What qualifications are needed to be an operations manager?
An operations manager is responsible for handling the core business activities and processes for the company. What this means, differs from company to company and sector to sector. However, in all cases the role of an operations manager is pivotal, and most companies wouldn’t even be able to operate without someone performing this role.
An operations manager needs to be an expert in the specific business processes that he or she is expected to perform. While at the same time, the operations manager also needs to be a generalist who can execute dozens of general business tasks in the performance of his or her duties.
The academic requirements for operations managers are quite varied depending on the specific role and industry. Here are some examples of the sort of qualifications that are expected for different sectors.
An operations manager in a manufacturing company might be required to have an engineering degree in that specific field. Production engineering, electronics engineering, instrumentation engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, aeronautical engineering, etc. are just some of the many examples of sector-specific engineering qualifications. Candidates with one of these degrees will greatly improve the chance of being selected for senior-level operations department positions
The skillset required for financial operations would be completely different than, say, manufacturing. An operations manager in financial services would need to know about accounting, software usage, financial management, banking products and so on.
For online retail businesses, operations managers would need to focus on efficiencies and error reduction given the massive volumes. Business degrees would help here as general operational management and operations research are covered in such courses.
These few examples illustrate just how varied the academic requirements for an operations manager can be. By going after a specific qualification, candidates can increase their chances of being selected in the specific niche. However, those looking for a more general role in operations could do well just by getting a normal business degree. An MBA would serve to add even more value to any CV and increase the chances of being considered for more senior roles.
There are dozens if not hundreds of sector and role-specific certifications for operations managers. For example, there is a certification for managing operations in the hospitality sector, another certification for a similar role in the logistics sector, some geared towards the financial services sector, and yet others targeting software operations, the government sector and so on.
APICS offers quite a few certifications targeted towards inventory management, operations, manufacturing, etc. These certifications offered by APICS generally have pretty good acceptability across the world.
In terms of certifications, a Six Sigma qualification would perhaps add the most value to any candidate’s CV. Large companies usually have their own Six Sigma programs and that is where this whole concept first originated anyway. However, a lot of institutes now offer various Six Sigma courses and certifications. The International Association for Six Sigma Certification, for example, offers yellow belt, green belt and black belt Six Sigma certifications.
These certifications serve a very important secondary purpose as well. Not only do they demonstrate a candidate’s theoretical knowledge, they, more importantly, but also demonstrate the candidate’s interest in operations. This is especially true for new candidates who do not have a lot of work experience in their fields. A relevant certification indicates that the candidate is willing to put in the time and effort to succeed in that role.
Operations managers are usually mid-level executives who have a few years of experience under their belt. How much responsibility they have, depends on the size and structure of the company. For example, an operations manager in a large company might have dozens of workers reporting to him or her. However, at a smaller setup, it’s possible that one operation manager handles the entire department.
The work experience requirements, therefore, differ based on these considerations. The amount of work experience mentioned in the job listing might serve as an indicator of the seniority of the role. For example, one job listing may just require two years of work experience for an operations manager role whereas another listing might require 10 years of experience or more.
What skills do operations managers need?
Perhaps the most important skill that operations managers need to possess is a thorough understanding of the entire business process. Operations managers not only need to help their direct reports in the performance of their duties, but they also need to be overall process owners for everything that happens in their departments.
A company would not be able to operate if there are any hiccups or disruptions in the operations department. Operational managers do not support staff but rather one of the most important cogs in the corporate machine. It is because of this reason that experienced operations managers are highly sought after. Company-specific operations can differ significantly, therefore having experience in a similar role is extremely valuable for operations managers.
Operations managers usually lead large teams of workers who are involved in the daily operations of the company. These roles can often be quite stressful and therefore operations managers really need to have the pulse of their direct reports. This leadership quality becomes especially important during crunch time or times of high stress and workload. Leadership is also important to ensure that the department stays motivated and focused on things that are important. Good leadership can have a direct impact on things like defect rates and operational errors.
Efficiency is important for all business functions, but in the operations, the department is where it has the most direct impact on a company’s profitability. An operations department with high throughput will directly improve operational leverage and likely have a direct impact on the operating margin. Good operations manager would therefore always be on the lookout for ideas that can remove inefficient bottlenecks and enhance productivity.
Financial efficiency is also important for operations managers. Achieving set goals within their pre-allocated budgets can be an art.
Zero tolerance for errors
Operational errors can have a catastrophic impact on a business. Modern supply chains are complex, and components are usually sourced from dozens of vendors. All these components, whether physical goods or service inputs, need to fit together perfectly for the whole thing to work. Any errors can cause defects in the final product that might make it unusable.
Operational errors also have the potential to trigger lawsuits, regulatory fines and cause massive reputational damage. Operations manager, therefore, need to have a keen eye for detail and run a tight ship.
Planning, designing, and forecasting skills
Operations managers handle complex tasks and thus need to spend a great deal of time planning the work distribution weeks in advance. This planning obviously requires the ability to forecast resource availability in advance and the ability to design processes around those constraints.
General administration skills
The operations department can be thought of like a mini-business setup. There are hundreds of moving parts, business processes, financial considerations, HR issues, stakeholder management, etc. Operations managers need to possess the necessary skills to handle all these activities simultaneously.
Operations managers also must liaise with other departments, department heads and perform staff management duties. They may need to attend periodic meetings and provide updates about business operations.
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