Great Supply Chain People are Getting Harder to Find – but do Companies Have a Talent Management Issue?

April 5, 2017



As a recruitment company completely specialized in Procurement and Supply Chain, we’re interested in following the so-called “talent deficit” in the field from all angles and perspectives. The fact is, it’s becoming harder for companies for find the talent that they need for these positions as baby boomers retire and the function evolves. As trade publication Supply Chain 24/7 puts it, “study after study has shown that for every new Supply Chain Manager entering the workforce, two (or more) are retiring.”

It’s a serious issue.

But the more you look at this issue, and the more perspectives you seek, the more you realize how complex it truly is: we’re witnessing a generational shift in the Supply Chain industry whereby more young people are entering the field. Technology has developed rapidly over the past 10 years, with big data, 3d printing, Blockchain and automation promising to upset the apple cart completely over the next 10. It’s not just that people are retiring. It’s that finding people who have a depth of understanding of how to harness these new technologies is going to be a major driver of company competitiveness over the coming years, and they’re hard to find.

That growing demand is part of what makes Supply Chain such an attractive field for young people who are interested in business that combines global exposure, strategic problem solving, technology, and data. More universities and colleges are offering Supply Chain Management programs. But the skills required are always evolving, and how can the industry ensure that people are adequately skilled when they themselves can’t always predict the technological picture 3-5 years down the road? 

There was a thought-provoking blog post on this topic in Supply Chain Management Review this week by Supply Chain Professor Michael Gravier. Titled, “Lack of Supply Chain Talent – or Lack of Talent Management?”, the post talks about the talent deficit from the perspective of someone who’s very much in the trenches of preparing tomorrow’s Supply Chain leaders for tomorrow’s workforce.

Professor Gravier’s point is pretty simple, but pointed: “Young people who go into Supply Chain and manufacturing jobs complain that employers demand creativity during the hiring process, yet have no tolerance for new ideas in the workplace.”

In other words, companies are eager to lock down the highest-potential candidates – which only makes sense because of course you want the best talent, and of course you don’t want that talent going to your competitors. But once those candidates are placed? In Gravier’s eyes, organizations don’t necessarily take the next step and let them contribute in a creative way. For Gravier, millennial workers – especially high performers – specifically demand a higher level of engagement and skill growth than employers might be accustomed to. And, by putting these new workers in transactional roles without much opportunity for growth, companies are jeopardizing their long-term talent goals and putting themselves in danger of falling behind.

As Gravier puts it: “There’s evidence that companies show little commitment to developing and rewarding needed skills, and companies hire top-notch graduates in order to avoid having to deal with people problems later, which shows that there’s likely insufficient training and support as personnel move into supervisory positions.”

A few things are worth mentioning from our perspective: for one, there’s always going to be a low person on the totem pole at any company. Workers have always had to “pay their dues” for the first couple years of their career, no matter the field, whether it’s doing dishes or preparing purchase orders. So it’s a bit unreasonable for recent Supply Chain grads to expect highly-strategic roles right out the gate. For another, it makes sense for companies to want to hire the best people now, even if it means putting them in roles where they might not be developing as quickly as they would like?

On the other hand, if companies truly want to get ahead of their competitors, doesn’t it make sense to put resources into training, mentorship and skills development?

Whatever you make of his argument, it’s pretty easy to agree on one thing: companies need to do all they can not only to attract great candidates, but to help them thrive and grow – both to keep those candidates’ eyes from wandering other opportunities, and to unlock the innovation that these candidates can provide.

But what do you think? Are companies developing junior prospects in Supply Chain well, or leaving them in entry-level positions for too long? Are you near the beginning of your career? Or does your company hire a lot of junior Supply Chain staff? Let us know in the comments! 


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