Shaping the Workforce of the Future Through Collaboration

Generally, supply chain managers agree that the right talent is some combination of technical skills, industry-specific understanding, real-world business experience, and various soft skills. Finding those candidates can be a challenge though.

Most supply chain managers are acutely aware of the talent deficit they must overcome as they attempt to address the evolutionary needs of their value chains. This deficit spans both dimensions — the number of people as well as the required skill sets, and is not limited to any specific industry. As industries compete for talent, employee turnover and retention issues abound. In absence of the right talent, value creation becomes increasingly difficult.

To address the shortage of supply chain professionals at the front end of the talent pool, industry and universities are collaborating at multiple levels. (Read more about the talent pinch in EBN’s recent Velocity e-mag.)

Universities are creating new curriculum and educational models in response to the higher complexity of the business environment. The curriculum is no longer limited to technical skills such as forecasting, procurement, inventory, logistics, regulatory compliance, process and network design, and operations management. Education related to communication skills and leadership traits is now an integral part of the curriculum.

In response to the rapid globalization of supply chains, most universities now include global awareness or human diversity courses. Deeper industry-university collaboration has led to interaction between students and senior supply chain executives, specifically around challenges brought about by globalization of supply and demand. As companies make internship opportunities available, students and universities have attempted to leverage them to gain real world business exposure.

A rigorous curriculum combined with the experiential component creates significantly higher skills and prepares the students as they launch their careers. As companies recruit new talent, most recognize that finding a perfect fit may be difficult, and that they need to invest in this talent by way of trainings and development programs. My conversations with senior supply chain professionals across a broad group of industries, as well as the faculty members at several supply chain schools, appear to indicate that in most cases, companies find that students have good functional understanding of the supply chain disciplines. Yet, the same students find it difficult to orchestrate complex business processes that span across the functional disciplines.

My interactions with students lead me to believe that additional investments by students, universities, and industry, in the following three soft skill dimensions, can help bridge the gap and make top supply chain talent at universities move closer to industry requirements. These skills assume significant importance due to globalization and fragmentation of the value chains:

  1. Ability to manage ambiguity and uncertainty in the business environment: Decision making in an ambiguous business environment is difficult. The ability to use standard operating procedures as a guiding factor, and yet have exert enough flexibility to navigate through multiple options and possible end results, needs practice. The ability to recognize patterns when presented with incomplete or conflicting pieces of data, and the ability to take decisions with incomplete facts is an extremely useful trait for new recruits in modern supply chains. Demand volatility, supply issues, risks across the entire ecosystem, information latency, working capital constraints, and rate of obsolescence are a few factors that inject extreme ambiguity in most high-tech supply chains.
  2. Problem solving through collaborative engagement: Modern supply chains cannot be looked through the traditional lens of cost-cutting. Inter-enterprise process design in extended supply chains must ultimately be optimized to serve the needs of all stakeholders. Stating and sticking to a position during problem resolution, should be replaced with identifying common interests and working to achieve those. Skills that allow clear definition of issues and identification of common interests require practice.
  3. Understanding the big picture: With complex processes binding together multiple partners in a supply chain, any change in processes by one partner can impact other partners. The ability to understand the interdependence, and leverage that ability to resolve tactical and strategic issues in the least possible time, is critical for supply chain professionals. Trainings and internships can expose students to techniques that help them develop the capability to understand big picture. This capability positively impacts the other two soft skills mentioned above.

Any internship should include specific conversations and trainings around these skills. If you work closely with supply-chain students, I invite you to share your insights and ideas.

16 comments on “Shaping the Workforce of the Future Through Collaboration

  1. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 24, 2014

    @Lalit, what does an understanding of how to apply emerging technology to the supply chain play into necessary skills? I'm thinking about big data/analytics, mobile apps, security, etc. It seems to me that an openess to and an understanding of the importance of these types of technologies is going to get more and more important.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 24, 2014

    @EBN Readers, let us know your experiences with organizations and educational institutions working together for supply chain excellence. What's on your list of must haves in the emerging supply chain in terms of skills and capabilities?

  3. Lalit Wadhwa
    February 24, 2014

    @Hailey, In my discussion with students and faculty from at least 2 business schools that offer supply chain programs, it seems that mobility, analytics and supply chain security are increasingly being woven into the curriculum. My understanding is that most schools are possibly doing well in terms of adapting the curriculum to match the evolving landscape, but some of the soft skills (such as the three that I mentioned in my blog) need more focus from everyone involved. Thanks for your inputs!

