The Generational Crossover of Supply Chain Professionals

It's an issue surfacing in all corporate landscapes: How can companies get Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers to work well together, especially if the perception is that they all want different things?

If you've been following headlines, you may have seen that the topic is back is fashion, especially now in the US as the economy recovers and companies look to fill gaps in the workplace. Just last week, I stumbled on two recent stories on the topic while browsing for other news.

One was in Time magazine, and the other was a guest commentary at Logistics Viewpoints.

As these articles note, and PwC has found, the crossover between the young workers and the older ones is already happening and will continue to increase. Consider these points made in the stories and report cited above:

  • In the US, there are now 80 million Millennials vs. 79 million Baby Boomers.
  • PwC estimated that by 2016, roughly 80 percent of its own workforce will be Millennials. It won't be long before many other companies have a similar workforce profile.

The supply chain is not going to be immune to this trend either. Filter the above data through these stats from a study done last year by the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and you can begin to see how big the generational gap is and how supply chain professionals and corporate management will have to find workarounds very soon.

A report titled The Logistics of Education and Education of Logistics, using stats from the US Department of Labor,  indicates that the US alone — not counting other international hubs — will have approximately 270,200 logistics-related job openings that will need to be filled every year through 2018 to keep up with projected industry growth. The flip side is that the study revealed despite an increasing number of schools offering supply chain degrees, US vocational schools, colleges, and universities are only producing about 75,280 formally trained, degreed, or certified workers a year qualified for those jobs. How are companies in various sectors going to fill the remaining 195,000 open supply chain jobs?

It won't be easy, and clearly one of the biggest hurdles lies in understanding how people from different generations and cultural backgrounds want to work today, how they want to be enabled to work in more productive ways, and how these factors will shift over time.

From where I'm standing, as a 41-year-old who is neither a Millennial nor a Baby Boomer, but rather from that other group rising up the workplace ranks (Generation X) I have to believe there is a way to weave together the strengths of each generation and develop new strategic supply chain advantages. That said, I can't add with any confidence that I have a silver bullet solution or even a working concept how such a strategy could be stitched together into a full-functional plan, but I'm going to throw something out there.

We know three important things:

  1. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have supply chain wisdom embedded in their DNAs because of their many years of in-field experience.
  2. Millennials are technology's love children, practically born attached to mobile phones, gaming devices, and laptops always connected to the Internet.
  3. Nearly everyone these days wants flexibility so they can achieve a good work-life balance.

If we started with those three elements, perhaps the conversation would shift from talking about how different people seem to be to how sage experience, technological know-how, and versatility could work in harmony.

Of course, that's only my perspective. What's yours?

10 comments on “The Generational Crossover of Supply Chain Professionals

  1. Michael Steinhart
    September 30, 2013

    This is a great story. I think the increasing push for supply chain automation and modernization will help open the field to more tech-savvy workers. In addition, I think large manufacturers and logistics firms should market overseas supply-chain jobs specifically to millennials who are relatively young, not-tied-down, and keen to venture out as citizens of the world. This could be a smart way to combine technology with feet-on-the-ground presence to enhance workflow across the planet.

  2. SP
    October 1, 2013

    Its nice to have generational gaps in the work place. Seniors who are not political are very important for an organization. Freshers or less experienced bring in lot of energy and zeal. You need both the experienced and fiery youngsters to grow the company.

  3. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 3, 2013

    @Michael, I love the idea of creating job opportunites to appear to certain generations, like the globe-trotting millenials. It's also a great opportunity to take advantage of the skills of these younger folks–like being technologically savvy and ready to adopt and leverage technology to address key corporate strategies.

  4. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 3, 2013

    @SP, multi-generational and intergeneral organizatoins do have an advantage for the reasons you outline. It's a good reminder that this doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.

    October 5, 2013

    Organizations should strive to get the best of all the generations as each has a lot to offer.  One hurdle to overcome is the perennial belief of each generation that it knows best however.

  6. Lavender
    October 6, 2013

    Generation gap has always been an inevitable fact with different technologies appearing and advancing. So many reports note supply chain is risking lack of nonmaterial resources

    Companies and organizations should offer opportunities to young people, universities also provide such majors and training, and youngsters actively synchronize supply chain knowledge. 

  7. Jennifer Baljko
    October 7, 2013

    @Rich – It may sounds easy, but it's hard to pull off — this finding harmony between the young and old workforce.

  8. Jennifer Baljko
    October 7, 2013

    @SP – I'm with you… companies that can figure this out would see a good balance between the ranks.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 7, 2013

    At least by some counts the number of jobs is outpacing the number of workers, so it may not be replacing so much as bringing more in–and changing the mix in the process.

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 10, 2013

    @Rich, I understand that you are being tongue in cheek (yes?). At the same time, I would argue the opposite or in conjunction with teh downside. We are in a different time. My generation cannot help its children or its parents the way that the previous generation did.  We are less prosperous. At the same time, it's kind of crazy because as a whole we do work hard…

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