantly more hire-able than a candidate without an internship, or with one that wasn’t as rigorous as yours. The supply chain job titles that you will be an attractive candidate for are broken down by sectors in the supply chain below. This is not a complete list, but rather a jumping off point for your personal research and titles you can build up to in the future.

Manufacturing and Production

  • Plant Manager
  • Packaging Engineer
  • Safety and Environmental Engineer
  • Material Manager
  • VP of Operations
  • Plant Finance Manager
  • Maintenance Manager

Data Analysis

Procurement/Sourcing and Purchasing

  • Supply Quality Engineer
  • Technical Buyer
  • Director of Supplier Management
  • Procurement Manager
  • Senior Category manager
  • Global Sourcing Manager

Logistics and Transportation

  • International Logistics Manager
  • Director of Logistics
  • VP of Transportation
  • VP of Logistics
  • VP of Distribution
  • Director of Global Warehousing

Additional Supply Chain Careers 

  • Supply Chain Strategist
  • Quality Assurance Manager
  • Planning and Metrics Manager
  • Continuous Improvement Manager
  • Director of Global QA

As we said, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather it is meant to show you the vast array of opportunities of employment available in the world of supply chains. Whatever your strengths are, there is a position and industry in which you can excel. But first, you’ve got to land an internship before you can imagine being the global director of anything.

How Do You Find a Supply Chain Internship?

As a general rule with internships, you have a better chance of landing one if there is a personal/professional connection in place prior to application. A program at your college, a personal connection - anything to make the connection between you and the company shorter. 

Look for opportunities on Handshake, Chegg Internships, LinkedIn, and other student and professional networking sites as well as job board sites with live job alerts like Indeed or GlassDoor. Although these are generalized and include an excess of choices - these sites are still great options to find an internship that’s a good fit for you. Your persistent systems of effort will pay off eventually with this route.

If you know of a company you like, and want to work for - check out their website directly and see if they operate an internship program. Applying through their website directly shows a specific desire on your part, which is a good trait for a hiring manager to see.

How Do You Apply For and Secure a Supply Chain Internship?

You’ve made it this far, so you’re aware of the different types of internships out there. Once you’ve found a few that call out to you, it’s important to think through the best practices before entering the process of applying, preparing, interviewing, following-up and eventually landing the position. Internships are an equal opportunity for global supply chains - your sexual orientation doesn't matter, your gender identity doesn't matter, your national origin doesn't matter. A big city like New York, a big company like Pfizer, or the local co-op down the road would be lucky to have you.

Application - Time to dust off the resume and the letter of interest. When you apply for an internship, how you present yourself through your resume says a lot about how polished you may be as an intern. Use that resource to fool-proof your resume.

Preparation - It’s 2021 so you know companies will be checking out your social media profiles, so tidy those up if they need it. Get a good outfit ready for an interview. Practice speaking on your highlights. Be ready to have an interview at the drop of a hat. Keep up on trends in the news of whichever industries you choose to enter.

Interviewing - The best way to be prepared for an interview is to be prepared. A good interview happens when you know what you’re talking about. Interviewing well is important, so check out resources and arm yourself with the tools needed to instill confidence in your interviewer.

Following Up - Following up after an interview reinforces your position, and can be as simple as sending a quick, personalized email that references your appreciation for their time, and maybe referencing a highlight of the conversation. If you promised to circle back with them on anything during the interview - this is the time to do so.

Once you’ve landed the internship, you’ll turn around and be applying for the real thing. And then by the time you’ve come to realize you’re a working professional, it’ll be your one-year mark. These things can go by quickly - especially when real income is involved and a bevy of new freedoms and duties are earned. So, have a plan. Know where you want to go and set specific markers along the way. Find your niche. Demonstrate your value. Keep climbing for new heights. 

Supply Chain Intern Job Salaries

Now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for...

