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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.