Operations and Logistics

Operations and Logistics


The logistics industry comprises more than 8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). As reported by SelectUSA, the U.S. business logistics costs reached $1.6 trillion in 2018, and foreign direct investment in the industry totalled $1.5 billion. The U.S. trucking industry alone generated more than $700 billion in revenue in 2017. The U.S. transportation and warehousing industry employs more than 6 million people. 

Businesses that are involved in transportation, production, shipping, distribution, and warehousing require operations and logistics help to ensure work processes flow smoothly. The key jobs in operations and logistics are logisticians (also known as logistics analysts), logistics managers; transportation, storage, and distribution managers, industrial production managers, purchasing managers, and buyers and purchasing agents.

Logisticians are employed in a wide variety of industries, from manufacturing and wholesale trade to federal government and professional, scientific, and technical consulting services. They analyze and coordinate the supply chain of companies, managing a products life cycle, starting at the point of acquisition through to distribution and final delivery. They review the logistical functions of businesses, such as procurement, inventory management, and supply chain management and planning systems, and make recommendations for improvements. Logisticians oversee purchasing, transportation, inventory, and warehousing. Their work may involve directing the movement of goods, people, or supplies; this could include common consumer goods or military personnel and supplies.

Industrial production managers manage the daily operations of manufacturing plants. They oversee the plant’s workers and work processes. They decide how to use workers as effectively as possible to streamline production, always with attention to staying on schedule and within budget. Industrial production managers work closely with managers in other departments, such as the procurement department, which orders and buys materials that the production department uses. They also coordinate work with sales, warehousing, and the research and design departments. In May 2018, there were 186,500 industrial production managers employed in the United States, according to the Department of Labor. The manufacturing industries that employ the most industrial production managers are motor vehicle parts manufacturing, plastics product manufacturing, and navigation and electromedical instruments manufacturiung, and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.

There are approximately 131,300 transportation, storage, and distribution managers, including logistics managers, working in the United States. Their main tasks are to plan, direct, and coordinate transportation, storage, and/or distribution activities according to organizational policies and in compliance with government regulations and laws. The industries that employ the largest number of logistics, transportation, storage, and distribution managers are warehousing and storage; various companies and enterprises; general freight trucking; federal executive branch; and rail transportation.

Purchasing managers coordinate purchasing activities for wholesale trade, retail, or organizations. They plan and direct the buying of materials, products, equipment, supplies, or services. They hire, supervise, and train staff, and also oversee the work of buyers and purchasing agents. Purchasing managers also interview and select vendors and suppliers, visiting plants and distribution centers to find the best products, services, and prices for the organization they are working for. They negotiate contracts with suppliers and monitor the business processes to make sure the terms of the contract are met. Purchasing managers stay informed of their organization’s sales records and inventories of current stock. The job also entails identifying foreign suppliers, and keeping up to date on changes that could affect supply and demand of products and materials. There were 71,700 purchasing managers working in the United States in May 2018. The majority work in the management of companies and enterprises. Others work in the federal executive branch and local government, or for manufacturing companies, such as aerospace product and parts, and navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments.

Buyers and purchasing agents buy products and services that organizations use or resell. They work closely with purchasing managers. They evaluate suppliers based on price, quality, and delivery speed of products and services. They visit plants and distribution centers to see the products and have a better understanding of how the business operates. They maintain records of purchases, deliveries, product performance, and inventories. There were 432,200 buyers and purchasing agents employed in the United States in May 2018, who specialized in purchasing machinery, equipment, tools, supplies, or services for the operation of an establishment. This included the purchase of raw or semi-finished materials for manufacturing. In the much smaller farm products sector, buyers and purchasing agents purchase farm products that are used for further processing or resale. This category includes grain brokers, grain buyers, tobacco buyers, market operators, and tree farm contractors.

According to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” rankings, of the more than 1,900 colleges that were analyzed, the top 12 schools for undergraduate programs in supply chain management and logistics were the following (based on peer reviews), starting with number one: 

  1. Michigan State University
  2. Arizona State University – Tempe
  3. Pennsylvania State University – University Park
  4. Ohio State University – Columbus
  5. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  7. University of Tennessee
  8. Georgia Institute of Technology
  9. Carnegie Mellon University
  10. University of Texas – Austin
  11. Purdue University – West Lafayette
  12. University of Pennsylvania