Millennials in Supply Chain: How to Attract, Train & Prepare Successful Leaders

Today's supply chain industry is changing as globalization and technology advancements alter the skillset required for successful supply chain professionals. To succeed in today's environment, those in supply chain need to be dynamic problem-solvers who can tackle the minute details of their individual operations while keeping the global supply chain picture in mind. This means understanding not only their organization's supply chain, but also those of their customers, vendors, and suppliers. Few business roles require such a vast range of expertise; and while this may seem taxing, the change in the industry is opening the door to new candidates and helping to propel the industry forward making supply chains more effective and efficient.

Photo source: Pixabay

Photo source: Pixabay

As a result, the industry is garnering new levels of attention and boasts one of the most rewarding and vibrant career paths for skilled, college-educated, young professionals. In 2012, 97% of MIT supply chain master's students were offered one or more jobs by graduation with a median salary of $150,000. Despite the career trajectory and financial benefits, accomplished students often overlook the opportunity offered by the supply chain. Those with the necessary skillset are often lulled into “cooler careers” in industries like technology and finance. What they fail to realize is that professionals who enter supply chain have immense opportunities for advancement, personal growth, and more often than not, long-term success.

As an industry, how can we work together to attract the younger generation? More importantly, how do we prepare them to be successful leaders so that they stay engaged throughout their careers?

As part of its workforce development initiative, APICS conducted a survey to understand generational motivators and identify differences between millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers engaged in the supply chain profession. In conjunction with this work, we did a thorough review of the available market research.  Our objective was to identify differences in career priorities, attitudes and communication styles so that APICS could better align with members in each of these generational segments, with particular emphasis on understanding how to support the professional development of millennials interested or already engaged in supply chain careers. 

The results of our survey and research were enlightening. While in many ways our findings were aligned with previous research, it was important to understand if our under 35 audience, consisting of young professionals working in supply chain and students interested in supply chain careers, possessed the same traits, preferences and attitudes. We found that our millennials in some ways were very similar to boomers – especially in their career drive. To help us create programs and communications that would resonate with this generation, we developed the following tenets that serve as guideposts for the academic community, employers and our millennial members and customers: 

  1. Education and advancement. Differentiating themselves through education is a way to hit the next career level, earn more, pay off their loans and support the lifestyle they want.
  2. Value and values-driven. They are cautious consumers seeking deals, but also like to show their commitment to the issues that speak to their heart.
  3. Technologically astute. This is the online generation. They expect state-of-the-art interaction. If it takes too long to load, they “x” out.  If it looks ugly, it's over.
  4. Image conscious, socially networked. They are continuously curating their personal brand, sharing their thoughts, influenced by and influencing others, with the expectation they will be heard and receive a rapid response.
  5. Diverse and different. More women and minorities are entering the supply chain and operations management workforce. This is not a one-size-fits-all generation.

By understanding what millennials value and hold dear, organizations can attract the right candidates to their organization. Listed below are some tactics that can help organizations illustrate that supply chain is both a meaningful and practical career choice:

  • Focus on opportunities for career advancement. Candidates are more easily engaged if they can envision the career trajectory for the job they're considering. Organizations should define and articulate the career opportunities available across their organization and supply chain.
  • Facilitate learning from mentors and trusted sources Mentorship is key to retaining talent and encouraging individual and professional growth. Mentorship programs create a platform for collaboration and understanding between employees at different levels and career stages.
  • Stress ongoing professional development. Provide employees with learning and opportunities that help them excel in their current roles and prepare for what's next.  Supply chain certification programs are a great way to develop talent, increase employee loyalty and elevate supply chain team performance. 
  • Highlight technology . Make it easy for entry-level candidates to find your organization online and engage with recruits by enabling a dialogue via social channels. Review internal communications modalities – are they out of date?  Are you missing participation of a key group of employees?
  • Encourage diversity. Diversity brings people of varying points of view and backgrounds together and expands the organization's knowledge base. Every organization should have programs in place to foster and develop a diverse employee base.

Taking steps today to attract and retain millennials will result in a skilled, stable, and motivated staff and improved supply chain operations. By making changes in recruitment and communication methods today, over time the industry will be able to engage with the right talent and illustrate the immense career potential of the supply chain.

For recommended reading on the millennial mind set and how to engage with millennials, here are some sources our team found enlightening: Pew Research Center reports on the Millennial Generation, Nielsen Millennial research, and Marketing to Millennials a book by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton. For additional best practices and resources around general supply chain recruitment, check out the latest Women in Manufacturing Report conducted by Deloitte, The Manufacturing Institute and APICS SCC, or download the latest Supply Chain Leadership Report: Many Styles Generate Success.

2 comments on “Millennials in Supply Chain: How to Attract, Train & Prepare Successful Leaders

  1. tstreet
    November 22, 2015

    The article was very thoughtful and well written and discussed some key points. I would be remiss not to mention there is a demographic that is missing in the article/conversation/survey. There are many mid-career service members that are transitioning to the private sector that could bring an additional perspective that could be beneficial to companies and to the Logistics & Supply Chain industry.


  2. kreme130
    November 26, 2015

    For reasons beyond my understanding I already found Operations cool when I was still a kid. There was this German television show once a week, that had a 5 min clip about how stuff was made, and I found that fascinating. Nowadays I am so lucky that I train professionals in Operations, Logistics and SC roles. And we discovered that deploying serious games and interaction are the way to attract millennials. That is how they learnt and still learn as a generation, and it is a great approach to get and to keep them involved in learning and training. We are confident this approach will help to let them stay in Supply Chain, luckily so, since we cannot afford to miss them.

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