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What’s your talent strategy?

Supply chain managers face a coming shortage of talent. The best should be putting strategies in place now to prepare for the future.
By David S. Widdifield, guest columnist
March 24, 2014

As the economy continues to improve, we in supply chain find ourselves once again in the position of searching for talent to replenish our organizations. The problem whether we have the talent pool with the right set of skills for the challenges we face in the market today? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, logistics jobs are expected to grow by 22% by 2022 or nearly double the rate of all other professions.

Accompanying this growth is a rapidly shrinking pool of qualified professionals to address the growth of our industry and the continued effectiveness of our logistics and supply chain organizations to support corporate competitiveness and profitability (charts below).

To prepare for this growth in our industry, as well as address potential labor shortages, we need to ensure that current and future employees are equipped with the necessary traditional (e.g. accounting, economics, logistics management, mathematics, etc.) and non-traditional skills sets such as;

• Ability to successfully integrate quantitative and qualitative data to analysis to develop holistic solutions to market opportunities or mitigate risks.
• Being a multi-level communicator, having the skills needed to successfully communicate horizontally and vertically within the organization, across communities of trading partners, to customer markets, as well as non-supply chain stakeholders.
• Have a learning agility which allows her or him to work effectively in environments of ambiguity or uncertainty.

This type of professional development strategy will ensure that our employees are equipped to handle the complex challenges of today’s marketplace environment.

However, during the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009, supply chain organizations put the training of current employees as a low priority as they endured employee downsizing initiatives, hiring and wage freezes, and more importantly, the reduction or elimination of training budgets. Future employees were required only to have the immediate traditional skill sets necessary to begin adding tactical value (e.g. greater cost savings, increased productivity, larger return on investments, etc.) to the firm.

As the economy began to recover in 2010, supply chain organizations continued to utilize this strategy regardless of a changing economic environment. In the MIT 2010 study on supply chain talent needs, the authors discussed how supply chain organizations needed to ensure that employees were equipped with both sets of skills for employees at all levels of the organization. Well, here we are four years later. Supply chain professionals have not advanced much further on this initiative since the MIT study. Once again, the economy is placing more demands on supply chain organizations (as witnessed during the 2013 holiday selling season), and we find ourselves in need of qualified employees equipped with the crucial talents needed to succeed in this new era.

The dilemma we face is that a majority of the current qualified employees will be leaving the workplace at a faster rate than those entering the supply chain sector. By 2022, we will see the retirement of over 60 million workers (see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Labor force projections) or 35% of our total workforce in the US. This will mean rising competition for a limited number of qualified employees and increasing wage costs similar to the situation we found ourselves during 2006 to mid 2007 when unemployment averaged 4.6%.

In the January/February, 2014 issue of Supply Chain Management Review, authors Kusumal Ruamsook and Christopher Craighead discussed how the issue of talent management by supply chain professionals is critical to an organization’s success due the previously mentioned factors which will make it difficult for companies who are unprepared to address the complexity of today and tomorrow’s market.

As a supply chain academician and industry professional, I take these warnings seriously. I am proactively addressing ways to develop employees with the talents to be competitive in the firm as well as the marketplace - today and tomorrow. Along with my firm, I work with current employees to create a customized development career plan that includes the experiential and formal education needed for them to achieve their goals.

I work with future employees to select and engage in the “right” coursework and professional development experiences (e.g. certifications, internships, specialization course, etc.) to ensure they are well prepared for successful entry into our world.

I believe this strategy is a win/win for the employees, firms and the supply chain industry. My question to my peers is: what are you or your organization doing to help address these concerns? Are you still using the older view that tactical value is “king” or are you actively engaging to prepare your employees for the complexities of the marketplace? I also wonder how engaged you are with the education community since this is where our future employees will be found.

Today, we in the supply chain profession need to understand that as important as defining new business models and strategies (e.g. emerging economy customer bases, global expansion, new technology deployment, omnichannel distribution) is to the success of our firms and organizations, so are the investments we make in our employees.

Guest columnist David Widdifield is a senior lecturer and the director, master in business logistics engineering program, at The Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University. He welcomes your comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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