Last week, we shared our interview with a supply chain executive in our network, which marked the launch of a new series where we engage senior individuals in supply chain about hiring trends, in-depth skills, the talent market, and whether there is in fact as alarming a deficit of supply chain talent as people say. We’re excited about this initiative, which gives us the opportunity to share the best of peer-to-peer market intelligence about recruitment in supply chain.
In this edition, we bring you the first part of a two part interview with Roger Eacock. Roger is a senior supply chain executive with extensive experience in a variety of industries, including food, consumer goods, technology, apparel, health care, 3PL, and business consulting. He’s a change management expert with a focus on sustainability in global supply chains, and is well-versed in creating great high-functioning supply chain teams. We spoke with him about where he’s finding a skill gap in the market, the difference between supply chain and other business functions from a talent perspective, and the immense potential that green supply chain initiatives have to offer organizations.
Hiring Challenges and Skill Gaps Within Supply Chain
Roger’s valuable experience covers a variety of sub-disciplines within supply chain, so he was able to speak to us about skill gaps and hiring challenges from the perspective of procurement, as well as distribution and logistics.
“From a logistics/distribution background, what I often find is that anybody who is dealing in a warehousing or transportation capacity has likely grown up within the organization,” he says. “Which is not a bad thing, but does present its own challenges. They might have started off as a material handler and worked through the ranks, which is good. But what that means is that they don’t necessarily have the understanding of definitions of the industry as a whole. So we need to fathom or gauge where the skill gaps are.
Strong leadership also means being able to see the value in internal training programs for professional development. “In one transportation company where I worked, it became evident that not only did we have that internal skill gap, but our customers did as well. So we created an online university for our employees and customers—with educational information about freight terminology, how to read a rate sheet, etc., to make sure people had the right skills.”
Roger emphasizes that a lot of it comes down to how procurement professionals interact with vendors. “When I have vendors on the other side of my desk, 95% of them don’t close the sale. If they get resistance, if they throw a certain rate at you, and you don’t accept the offer, they stop pushing and trying to sell the overall benefit. Very few salespeople will ask for a sale. And that leads to a gap on the other side when you procure the products. I find that very often procurement people have become transactional.”
In Roger’s eyes, it’s the ability to push beyond a transactional mindset and view business requirements as a whole that’s most valuable in the talent he seeks to build a great team. “Whenever I takeover a new organization I add two things,” Eacock says. “The first is a lean process person who can map out end-to-end process and manage continuous improvement projects. The other would be a business intelligence leader. Every company is data rich and information poor (DRIP). It doesn’t matter what it is. They’ve got big computer systems and they can’t get enough information out in a meaningful fashion. Getting somebody that can mine out information on costing alone is phenomenal. That’s going to tell you where you have your pain points and waste, and then improve your margins. And that’s going to help you survive. “
Supply Chain Has Grown Up—How Does This Impact the Talent Landscape?
“Supply chain has evolved over the past 20-25 years,” Eacock says. “Supply Chain really became a mainstream part of business terminology in the late 90s. It had always been considered, on the operations side, the younger little brother (or sister) to sales, marketing and finance. Those were the stars and that’s where the resources were applied in terms of employee training and enterprise resource planning; the back end was ignored. But as organizations grew, they realized that the majority of cost was based in the back of the business.” As a result, demand has grown immensely for supply chain talent.
“Supply chain has come into its own,” Eacock concludes. “But it has been lagging behind in terms of core skill sets. You need to have a much broader business acumen in terms of an understanding of the diverse business needs of an organization. You need to understand sales cycles, seasonality, geopolitical realities. When is Ramadan? When is Chinese New Year? When is the monsoon season? These impact supply chain. You need to have an understanding of costing, financing, cultural considerations. None of that core knowledge has been required for sales or marketing.”
So business needs are changing: they are global and changing fast, and the breadth of knowledge required for supply chain is high—it’s a global function that touches on many aspects of a business. No wonder top talent is hard to find. We asked Eacock about whether there’s a burgeoning supply chain talent deficit. “I think the deficit of talent has always been there. I wouldn’t say it’s the baby boomers retiring per se, it’s just that the world is changing faster than the schools can adapt.”
What’s your take on the state of skills & gaps in supply chain in your field? Similar or different? Let us know in the comments.
Argentus have been innovative in the way they have reached out to professionals at various stages of their career to check the validity of the supply chain talent deficit. I agree with Roger, there has been a long term and cyclical challenge, the last 5-7 years the employers have been somewhat spoilt for choice in terms of headcount (they could fish in a large pool during the recent/great recession), but I feel, they have remained challenged in getting the right combination of skill and interest.
There are many imperfections in the market, old school marketing on both sides (candidates, employers and the trusty ATS), a fast changing retail (my sector focus) environment and increasing pressures from the factors Roger raised.
To acquire the best high performing talent, applicants need to adopt a more relevant and focused approach, and, in my humble opinion, employers need to become considerably more “candidate friendly” and make investments in process change which surface the precise qualities and skills required and leave it to professionals to make the initial shortlist, and, unfortunately, the need to focus on sufficient training/coaching of interviewers remaining an ongoing issue negatively impacting on the success of employers to engage with high potential talent.
Just my thoughts
Hi Gary, thanks very much for your excellent comment! Some really useful insights.