Lyall McCrae worked for five years as an inventory control manager for a luxury eyeglass manufacturer in Southern California. In 2012, however, the lingering recession forced a company-wide layoff at the eyeware firm, and at age 51, he abruptly found himself without a job.
Despite McCrae’s 20-plus years of experience in operations and inventory control, his hunt for a new position quickly revealed that prospective employers were looking to hire people with more than experience—they wanted applicants with special credentials to prove their skills were up to snuff. So McCrae signed up for eight months of rigorous study to obtain the highly sought-after APICS The Association for Operations Management certification for operations and supply chain professionals.
Though McCrae has known about the APICS certification since college, he has never before pursued it. “The reason I’m doing it now is that it’s pretty essential for reaching the upper levels of inventory management,” says McCrae, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “It shows that you have competency besides just a college degree and experience like mine.”
McCrae is among tens of thousands of both veteran and comparatively new workers who have opted to go for an APICS certification in order to gain a competitive edge in the workforce. The certification process helps individuals hone their existing workplace skills while formally educating them on the guidelines and standards of operations and supply chain management.
In this article, we break down what APICS certification is, identify the requirements and process required for accreditation and explore the professional benefits getting certified can afford your career.
APICS Certification Requirements
There are two types of APICS certification: the Certification in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM)—which McCrae is preparing for—and the Certification as a Supply Chain Professional (CSCP).
To qualify for the process leading up to the exams for these certifications, applicants must first meet certain minimum employment and/or academic requirements. These requirements are listed in the chart below, along with the industries that most commonly require workers to possess these certifications.
|Total number of certified professionals||98,000||13,000|
|Requirements||* Two or more years experience in your field|
* High school diploma
|* Five or more years experience in your field
* Bachelor’s degree plus two years experience in your field
|Exam format||You must pass five exams:|
1. Basics of Supply Chain Management
2. Master Planning of Resources
3. Detailed Scheduling and Planning
4. Execution and Control of Operations
5. Strategic Management of Resources
|You must pass one exam consisting of three modules:
1. APICS Supply Chain Management Fundamentals
2. Supply Chain Strategy, Design and Compliance
3. Implementation and Operations
|Relevant company roles||* Production and inventory management|
* Supply chain management
* Materials management
|* Global supply chain management
* Consulting/ facilitating supply chain functions
* Working with ERP systems
Nationwide, both certification courses are taught in classrooms in 24 states (including Puerto Rico) and online through the APICS website. Online course registration is non-refundable and valid for one year.
The CPIM online course costs $2,750 for APICS members and $2,975 for non-members.
The CSCP online course, which is taught exclusively by instructors at Fox Valley Technical College, costs $2,425 for members and $2,790 for non-members. Courses taught on-site either at companies or colleges and universities vary in pricing, but generally do not exceed $3,000.
Demand for APICS-Certified Workers Is Increasing
Getting certified “demonstrates command of the subject matter,” says APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi. “APICS certifications are recognized [for] the rigorous exam process, depth of the content and the excellent quality of the courseware and study materials. APICS certifications are highly respected by employers and are frequently included as a preferred designation in job descriptions.”
In a 2012 study by the California State University at East Bay, researchers sought to identify trends in supply chain management job requirements by analyzing data from online postings, recruiting websites and professional organizations. Their data indicates a growing demand for supply chain workers: data collected from 2009-2011 compared to that from 2004-2006 reveals a 13.7 percent increase in upper level transportation, logistics and distribution management jobs and a 10.2 percent increase in mid-level sourcing, procurement and supply management positions.
“The CPIM certification—recognized around the world—touches on those business skills that deal with the planning and management of materials and operations,” says APICS instructor Nick Testa of Acuity Consulting in Cypress, CA. “The CSCP, another certification recognized around the world, ties together all those more complex pieces of the global supply chain: from the needs of customers wherever they’re located—and the logistics of getting the product to them—to the suppliers and their ability to provide the raw material which can be sourced in multiple countries around the world.”
Study researchers found that the heightened demand for workers with special credentials in these fields is partly due to many companies’ increasing reliance on what is now an international flow of products and supplies. Moving goods smoothly and efficiently from Point A to Point B requires workers with the know-how to accomplish this goal without wasting time or eroding profit margins.
APICS-Certified Employees Command Higher Salaries
At a time when some manufacturing sectors appear to be picking up steam again after the prolonged recession, workers in this area who possess more finely-honed skills are reaping extra financial rewards.
“[APICS-commissioned] research has shown that individuals who hold APICS certification can expect to earn between 14 and 20 percent more than their similarly qualified peers,” says Eshkenazi, who is CSCP-certified. “Achieving the APICS CPIM or APICS CSCP designation positively impacts careers and lives.”
