Are we doing enough to mitigate a supply chain management recruitment disaster?

Supply Chain VisibilityRecruiting the right talent in terms of supply chain management is getting increasingly difficult as supply chain technology advances, and new elements such as Big Data, Data Analysis, Risk Management, the challenge of Omni Channel marketing, plus the ramping up of the Internet of Things are all being added into the mix.

If you also factor in the fact that in the US alone the so-called baby boomer generation (of which there are 73 million) is now reaching the end of their employable lives, the need to retain suitable supply chain management talent, and improve new recruitment performance is going to create its own disruptive effect unless something is done quickly to address the situation.

In a recent meeting that took place at ProMat 2015 in Chicago, the problem of retaining and recruiting top supply chain management personnel, that will guide the growth of supply chains until at least 2015, was discussed with three top business executives.

Here in this short blog, we at Supply Chain Station are going to summarize their findings.

The rapidly changing shape of the business landscape                                                                                                                          

The pace of change throughout the business landscape, and in the supply chain arena in particular is accelerating at a rate of knots, and it doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Against this background, Betsey Nohe of Morton Salt opened the discussion by referring to the tide of retirements that is waiting to start lapping at their shores in the next 10-years. She said that she and her colleagues were seriously concerned about how they are going to go about filling the roles that will be vacated by retirees, and supply chain executives moving on to other employers.

Morton Salt has many facilities which are located in various small towns across the US. These are all towns that have salt deposits which why their processing plants are located there. But as the towns are small, their residents tend to migrate out to bigger towns and metropolitan areas, where work opportunities are more prevalent; so it means that Morton Salt will be presented with some very specific recruitment challenges.

Ms Nohe went on to explain that the salt mining and processing industry has changed out of all recognition in recent decades. What was once a manual labor based process has now become much more technological and its workforce now need technical ability rather than just muscle and brawn. Headquartered in Chicago, Morton face stiff competition from other salt mining/processing companies and are constantly striving to keep a high profile in order to try and attract job seekers to their company rather than those of the competition.

Employers need to take a long term view on employee development

The second member of the panel, Jeff LeClair of Basin Industries has an employment history of working with some of the world’s largest manufacturer; companies like Caterpillar and Toyota. LeClair’s opening contribution to the discussion was to say that it’s about time that businesses began working much more closely with schools, colleges and other education institutions in order to foster a better relationship; with the prospect of attracting top quality candidates to their employ.

He said that companies need to be helping employees to gain a greater understanding of the roles they fulfill, and how they bring added value to the customer. In order to bring this about, LeClair voiced his opinion that businesses must take a longer term view of their workforce and how they prepare and develop them to meet future challenges and remain current; not only the workforce in general, but the supply chain management workforce in particular.

It’s going to require a joint effort

The third member of the panel, John Caltagirone of the Loyola University of St Quinian School of Business (Chicago) stated that the need for good supply chain management professionals on the global stage has never been more important, and will become even more so over the next decade.

When asked by Caltagirone what were the toughest challenges  that they faced in Asia and the Middle East, one global manufacturer replied that the three most critical areas were labor, talent and water; and when it came to talent in particular, it was thought that supply chain management as a profession or discipline, lagged behind the times.

As a profession, IT recognizes that it requires a back-up plan, and in most instances already has one in place; but when it comes down to supply chain management, they often still don’t seem to know whether or not a back-up plan even exists.

Caltagirone’s opinion is that business strategy planning, human resource management and workforce planning must all work together in order to establish not only where they need to be in 10 years-time, but how to get there too.

The art of communication is being lost

A good range of technical skill is a prerequisite in terms of the skills that supply chain management professionals need. But it’s all very well being able to create Excel spreadsheets and use them to analyze and assess performance, but professionals must also have a good range of so-called “soft skills.”

In other words if these individuals cannot communicate effectively with their peers, they will face a major stumbling block and so will be supply chains that they populate.

To highlight the problem in terms of developing these “soft skill’s and how they apply in particular to the supply chains of the future, Ms Nohe highlighted demand planning as one specific area of concern. She tabled the fact that while businesses are eager to employ mathematical minded individuals who can get the best out of statistical models, and carry out in-depth data analysis, it’s also becoming apparent that many of these people are soft skill deficient and cannot therefore take an effective part in a meeting because they can’t collaborate effectively with the rest of the team.

