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Surprising career trends: operations management

In the first of a new series, we look at why operations management is one of the fastest growing careers out there - and how students can prepare for it.

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Operations management is a popular and fast growing career, and by 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts it will have grown by another 27.4%. The role varies considerably depending on the employment sector and routes into the role vary too. One attraction of the career is that the skills it requires are transferrable in many instances across different sectors, from industry, to health care, finance and hospitality. Universities offer degrees in operations management, but degrees in engineering, business and economics also provide a route into the career.

What is an operations manager?

An operations manager usually coordinates the work of several departments within the organisation which could include the supply chain, orders, quality, sales targets, management training, staff motivation, and recruitment. In multi-national companies, the role may span a wide area across several sites and involve travel. One important aspect is to work on business processes to ensure the organisation is performing as effectively and efficiently as possible.

These roles are often found in manufacturing sectors, especially civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, but also in logistics companies, healthcare, insurance, finance, travel, hospitality and construction.

Who’s right for the job?

This career might appeal to people who are interested in team work, communicating with different sectors of an organisation, and wanting to play a pivotal role in the success of an organisation without being confined to a single department.

Good communications skills are essential because the role involves working with employees from the factory floor to senior directors. Managers need to be able to handle pressure because one of the key elements of the role is the efficiency of the company. Business acumen is required because budgets will be part of the role. Being able to see the bigger picture of where the organisation is heading in the future, planning for this and managing recruitment is essential.

How to get there

Career progression within an organisation is usually key. An experienced, senior project manager may become an operations manager as their next step. As the role involves working across all sectors of the organisation, previous exposure to other departments and experience is essential.

A good route is to get a degree in a technical or business-related subject, joining companies as a new graduate and specialising in different aspects of the business over a number of years. Some large companies offer higher apprenticeships, which combine employment and studying for a degree. Furthermore, there are degrees in operations management and logistics. As the role is a management one however, it is unlikely anyone would join a company as an operations manager straight out of university; it’s a role that requires experience.

There are plenty of undergraduate and graduate degrees in Operations Management available. Many courses offer joint honours with Business or Logistics, and include modules on marketing, finance, accounting, strategy, human resource management, supply chain and project management.

Career prospects

Organisations which employ operations managers include the public sector – the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and HMRC – but also Amazon, Barclays, the Natural History Museum, the British Library, and a host of private commercial companies.

Additional attractions

One of the major attractions of operations management is that it doesn’t limit anyone to a particular sector at an early stage of their career. It can be a progression from other roles within an organisation or a role in itself depending on experience. For anyone who wants to use a variety of skills across different employment sectors, this growing field may offer an exciting career.

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