Even those still in the process of getting certified can see financial gains. Melissa Lee, who works as a production planner in the composites division at an engineering firm in Orange County, CA, received a 10 percent salary hike despite the fact that she’s still studying for her APICS CPIM certification test. After passing three of the five required CPIM exams, Lee’s employers noticed her improved output and decided to reward her accordingly.
“One of the reasons I was turned on to APICS is for what it would teach me about ERP systems, capacity planning and executing the plan,” she explains. “It helps me grow as a professional in a short amount of time because it shows me the big picture.”
Lee, who began taking CPIM courses in January 2013 and is also studying for her bachelor’s degree, expects to finish both within the next two years. During this timespan, she expects to receive another merited pay increase, one about 30 percent higher than her current $19.80 an hour.
“When I was offered [my current] job last July, I was fully aware that [training] was basically going to be on-the-job,” she says. “So any information I could learn that would be helpful—that would make me a better employee and help the company meet the goals we need to meet—I was up for that.”
During his own job hunt and discussions with APICS instructor Testa, McCrae discovered that getting his CPIM could position him to fetch an annual salary of up to $120,000. The average starting wage for the kind of work he is targeting in inventory control, however, is currently about $60,000 a year.
APICS Certification Offers Multiple Paths to Career Fulfillment
According to APICS, employees with a CPIM either are already employed or eyeing positions in production and inventory management, supply-chain management, procurement, materials management and purchasing. The certification helps make workers more efficient in areas such as day-to-day inventory and production management, global supply chain activities and customer relations.
Through certified workers, the CPIM also aims to help companies develop a common language for their various systems and common practices across these systems. According to Testa, many companies find it essential to employ this common language when installing ERP systems or developing sales-and-operations planning processes.
The CSCP, on the other hand, hones skills in global supply chain management, including customer relations, managing relationships between different partners within the supply chain and overseeing complex documentation such as letters of credit. It improves skills on relevant internet technology procedures and infrastructure and helps individuals navigate the difficult landscape of international trade, as trade rules and regulations often vary considerably from country to country.
CSCP certification also promotes a common understanding of and language for articulating how these systems work and refines skills in using the computer systems that encompass all aforementioned areas.
Those looking to gain either of the two APICS certifications span the workplace spectrum, and include everyone from blue-collar employees with high school diplomas and vocational training to white-collar MBAs. “You’ve got the guys from Home Depot and the C-suite side by side in some of these courses,” says Testa, who is also an APICS member.
Testa teaches CPIM and CSCP certification courses at California State University’s Fullerton campus, teaches classes to students like McCrae at a local hotel and travels to corporations, which hire him to groom their staff for the CPIM and CSCP exams. He says that many individuals who possess multiple college degrees don’t have all of the skills associated even with the CPIM, the less difficult of the two certificates to achieve, which is why professionals and low-level workers alike seek certification.
An Intensive Process That Can Have Big Payoffs
“This is hardly the kind of thing you want to rush,” says consultant Ronald Althaus, an APICS certification instructor in Cincinnati, OH. “I tell my students to give themselves about a year for the courses, follow-up study for the exam and the exam itself.”
The type of information individuals must know is not easily committed to memory—you must really know the material to pass the exams, Althaus adds. The test themselves are never duplicated, which makes it all but impossible for one test-taker to pass the right answers onto the next between testing cycles.
Lee, whose employer is sharing the course costs with her, says she’s trying to prudently pace herself in order to ensure that she actually absorbs and retains what she’s learning. She spends eight hours each Saturday in her CPIM class—each module last about five weeks—and puts in additional hours on other weeknights doing homework for the courses
“After working 40, or a little more than 40, hours a week, going to class on Saturday can be tedious,” Lee says. “All you want to think about is sleep, until you sit up and realize that this hard work is paying off.”
Lee is just one of the many students who spend countless hours studying for the rigorous exam. “I’m putting in three hours per day studying for this. I go over everything,” says Sarv Singh, a semi-retired former international engineering consultant and another of Testa’s CSCP students.
“Whatever I get wrong on the practice quiz, I take it over and over again until I get it right,” he adds. “It’s like a mini MBA: a little bit of business, a little bit of engineering. Learning inventory management is one of the biggest parts of this for me, along with how to select the right modes of transportation for all that inventory. For me, 80 percent of this instruction is all new.”
Singh is also aware of the reality that taking the APICS courses guarantees nothing—passing the exams is the real challenge. “Not everybody who takes the class gets this certification,” Testa says. “This is daunting, to a degree. You have to have some good practical knowledge and some mental discipline to do this.”
Despite the intensity of the certification process, it’s clear that APICS accreditation can yield significant rewards for those who successfully complete the coursework and pass the final exams. As the manufacturing sector continues to emerge from the recession, it’s likely that more and more workers will seek CPIM and CSCP certifications as a way to gain crucial operations and supply chain skills that will distinguish them from other applicants to secure higher-paying, in-demand positions.