The Future of Supply Chain Management

February 16, 2017

Written by Teresa Chiykowski. This guest post originally appeared on Kinaxis’ industry blog, the 21st Century Supply Chain.

There’s no time like the present to talk about the future of supply chain management. That was the perfect lead-in for a great Supply Chain Insights webinar I attended recently – Journey to Supply Chain 2030.

Admittedly, 2030 is a few years out. Sometimes it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen next week let alone 14 or 15 years down the road. But here’s the thing about supply chains: Today’s supply chains are the result of what we’ve done in the past; tomorrow’s supply chain will be the result of what we’re doing today. So it’s time to get planning.

Technology, digitization and automation are dramatically changing the supply chain. The cloud and massive streams and lakes of data are making for a vastly different way of managing operations. The manufacturing firms that continue (successfully) into the future must possess the “talent” with the right competencies, and the “strategic thinking and problem solving” abilities to deal with the new and increasingly more complex supply chain.

But, how confident are firms that they’ll have this workforce at the ready? Not very. In Deloitte’s 2015 Supply Chain survey of 400 executives, only 38% of respondents say they have the competencies they need today. And that doesn’t even consider the future.

The shifting talent landscape

As uncertain as the future is, we are aware of some of the realities reshaping the talent landscape. Seasoned and experienced workers (the baby boomer generation) are leaving the workforce in droves, while millennials are entering the workforce en masse. According to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, more than one-in-three American workers today are millennials (adults ages 18 to 34 in 2015). In 2015, Millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce.

What does this mean for the supply chain?

Once you’ve got the talent, baby, you’ve got to do everything to keep it.

This is a tall order when looking at the youngest members of the workforce who have a high propensity for job hopping. The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce Study underscores this some compelling stat: 53% of managers say it’s difficult to find and retain millennials. 58% of millennials expect to leave their jobs in 3 years or less.

Gone fishing: Dealing with the talent gap

With baby boomers trading in office desks for the golf course, fishing, scrapbooking, woodworking or some other past time of choice, what will become of the middle-to-senior supply chain? Answer: There will be a gaping hole.

How do we create the great managers and leaders running the rapidly changing and exponentially more complex supply chain environment?

Good question.

It’s a challenge that many institutions, professional societies and universities are struggling with. Learning institutions are good at delivering the “functional” expert (i.e. the solver), but who will be the strategist and critical thinker who asks the right questions?  Charles Kettering (1876-1958), inventor and head of research for GM said, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” Who will be the supply chain people asking the questions and stating the problems in your organization?

That brings us back to millennials.

Suffice it to say, companies can be proactive today with strategies that align with millennials as well as business goals. Here are a few of them.

Make supply chain sound really, really cool

The supply chain profession tends to get a bad rap. You don’t hear kids saying, “Mom, when I grow up, I want a career in supply chain planning.” You don’t hear parents bragging that, “My daughter married a supply planner.”

Organizations need to work collectively with colleges, universities and high schools to educate students on the benefits of working in the supply chain profession. For example, tout the fact that many of today’s supply chains use leading-edge technology to make the world’s best and most recognized products (including all those electronic devices millennials are so attached to). Traditional enterprise resource planning systems are giving way to cloud-based supply chain planning software to drive unprecedented collaboration, cooperation and innovation. Now, you can’t tell me that doesn’t sound sexy.

Why am I here? Give millennials a sense of purpose

Millennials are purposeful peeps. Once you get them, you want to keep them. Interestingly, money isn’t the be all and end all to them. Have you heard of the purpose gap?  Deloitte defines it as the difference between what millennials want out of business and what business offers them. In its Millennial Survey 2016, Deloitte reveals that millennials believe businesses are focused on their own agenda rather than helping to improve society. That’s simply not the type of purpose that will attract and retain talented and high-potential millennials.

What that sense of purpose is will vary from individual to individual. It could be making the world a better place or understanding how their contributions impact the company.

Is purpose clear and well-articulated internally and externally in your organization? If you want to attract and hang on to millennials, purpose should be an integral part of your culture – and captured in your mission, vision and values, and then linked to individual and organizational goals.

Provide opportunities for new experience and growth

If millennials are to become tomorrow’s successful senior managers and leaders, they need experience –not just in one functional area, but across the organization.

Through job rotations, millennials can get valuable exposure to every part of the supply chain, from procurement and sales to logistics and operations. By understanding all facets of the supply chain environment, they can become more strategic and able to take a holistic view of how things are run. It’s the stuff great leaders are made of. As an effective HR strategy, job rotations also help managers explore hidden talent and employees explore their interests (which is great for employee satisfaction and retention).

What’s another way to close the skill gap and make a well-rounded supply chain expert? Implement cross-training programs with seasoned supply chain veterans – those experienced individuals who have come up through the ranks of the organization helping to sustain the lifeblood and vitality of the organization.

Communicate that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Now for some final words. Don’t punish failure. Let’s be clear here. I’m talking smart failures not dumb ones. Dumb is being told something will fail and then doing it anyway. Smart failures are those times when you take a risk, it fails and you learn from it. If millennials aren’t given the freedom to explore, spread their wings and try new things, they’ll fly the coop. And with them will fly all the great potential, enthusiasm and innovation that can fuel your journey to the supply chain of future.

What are your strategies for building a workforce for the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 


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