“20 years ago, a Supply Chain Manager was viewed as a second class citizen in many ways. They didn’t have a seat at the leadership table. Their opinions weren’t helping set overall company strategy. But that’s changed.” —Rob Thomson, Argentus’ Western Regional Manager, Canada & USA.
In 2020, Argentus expanded our operations with the opening of a new west coast office. While we’ve recruited across Canada since our founding (as well as in the U.S. and globally), we expanded to give us boots on the ground out west, and help develop deeper ties to local talent networks and companies looking to hire.
Spearheading that initiative is Argentus’ newest team member, Rob Thomson. As our Western Regional Manager for Canada & the USA, Rob has taken this opportunity to build out a completely new recruitment operation, and delivered in spades.
18 months into our new west coast presence, we thought we’d take the time to sit down with Rob (virtually), and pick his brain about what he’s seeing in the marketplace for Supply Chain talent.
In growing our operation, Rob has brought a host of new clients to Argentus, many of them companies who are finding particular difficulties hiring in a post-pandemic market.
Since joining the firm, he’s had a number of successes in recruiting for Supply Chain roles at the sole contributor (analyst) level and above. Recently, he hired a Director of Procurement role for a major mining company—so recent, in fact, that he was in the middle of negotiating the offer when he took our call. He’s had major success in the Distribution and Logistics functions, with a number of successful placements at eCommerce, 3PL, Retail and other industries.
We spoke with Rob about a number of topics, including:
- How the pandemic and other disruptions have upended the market for supply chain talent, and how companies need to adapt their hiring strategies
- The unexpected—and crucial—benefits that companies secure by working with a specialized recruiter
- The skills in highest demand in the supply chain job market
- and more.
Whether you’re a supply chain leader looking to learn the latest strategies to secure talent in a tough market, or a candidate looking for new opportunities, we hope you enjoy the interview!
You’ve been recruiting for a few years, but when you joined Argentus, you were still learning the ropes of the supply chain industry. It’s pretty amazing how quick you’ve been able to pick it up. What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned over the past 18 months?
First of all, thanks for doing this interview! I came into this role with a limited understanding of supply chain management. I knew the absolute basics—that supply chains get products to customers. But so far, I’ve learned so much more about how the different components of a supply chain interact with each-other, and how if you make changes to one part it can drastically affect the others.
For example, if you add eCommerce to your operation, it adds a whole new layer of complexity. It’s a major logistical and inventory challenge, underpinned by increased technology needs, say for new or updated ERP systems. I’ve also learned just how important Supply Chain Management is to organizations and, ultimately, to the world.
20 years ago, a Supply Chain Manager was viewed as a second class citizen in many ways. They didn’t have a seat at the leadership table. Their opinions weren’t helping set overall company strategy. But that’s changed. This was a gradual trend, but all the supply chain challenges from COVID, natural disasters, even geopolitical events like the war in Ukraine, have pushed it into overdrive.
When these events happen, companies have to pivot, and that really highlights the need to have the right people in place.
As the head of Argentus’ West Coast office, you’ve worked with a lot of new clients who have major recruiting needs for supply chain. From your perspective, what’s the most common reason that companies are reaching out to a recruiter to help them hire in 2022?
There are quite a few different reasons why companies are deciding to use recruiters as part of their hiring strategy. One of the biggest ones I’ve heard is, “we’ve identified some great candidates, but we haven’t been able to secure them.” I think that piece of hiring is very underrated—and even more important in a market where candidates are in such high demand. You can never assume that just because a candidate applied, or interviewed, you have them in your back pocket. In this market, candidates are often fielding three or four positions or job offers at a time. Companies often fail to recognize this, and pour lots of resources into a search only to find themselves empty handed at the finish line. Companies need to step up and, if you want to secure the right supply chain talent, offer more than their competitors. I hear many stories about candidates going to a competitor at the last moment. So companies find it tremendously helpful to have a partner who can bring a candidate through the process, make sure they remain interested and motivated, and close the hire.
The second major reason is for niche requirements that are difficult to screen with job boards. I hear from companies who have had 100 applications for a job, but only three have been even remotely close. They’re frustrated that they have to wade through piles of unqualified applicants for very specific requirements. A recruiter can give you a very pointed shortlist of qualified candidates who you know can do the job. That saves companies a lot of time and headache.
The third major one is that recruiters can identify candidates who aren’t applying to job boards. Companies realize this. A recruiter who knows the market will be able to reach out to the exact right passive candidate pool, which is a huge help for very niche roles.
Once thing we’ve written about a lot recently is the lack of candidates for supply chain roles. Does that track with what you’re seeing in the market on the west coast?
I do think we are in a situation where there aren’t enough candidates to meet the needs of the market. But for me, the problem is never identifying the right candidate. The difficulty in supply chain right now is attaining that candidate. Identifying the talent is very different than securing the talent.
Because of the increased demand, supply chain professionals are requiring more and more to make a move. An offer that would have been an incredible compensation package two years ago isn’t going to cut it today. Companies need to have an overall compensation strategy that allows new candidates to take a step up in their careers by joining them. A lot of candidates have no interest in taking a lateral move. Unless a role offers higher salary, more flexibility, and other compensation considerations, they won’t make a move, even if there’s more responsibility in the new role.
Some of the best candidates are the ones who are ready to step into a bigger role. For example, if you’re recruiting a supply chain manager, and you only look at people who have held that title before, you’re going to restrict your search and make it much harder. I’d recommend finding a really high potential senior supervisor, and packaging it so that it’s attractive to them and provides real progression.
As I was alluding to before, one of the true benefits of a recruiter is that we can secure the candidate. We work up front to establish trust with any candidate from the very beginning of the process. We’ll fully understand why a candidate is looking, what other interviews they have on the table, and their current compensation. We dig deep into a candidate’s current situation, and share it candidly with the client (with the candidate’s permission of course), which creates the kind of open communication and trust that leads to success. When all parties involved have that level of trust, it helps you smooth out any bumps in the process. There are no surprises when a job offer comes in. You can have candid conversations with HR on behalf of a candidate, and work to find flexible solutions to the kinds of problems that lead to declined offers. To me, that’s one of the biggest benefits.
As we’ve been talking about, candidates are in very high demand right now. What are the most common roles or skillsets for companies looking to hire?
I’ve seen a lot of needs for Warehousing and Inventory Management. I’ve had quite a few engagements in that arena, and I think a big part of that is related to what I was saying earlier—editing one part of a supply chain has significant effects all the way through. Companies pivoting to eCommerce during the pandemic has really wreaked havoc on supply chains. There’s a lot of optimization that needs to happen, and hiring people who can optimize processes and systems, and build efficiencies, is top of mind for companies.
There’s also a emphasis on operational resilience. Companies are looking for people who can prepare a supply chain for unexpected issues, whether that’s with a supply chain manager who can come in and build resilience, or with a consultant who can identify issues facing the organization and develop and implement a roadmap.
In general, Logistics and Distribution is also really big. There are a lot of roles on my desk right now looking at optimizing distribution networks and routes, which, I think, also comes from that increased complexity.
A big thanks to Rob for taking the time to do this interview! We hope you found it informative.
And if you’re looking to address any hiring needs with a supply chain recruiting specialist out west, reach out to Rob directly! He’s committed to building long-term relationships with clients. He deeply understands their hiring needs. And he’s tireless in his mission to not just identify top performers, but deliver them to the finish line with signed job offers. Even more than that, he’s a great guy to work with.