A recent report on the supply chain talent gap draws a sobering conclusion: The supply chain management profession finds itself in crisis. Unless you do it right, attracting and hiring skilled professionals can be challenging.
Deloitte's third annual Supply Chain Survey, released last year, also states: "...many organizations are confronting critical shortfalls of talent. Years of headcount reduction, training-budget cuts, and the retirement of highly skilled individuals have hollowed out the ranks of veteran professionals."
The Deloitte findings are echoed in another report by the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee. While the driver shortage is well known, the report maintains the talent gap encompasses every level of supply chain management and is likely to grow worse as baby boomers retire.
So what is an organization to do? How can you become better prepared and make your search for talent more effective?
Few people are better positioned to answer these questions than Rodney Apple, founder and president of SCM Talent Group. With almost 20 years of experience as a supply chain recruiter, he has filled more than 1,000 supply chain positions ranging from executive-level at Fortune 500 companies to leadership and staff-level roles across large networks of manufacturing and distribution facilities within the United States.
We sat down with Apple to get his thoughts on the realities of the supply chain talent drought.
EBN: What is the status of the supply chain shortage from your perspective?
Apple: I work with a lot of companies in key industries across the supply chain, from junior to C-level positions. Here's what I'm seeing: It's not getting any better. If you break it up into job level, entry-level positions tend to be less challenging to fill since more universities are now offering supply chain degrees. Supply chain students at Michigan State University, which offers the top-rated program, can count on multiple offers and interviews before they even graduate. The same thing goes for Penn State, University of Tennessee, and other universities with top-tier supply chain programs.
Middle management, let's call it junior to mid-level, that's where companies are struggling; that's where you find the bulk of people doing the work and that's where most of our searches are. It really is about sheer numbers, a generational issue. At the executive level, enough people have risen up, but I'm concerned that as baby boomers retire, it could create a problem in the near future.
EBN: Which positions tend to be the most challenging to fill?
Apple: Junior-level positions, those who have between one to four years of experience. When you land your first job out of college, you keep your head down and get immersed in the job that has to be done. You're not actively looking for a new job. So you really have to do a lot of direct sourcing to find the analysts, engineers, inventory managers, and planners and sell them on why they should make a career move at this stage of their career. They are not in management but doing tactical, analysis kind of work. Those are the most challenging positions.
EBN: At what point do companies ask for your help?
Apple: Small and medium-sized companies often come as soon as a position needs to filled since they don't have dedicated resources for recruiting. If they have tried themselves and the search has been unsuccessful, the need is urgent by the time they come to us.
EBN: What challenges do companies run into when trying to recruit talent?
Apple: When you look at the supply chain function, it's typically the most complex, diverse, and challenging. Unlike recruiting for clear-cut core corporate functions such as IT and Finance, the supply chain sector will yield a much greater variety of job profiles. Add the complexity of different job levels and geographic factors that may involve distribution centers and plants spread out all over the country, and you will see why it can be challenging to find the right fit.
Companies also tend to understaff or undervalue the supply chain recruiting function. Coupled with a lot of internal movement, from the corporate office to the field and back, it's like a game of musical chairs – you're always backfilling internal movement. If you're also looking for a high-demand skillset, it can be similar to finding a needle in a haystack.