While healthcare and technology have received a lot of attention by dint of their potential to create jobs in 2011, one relatively underrated field that is set to witness high volumes of hiring in the year to come is supply chain management. According to Fortune Magazine, global companies are facing a crunch of skilled talent in the field and are set to ramp up recruitment to fill the talent gaps. Fortune also draws attention to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that estimates 48% of U.S. companies would be hiring logistics and supply chain grads in 2011.

Supply chain management, traditionally perceived as non-glamorous and even monotonous logistics-related work, has undergone significant evolution in an age where the speed of customer responsiveness and time-to-market are crucial determinants of success. Globalization and integration of offerings have magnified its impact to an extent where it is strategically important to any business. Consequently, supply chain professionals must possess not just niche domain knowledge, but also a broad business perspective and soft/people skills.

While a number of colleges and universities - including the very best such as Penn State and MIT - have programs oriented towards creating professionals for the supply chain management industry, the reality is that demand far outstrips supply. Enterprises today are facing a shortage of professionals who can re-engineer their supply chains and manage the entire life cycle of goods and services across geographies, by deploying innovative technologies and setting up new processes.

While there is often a mismatch between skills required and what's needed, companies who do manage to find talent (or train them to desired levels of expertise) also struggle to retain them especially in booming supply chain centers such as China and India.

As Kevin O'Marah, group VP of AMR's global supply chain practice (owned by Gartner), writes in a piece for the AMR First Thing Monday newsletter, Part of the mismatch is rooted in a surplus of narrow technical skills against a shortage of broader business skills... broad business process expertise as well as organizational savvy comes from integrating knowledge of things like finance and marketing into supply chain strategy. Unfortunately, this type of career path seems all too rare.