In a recent survey, more than 350 supply chain professionals across 5 continents reported that there is a major (and growing) talent crisis within supply chain. In what is a rapidly evolving function across all industry sectors, this will affect sales and profitability for small, medium and large sized businesses alike.

Competitive companies understand that their supply chains – and most critically the people who manage them – are essential to their growth. However, finding people with the right skill-set and personal characteristics required to run highly complex operations is becoming increasingly difficult, most notably at the middle to upper management levels. If the supply chain function is to fulfil its potential this issue needs to be resolved and if not, it will threaten the ability to compete wherever their market lies.

The contemporary Supply Chain Manager

Recent developments in areas such as data analytics, globalisation and environmental issues are reshaping many of the characteristics required of the contemporary supply chain manager. Influences driving this change in skills required are also affected by undercurrents of an ageing workforce, lack of profile of the function vs others, and poor long-term planning, training and personal development. Lisa Harrington recently stated in a DHL report:

“Unfortunately, recruiting the right talent – especially at the critical mid-level and senior management levels – is proving very difficult in today’s environment. New technologies and fundamental areas of the supply chain have changed, meaning they now require that a person has a different and much broader skill-set than required when most of the current workforce began their careers.”

Investing in the supply chain and attracting talent

There is no doubt the companies that excel at recruiting top tier talent to the supply chain consistently outperform their peers in sales and profits, and therefore gain competitive advantage. Many top performing businesses have made a commitment to actively invest in the supply chain function by offering clear career paths and professional development plans. They have realised that they have to offer supply chain managers competitive remuneration packages in comparison to other business functions that are considered as more ‘exciting’ or ‘high profile’.

Those excelling in capturing talent are focussing on professional development at all levels in the function, for example, offering flexible workplace practices and opportunities for cross functional experience to get a broader understanding of the criticality of supply chain in the scheme of things. New, keen talent is being attracted for tomorrows leadership by extolling the key aspects the function offers and the importance of the supply chain in the success of the business.

An ageing supply chain pool

Astonishingly, in some countries close to 33% of supply chain professionals are within 5 years of retirement. Couple that with the urgent need of the new skillset and the gap can be seen clearly between todays performance and tomorrows. Likewise, recent surveys have also shown that potentially 40% of companies globally have no structured talent management strategy for the supply chain function, unlike other functions seen as more critical.

Multi-layered challenges require multi-skilled talent

We hear every day that Data driven decisions are key to the coordinated speed and optimization of the supply chain but before we all rush to recruit technically focussed and IT savvy supply chain executives we ought to bear in mind that although analytical skills are certainly key and necessary in today’s data driven supply chain world, beware that they are not sufficient on their own. Solutions to complex and multi layered problems are going to be challenging us more and more and in today’s supply chain, the ability to be creative, collaborative, empathetic and to be able to think holistically are going to be critical to long-term success.

To attract talent, the industry needs to not only invest but start emphasising that the future workforce will need to have skills and knowledge in management and processes but also in areas such as automation, robotics, and AI – job aspects that would stress a forward-thinking approach, expand the attractiveness and highlight the increased profile of the function.

In the not so distant past few supply chain managers possessed the willingness to get “out of their box” and exhibit the ability to think and act collaboratively. They struggled to deal with ambiguity and found constant change uncomfortable. They failed to grasp the big picture – especially how their decisions impact value creation across the company and up and down the supply chain.

Understandable as it’s a fast-paced intensive role but, as one SVP of HR said recently; ‘How would our incumbent Supply Chain leader know what his successor should look like, if they have no experience of tomorrows competitive skillset?’.

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