Exploring competence and workplace learning in supply chain management

Abstract: Competence in supply chain management (SCM) is a key factor for achieving superior business performance. The top 25 companies identified as having excellent competence in SCM in the annual research reports by AMR Research/Gartner have displayed substantially higher financial results than their competitors. In line with this cognizance, human resources are increasingly viewed as enablers of SCM and a source of sustainable competitive advantage. There is, however, little consensus on what competence in SCM consists of, and due to constantly ongoing transformations in the supply chain, such competence also needs to develop continuously. The purpose of this research is to contribute to the overall understanding of competence in SCM, and to explore the development of such competence at work. In line with the explorative nature of this research, a qualitative approach is used to investigate competence and workplace learning in SCM. The research is based on an interpretative epistemological stance and consists of three studies: a structured literature review, a case study, and an in-depth interview study. The case study is based on practice theory along with shadowing for data collection, while the in-depth interview study is based on middle-range theorizing and constructivist learning theory. This research provides a unique overview of competence in SCM, as well as novel and in-depth insights into the learning process at work for SC professionals. The research also offers initial insights into how organizations can support such competence development. The results on competence in SCM (based on the structured literature review and the case study) extend previous knowledge by simultaneously taking an overall grip to structure the field on a top level, as well as excavating the details to provide understanding on a deeper level. The results on workplace learning in SCM (based on the in-depth interview study) extend previous research that has identified necessary competences for SC professionals, but has not explained how they should be achieved, or only focused on formal SCM education. While prior research stops short of identifying the full complexity of how workplace learning takes place for SC professionals, the in-depth interview study delves into constructive learning process including the full range of contextual elements that affect learning outcomes. The results also extend previous research on workplace learning that has been carried out from an organizational perspective. It does so through its attempt to identify interventions that can support competence development for SC professionals. In total, four frameworks and 22 propositions have been developed and presented.