In a market where consumers are demanding instant gratification from brands, the importance of supply chain to a business’s success has never been greater. However, a shortage of certified supply chain professionals remains a problem for the industry. With the “first generation” of supply chain professionals preparing to retire, businesses will need to invest in new talent to fill roles across logistics, operations, planning, procurement, and more. Today’s supply chain industry is not only relatively young — it’s also changing rapidly, leading to a lack of professionals willing, or even capable enough, to carry the torch. What should the supply chain industry be doing to encourage the best talent?
Why The Supply Chain Shortage Exists
There seem to be two major forces driving supply chain’s talent shortage:
- Because of a rapidly changing landscape and constant introductions of new technologies, the skills needed for the profession are hard to pin down. Blockchain. IoT. AI. Customer-centric models. Every year there is a new “game-changing” technology or disruptive idea about what supply chain operations should be indexing on. There isn’t time for current supply chain professionals to catch their breath, let alone to establish a clear skill set for the profession. More and more, every unique role within supply chain also requires proficiency in tangential fields like corporate social responsibility or trade politics. We see this as a positive sign that disparate sectors in the supply chain are finally speaking to each other. But from a career training perspective, it’s clearly a hurdle to overcome.
- The path from college to career isn’t as clear in supply chain as it is in other professions. Because of the factors mentioned above, there is a disconnect in higher education between taught skills and skills that actually fit employers’ needs. Unlike accounting or business management, the road from earning a degree to actually getting a job in supply chain is often crooked. Even for those who do choose a supply chain-related major, employers may be averse to hiring fresh graduates. They may believe (and not entirely incorrectly) that in a field as rapidly changing as supply chain, on-the-job experience with the gritty details is vital to performing well.
How to Solve the Talent Shortage Problem
There are two ways the supply chain industry can nurture a new generation of talent. The first is by ensuring that there are educational opportunities within schools and universities. Outreach programs targeting high school students can provide visibility and awareness about the perks of a supply chain career.
Today, options for studying supply chain are a bit more varied than they were 20 years ago. They range from majoring in supply chain management to taking it as a minor along with a Business degree. Schools like MIT and Michigan State have adopted programs that help students make the tricky move from studying supply chain and logistics to building a career in them. MIT recently introduced a supply chain micro-master's program. Students can earn credits towards a supply chain management master's degree online, after which they take an exam. Those who pass the exam then gain entry to MIT, where they can complete their Master’s degree in one semester. With growing interest in CSR, more students may opt to go to school for specialized programs like "supply chain sustainability."
The second way businesses can nurture supply chain talent is by providing more learning opportunities in the workplace. Offering internships, mentorship programs, and other training opportunities are all ways to encourage a culture of learning. And it’s not just advisable for recent graduates or new employees — high-performing employees from within a company who show an acumen for supply chain-related skills should also be encouraged to take these learning opportunities, and be offered counseling on making a shift into a supply chain role. Training on-site is a practical solution given the dynamic nature of today’s supply chains. There are already a variety of programs offered by companies which focus less on building supply chain skills from the ground up and more on building upon what the candidate already has to offer.
Programs like these are great signs that becoming a certified supply chain professional will be more straightforward in the near future. We, for one, think there's never been a better time for a career in supply chain — especially for the young and digital-savvy.
Read more tips about how to fix the supply chain talent shortage here.