How to recruit and retain supply chain talent might not seem like a pressing problem in a sputtering economy that is struggling to create enough jobs, but enlightened companies are thinking about these issues for good reason. First, enterprises were fretting about shortages of supply chain talent before the economic crisis hit, and these issues are once again on their radar screens. Second, the global economic crisis put a damper on the jobs market, and this has created pent-up demand for new career challenges as businesses make the transition from survival to growth.
Concerns over the inadequacies of the talent pipeline stem from the growth of the supply chain profession over the last one or two decades. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) defines the profession as encompassing “the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities.” In addition, managing supply chains takes in “coordination and collaboration with channel partners, which can be suppliers, intermediaries, third party service providers, and customers,” according to CSCMP.
That is a wide brief and it becomes even wider when you add the increasingly important global dimension to these jurisdictions. Moreover, leading companies deploy their supply chains as a strategic resource, opening the way for managers to climb the corporate ladder all the way to the C-suite.
In order to meet these responsibilities the profession needs a broader skills base. For example, in addition to “hard” analytical skills managers should have the opportunity to acquire “soft” capabilities such as proficiency at leading international teams. A more expansive view of company operations also helps, taking in key disciplines such as marketing and finance.
The challenge facing the industry is how to build such a base of skills. It is responding with projects such as the Supply Chain Talent Academic Initiative, a non-profit, industry/academic consortium with a mission to “increase the skills/competencies broadly available across all industries and regions by ensuring a pipeline of talent exists for supporting our mutual business interests.” The organization is supporting a number of programs. It is looking at ways to promote the profession to students starting at the high school level, and is developing more refined definitions of supply chain that delineate the various activities that fall under this very general term. The organization also supports research into what specific skills companies need to manage current and future supply chains.
But in addition to establishing a supply of talent, the industry also needs to find ways to retain and develop the individuals already working in the profession. This has become more of a hot button issue as companies look beyond the Great Recession and plan for new growth.
One way is to enrich the supply chain role through strategies such as rotating individuals through different departments to broaden their experience. Another approach is to facilitate innovative, multi-disciplinary projects that give individuals the chance to work creatively. The economic travails of the last few years might actually help in this sense. For instance, in the midst of the crisis when access to credit was a major issue, companies such as automotive parts company Advance Auto Parts created cross-functional teams to develop ways to help key suppliers find sources of credit. The teams include experts from finance and procurement, alliances that can now be deployed to help the company in the post-recession period. Other companies set up similar multi-disciplinary teams to identify innovative ways to unlock cost savings.
Some companies have enhanced the supply chain role by providing new career paths for these professionals. Intel is such a company. It recently created a track for supply chain that parallels the one for engineers that has been in place for years. The chip manufacturer realized that it needed to give supply chain professionals a career path that affords them status and recognition in the organization.
Efforts such as these serve another important function: they help to reengage people at a time when the economic news remains ambiguous at best, and the pain of layoffs is still fresh. As the financial outlook improves, companies will need to rethink their talent management strategies particularly in critical areas such as supply chain.