Are you willing to accept an unpaid internship if you feel it is the absolute right fit in terms of scheduling and flexibility, interest in the company, overall value of the opportunity, and in the industry you desire? Because that may well be the reality. A summer internship, as a summer intern, is less likely to be a paid internship, but it pays off dividends in future salaries and vertical opportunities, so you must consider it an investment. The money will come. If the shoe fits, wear it.

But if you do find an internship that will compensate you appropriately, the opportunity is quite attractive. The median supply chain internship salary is $50,980. New York is a place that rates high for paid internships.

Should You Make Supply Chain Internships a Part of Your Business?

If you’re curious about the pros and cons of implementing an internship program into your business, you’re not alone. The upsides are high, but there’s times when it just isn’t the right fit. Creating a new position is not a simple, quick, or free process. The position will add items to the checklists of supply chain managers, it will require time from HR, and there’s always the chance that the intern is not a good fit and then you're back to square one.

But oh, the possibilities!

A successful supply chain internship can bring your business heightened operations through a new perspective, and high-value potential from a low-risk opportunity, adding another body to assist in tasks that are crucial to the supply chain but simply need time. If your business is in a point where you have a few hours of mid-level managers time to spare, or some particular business (like a high season, or test products) that you need extra professionals for - then adding a supply chain internship program is highly encouraged. It really does change a lot of business’ operations for the better.

Interns bring a brand new set of eyes to your business. Interns are unhindered by organizational groupthink, so they won’t see some of the existing challenges of your business like everyone else might. They could come in and spot an inefficiency right off the bat simply because they’re new to the process and saw the situation differently. Plus, interns are currently in school. They are actively receiving the latest industry practices as daily education. Creating a role for an intern is a pretty low-risk opportunity that cultivates new talent in the organization’s industry, and can lead to big value-adds. A good intern can fit seamlessly into your supply chain once they’ve completed their bachelor's degree.

How To Hire or Find Supply Chain Interns

You don’t want to have to fire an intern, but what you really don’t want is to have to fire an intern and not know the proper protocol because you weren’t prepared for it. When creating the internship program, make space for the hiring and firing process. Outline the specific manner in which interns will be hired, and even signify how the firing process ought to be handled. When the time comes to do either, your team will be prepared.

Here’s some questions to mull over before creating a supply chain internship program, and what the onboarding and offboarding mean to that program.

  • What are the overall goals and desired outcomes of the program, for the company and for the intern?
  • What does the position’s onboarding and job description look like? What activities will the intern be involved in and responsible for? Who is in charge of mentorship and of the requisition ID?
  • Who will serve as mentors for the intern, and what will their involvement look like?
  • What will the duration of the program be, and what will be the weekly time commitment for the candidate? Will the position have a fixed schedule, or offer flexibility?
  • How will the company evaluate and select candidates & their performance, and conduct periodic reviews to assess the efficacy of the program?
  • What will the intern’s compensation be? If the internship position is unpaid, does it satisfy legal requirements?
  • What will offboarding look like, and how will the company evaluate the success of the program?

When you’ve got all your ducks in a row, and are ready to roll out your supply chain summer internship program and start recruiting potential interns - where do you go? A good first stop is recruitment agencies within your industry, college programs from notable universities near you, as well as local job fairs, job posting boards, and networking sites LinkedIn, GlassDoor, Handshake, Chegg Internships, etc.

How Propel Can Help

Experience is a great thing. It’s a necessary thing, especially in the world of supply chain. For a student, an internship is the crucial experience to help put the liturgical into practical, and determine what arenas of the industry are the right fit. For a business, an internship program is high-value opportunities for low-risk and a really good way to increase operational efficiency.

Supply chain software is providing supply chain solutions every day, with supply chain as a service opportunities. Supply chain professionals can combine reports and optimize dashboards for analyzing and processing the relevant data faster and more accurately. It can revolutionize your business completely.

Learn more about Propel solutions here.


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Skylar Reddy

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