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Management Neglects Supply Chain Talent

When it comes to managing supply chain talent, companies have not been doing a very good job. And they are getting worse.

Supply Chain Insights, a consulting firm, has surveyed supply chain management professionals for each of the last three years on the state of supply chain talent. In 2012, 25% of respondents rated their company better than its peers in managing supply chain talent. This year, that statistic was just 18%. In 2012, 28% rated their company as worse than its peers. By this year, that figure had grown to 43%. “If companies do not get more serious about supply chain talent, it will become the broken link in the supply chain,” warns the report.

“I'm surprised we're not making progress,” said Lora Cecera, founder of Supply Chain Insights. The reasons for the low ratings fall into three categories: lack of management support, a poor recruitment process and lack of staff development. When it comes to the supply chain, many companies focus only on new, entry-level employees and high potential employees they want to fast-track to leadership positions, while neglecting middle management, which Cecera called “the nuts and bolts of the supply chain.”

Indeed, in the survey, 59% of respondents said that middle management was experiencing the greatest talent shortage. Often, companies adopt a retread strategy for middle management. “We just always assume that we can go to the market and get them,” said Cecera. “But we can't anymore.” In some of the most important areas, such as planning, it can take five months to fill an opening, she said.

Respondents rate executives' lack of knowledge and understanding, as well as the unavailability of good supply chain talent, as their top two pain points. Management is typically so focused on day-to-day operations that it can't focus on these areas, said Cecera. When it does focus on human resources, in general, it is looking to reduce headcount or increase revenue per employee in other ways.

Planning positions are the toughest to fill, according to respondents. Often, executive leadership does not understand the processes of demand and supply planning well, which leads to a low level of job satisfaction and high turnover in these areas. Management is “constantly chasing the next shiny thing and ignores the critical aspect of managing the demand and supply details,” said one respondent. There is “no investment in the supply chain side of the business.”

At the end of the report, Cecera offers several recommendations, including:

  • Focus on improving the quality of the work life of planners. They are often only criticized; demand plan is off, the supply plan never meets the needs, and priorities are always changing. Feeling such little appreciation prompts high turnover.
  • Build a supply chain human resources competency center. Only one third of companies have an HR function focused on the supply chain. Depending on how many supply chain employees you have, it can be worth it to have a dedicated team to help recruit, train and development talent. Proctor & Gamble, for example, has some 6,600 supply chain planners, said Cecera.
  • Consider other disciplines when looking for supply chain talent. Graduates of the best supply-chain university programs are heavily recruited, so consider looking elsewhere. Look for graduates with general analytical skills, then train them in supply chain principles. “Supply chain leaders I've talked with say it's easier to hire entry-level people for customer service or transportation planning, then move them into supply chain planning,” she said.
  • Cross-train supply chain talent. Organizations that actively train employees across various disciplines and help them develop new skills and career paths have a higher functioning supply chain organization.
  • Have executives mentor supply chain professionals. Build a culture of coaching and mentoring; ask executives close to the supply chain to help.

8 comments on “Management Neglects Supply Chain Talent

  1. Daniel
    December 2, 2014

    “When it comes to managing supply chain talent, companies have not been doing a very good job. And they are getting worse.”

    Tam, the reason is even HR or department heads won't know how they can train supply chain professions. The only training they are offering is about soft skills. Actually they have trained for better negotiation skills and to derive benefits from the volatile markets.

  2. Susan Fourtané
    December 2, 2014

    There are plenty of supply chain education out there and also graduates from those programs. What really happens is that companies don't want to invest in the talen they need. They only want to get cheap workforce and complain there is a lack of talent in the market. 

    -Susan

  3. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    December 8, 2014

    Mentoring is a critical piece of this puzzle. Organizations that already have some supply chain talent need to encourage and support employees to spot and nurture potential talent within the organization. Let us know in comments: Did you have a great mentor to help you get started in the industry? Let us know what they did and how it helped you?

  4. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    December 8, 2014

    @Susan, I think you may be being too hard on these organizations. Programs are certainly gearing up and becoming more available but it's been a quick ramp up in the last year or two. Before that, it was much harder. We just have to get the word out about educational opportunities, whether credential programs or continuing education seminars. If employees start asking to go, too, it will put it on the radar of the organization. I'd like to think that it is ignorance, rather than malice that makes organizations less responsive than we'd like.

  5. Daniel
    December 9, 2014

    “Mentoring is a critical piece of this puzzle. Organizations that already have some supply chain talent need to encourage and support employees to spot and nurture potential talent within the organization. Let us know in comments: Did you have a great mentor to help you get started in the industry? Let us know what they did and how it helped you?”

    Hailey, I can say that I don't have a mentor. During my initial stage of career I struggled a lot due to the non cooperation and inferiority complex of my superiors and colleagues. But I have taken that struggle as a challenge, worked hard and that leads me to a better way, which am enjoying. But, I don't want any of my juniors to struggle that, so am mentoring and guiding them well.

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    December 9, 2014

    @Jacob, too bad that some of these practices weren't popular when you were rising in the ranks, but i'm glad to hear you are helping people along. What sort of help do you believe helps people? Any tips for others who want to mentor up and comers?

  7. Susan Fourtané
    December 9, 2014

    Hailey, 

    You think? 🙁 Hmm. Maybe. Or, maybe I was not clear in not including every organization in the same basket. But the truth is that what I said it's true for soem organizations. 

    Time ago I was involved in a long discussion about this same topic. There were engineers and others connected to the industry. The examples of cases where they had personally been victims of not being hired not because they lacked the necessary skills and education for the post, but because those organizations didn't want to pay were many. So, they went on hiring someone else just because the person was cheaper.

    Some were cases from some years ago, but others were more recent. This means that even then were people with the required talent who were not hired. And you just have to wornder why. 

    Educational opportunities are more these days and also in-company training could be a good option for some organizations. It's simple ROI, they would be investing in the future of the organization. 

    Even attending regular conferences regularly is useful. They can get good insight from more experienced people, the latest tendencies in the industry, plus networking to exchange experiences. These events serve as motivation to maybe start another educational program, or even enrol in some online courses. 🙂 

    -Susan

  8. Daniel
    December 12, 2014

    ” too bad that some of these practices weren't popular when you were rising in the ranks, but i'm glad to hear you are helping people along. What sort of help do you believe helps people? Any tips for others who want to mentor up and comers?”

    Hailey, that's a part of professional life. helping them in facing the challenges and updating the skills. 

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