  4. Taimoor Zubar
    February 26, 2014

    “What's on your list of must haves in the emerging supply chain in terms of skills and capabilities?”

    @Hailey: From what I have seen, supply chain managers require a number of other skills apart from their own expertise in the area of supply chain. First, they need to take decisions on a daily basis that have a huge financial impact. So they should be aware of some basic level of finance. Second, they interact with a number of people reguarly. Hence, they need good interpersonal skills and more importantly negotiation skills.

  5. Taimoor Zubar
    February 26, 2014

    I recently attended an advanced course on supply chain management. The course was based on two parts: theoretical learning and simulation exercises. While the theoretical learning was no doubt quite informative, I can barely retain anything I learnt during that. However, the simulation-based exercises related to supply chain management were extremely effective when it came to teaching and learning. I think more and more supply chain courses should be taught while making the use of simulation.

  6. Taimoor Zubar
    February 26, 2014

    “I'm thinking about big data/analytics, mobile apps, security, etc. It seems to me that an openess to and an understanding of the importance of these types of technologies is going to get more and more important.”

    @Hailey: I'd agree with this. Data is playing a more important role than ever in shaping company's decisions and Big Data is a major area of research in this field. From a company's perspective, the supply chain managers should be aware of what kind of tools they can get deployed in their companies to take advantage of data analytics and improve their decision making in the company.

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 26, 2014

    @Taimoorz, that sounds like an interesting approach. The other advantage, i'll bet, is the interaction with the other students since you get teh learning from the class and also the experiences that the students bring to the table. We are learning so much about how people learn and retain information, i'm willing to be that twe see more supply chain education that uses this and other innovative approaches.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 26, 2014

    @TaimoorZ, big data and analytics are key technologies through the whole organization. One good approach would be for the supply chain manager to lobby to be included on whatever team is exploring these solutions. Eventually, big data will be a critical part of IT security, finance, and other departments in addition to the supply chain.

  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 27, 2014

    Big data analytics in the supply chain managment context will defintely make decision making an informed process rather than based upon hunches and past personal experiences.


    But this data analytics will be more helpful if it provides a preview of what effects each decison would have on the immediate future actions . I do not know whether the current Analytics tools provide such a facility.

    “What WILL happen if I take this decision?”  needs to be answered.

  10. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 27, 2014

    @Taimoor: You are right. A good supply chain manager is expected to:

    • Be a strategic leader
    • Possess a big-picture perspective of the organization's structure
    • Be a skilled decision-maker
    • Be a long-term learner
  11. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 27, 2014

    @TaimoorZ: Thanks for sharing the experiwnce. You still need the theoretical knowledge to be able to understand the domain specific terms used in the simulation setting. Learning is a combination of both theory and practice.

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 28, 2014

    @Lalit, thanks for the information. i”m glad to hear that supply chain programs are evolving…I feared that it would take time for them to catch up. Especially recently it seems as if things are evolving pretty quickly.

  13. Taimoor Zubar
    February 28, 2014

    “We are learning so much about how people learn and retain information, i'm willing to be that twe see more supply chain education that uses this and other innovative approaches”

    @Hailey: I think the best part about this is that the simulated exercises are already there. All you have to do is buy them and plan a training event to make your managers play these games. You don't even need an expensive trainer for this.

  14. Taimoor Zubar
    February 28, 2014

    “One good approach would be for the supply chain manager to lobby to be included on whatever team is exploring these solutions”

    @Hailey: I'm not sure if that's a good approach. This would divert the focus of the supply chain manager from his core skills. That's more of a job of a project manager and normally supply chain managers don't really land in that role.

  15. ahdand
    February 28, 2014

    @Hailey: Indeed when you compare it with the last 3-5 years there is a growth of nearly 25% – 30%. So that is a good rate since that shows the people and organizations are really looking into it for the future.              

  16. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    February 28, 2014

    @TaimoorZ, i would argue that having someone from teh department invovled is becoming increasingly critical and it's important to have a shared direction for the entire organization. It also raises the visiblity around the accomplishments and necessity of thinking about the supply chain.

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