Morton Salt has introduced bespoke in-house training to improve soft skills

In order to address this specific area of concern Morton Salt now conduct bespoke in-house training sessions for their employees. While computers and spreadsheets are essential for carrying out demand planning, these special training sessions are targeted at developing the necessary interactive communication skills that will help them to compare notes, offer constructive criticism, and suggests ways forward when communicating with their working colleagues.

Loyola University shines the spotlight on improving communication skill levels

Caltagirone pointed out that the one group of people where communication skills appear to be lacking more than anywhere else, are new college graduates who are now making their way into the workforce world. Caltagirone said that this is a prime concern they are hearing about from numerous major corporations. It has reached the level whereby his institution has decided that it is necessary to retarget its focus on communication skills including speaking, writing, and business ethics.

When all is said and done the answer lies in creating a two-way street scenario whereby it is beholding on both educational establishments and business organizations to team up together in order to devise different ways of meeting these challenges head-on.

Developing soft skills throughout the entire company

Much is made of the necessity for improving soft skills within the supply chain management arena; but it’s also important to improve them out on the factory floor too. The Morton Salt Corporation had taken this attitude to heart and now involve more and more of their operatives (in both their operations and distribution centers) in taking part in training programs with a view to developing their so-called soft skills.

By training people in all areas (which includes supply chain, other administrative duties, and production and manufacturing type roles too), organizations can create more “business minded people” who can not only communicate, but who can also focus their activities on achieving the common overall business goals.

Improving interdepartmental soft skills

Ms Nohe gave account of a conversation she became aware of between one of her company’s production managers and a human resource manager. They were both discussing the need for the company to be able to keep to production schedules. They discussed the fact that when targets are missed, the end results can lead to customer disappointment, and that this is something that affects the whole business in a negative way.

The impressive thing according to Ms Nohe was the fact that the conversation took place at a higher level; a level that both parties fully understood and were working towards coming up with a solution that was right for their own organization, their clients, and the business community as a whole.

Fostering a group sense of purpose

By way of highlighting another example, LeClair made reference to the forklift truck driver who began a chat on production process improvements with an assembly worker. The conversation started out with a simple, “How are things going; is everything running okay?” But this is enough to open what can be an effective dialogue. It paves the way for an exchange of information about how the production process is working and opens the door of opportunity for positive input. It involves workers in a productive exchange of information which can also lead to greater job enjoyment and fulfillment. It helps to foster a group sense of purpose.

But at the end of the day this development of soft skills with factory floor workers and helping them to see and understand the bigger picture and the contributions they make towards it, is a task that needs to be fulfilled by management.

Developing a client focused business

Caltagirone referred back to a previous employment in a grocery delivery service. In this company the forklift drivers became known as “ambassadors”, as in many instances they were the only members of staff who ever made direct face-to-face contact with the company’s clients. His judgment on a process whereby reverse pyramid leadership is employed, with employees up at the sharp end and management underneath, was that companies who employ this logic develop a client focused culture throughout the business.

Developing such internal cultures can only improve business ethics, but at the end of the day it is the problems with recruiting top supply chain management talent that is going to be the biggest challenge in the foreseeable future. Competition is already fierce for the best candidates and going forward, with the present of levels of education and training, this will only get worse.

Attracting candidates at an earlier age

Morton Salt is trying to tackle the problem by collaborating more closely with schools and colleges. They are now running apprenticeship programs created to attract young people and get them interested in the industry as a future career path, both on the factory floor level (or mining in their particular field) and at administrative and supply chain management level.

Understanding internal and external business politics

Cross training across the board, so that individuals can learn about a company’s internal customers or stakeholders as well as external customers, provides a real benefit to both the employee and the employer, and incidentally the end user or client too. It will also help to bring much needed understanding and communication skills into the supply chain management discipline.


What’s the average age of your supply chain management team? Do you have “baby boomers” in critical positions that will be leaving your employ in the near future? Is your company’s employment policy geared towards retaining loyalty amongst its supply chain management professionals? What improvements do you recommend are made to head off a future supply chain management recruitment disaster? Have your say at the feedback section below.

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