Nehemiah Scott, professor and director of supply-chain management at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, describes how the topic is being taught in online courses in a time of physical school closures and the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now an essential part of supply-chain management education. It has brought about huge changes in consumer buying patterns, and challenged the ability of suppliers to keep pace while ensuring a steady flow of product. Still, says Scott, it’s a challenge “to teach something that’s still evolving.”

He has seen a marked rise in interest among students in supply-chain management as a course of study. Yet the pandemic has interrupted the university’s usual rule that they complete an internship as part of their graduation requirement. Because of the need for sheltering in place and social distancing, some have lost such opportunities, as well as full-time work positions. Others continue to engage in internships and externships in a virtual mode. To ensure that students aren’t penalized for their inability to participate in internships, the university has had to temporarily suspend the requirement. At the same time, it has met with a number of private companies about developing projects for students that can be completed during the semester.

The pandemic has delivered its own set of lessons to prospective supply-chain professionals, chief among them the need for managing supply and demand on a constant basis. “Not too many events in the past have had this significant an impact on both simultaneously,” Scott notes.

Also coming to the fore as a priority is the importance of procurement and strategic sourcing. It’s no longer enough to view that discipline as a purely transactional activity. “COVID-19 has brought the importance of forging critical relationships with suppliers,” Scott says.

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