Part 2: Getting Schooled in Supply Chain: Three Recommendations for Employers | Elementum

Part 2: Getting Schooled in Supply Chain: Three Recommendations for Employers

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With a surge of students interested in supply chain management, employers have a unique opportunity to hire their future superstars. In Part 2 of this post, I share recommendations that employers can use to up their recruiting games and make the most of their new, talented employees.

State of Play

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I dug into a recent article from Bloomberg,  “Forget Finance. Supply-Chain Management Is the Pandemic Era’s Must-Have MBA Degree.” Here’s a quick rundown in case you missed it: The Good:
  • Supply chain management is getting the respect it deserves as a field of study
  • Universities are investing more of their academic resources to better prepare students for successful careers in supply chain management 
  • More students are preparing for a career in supply chain management instead of traditional pursuits like Finance and Marketing
  • Fortune 1000 companies are promoting more leaders with supply chain expertise to the C-Level
The Bad:
  • Supply chain curriculum still over-emphasizes many of the dated tactics that contributed to supply chain failures during the pandemic
  • Many companies are still scrambling through the latest wave of pandemic-related chaos
The Ugly (and the Opportunity):
  • More education does not necessarily equate to more impact
  • Students and employees share in the responsibility to create an environment that’s set up for success
All in all, good things are happening. That’s why you see the list of “The Good” being 2x the bad. It’s also why “The Ugly” is as much a concern as an opportunity. There’s more interest than ever in supply chain management, and more and more, we will see the best companies in the world differentiate themselves through world class supply chain management. 

The Opportunity

As a hiring manager, I notice that we tend to focus our attention on hiring the “experienced professional.” Yes, experience matters. However, don’t underestimate the power of the new grad. Fresh ideas and fresh perspectives are always helpful, but optimism is contagious. We’ve all gotten our beatings from supply chain twists and turns. It’s easy to be tired, skeptical, or even jaded. That’s why we need a spark. I’ve seen it time and time again, nothing injects energy into a room like a recent graduate or even an intern.  And, done right, that spark should turn into a flame that burns bright. Set those talented new grads up for success, and they’ll be your next movers-and-shakers, the get-shit-done crew that every supply chain team desperately needs.  Their success, though, depends on your ability to set them up for success. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Even the brightest star goes dark in a black hole. Give your stars the opportunity to shine, and your business will benefit from their glow. Okay, enough with the metaphors, here are three recommendations for setting your new grads up for success:
  • 1. Embrace the change. Let’s be self-aware for a moment, people are being drawn to supply chain management not because of its successes but because of its failures. The headlines have been non-stop for months, going on years: supply chains around the world are facing unprecedented disruptions. Some disruptions have been borderline comical (e.g. toilet paper) while others have been downright scary (e.g. medical supplies). Regardless, these chronic, debilitating disruptions have brought the importance of supply chain management to the forefront of the world’s attention. So much so, that we’re seeing an influx of interest at the university level. Given this background, there are certain truths that we need to hold as self evident:
    • Common standards and best practices for supply chain management failed under the weight of the pandemic
    • New grads see these failures as an opportunity to make a positive impact
    • Companies that revert back to the status quo are bound to repeat the same mistakes and disenfranchise new employees

Be the supply chain team that new grads want to join: agile, forward-thinking, innovative, opportunistic, and optimistic. This is particularly important if you aren’t a name-brand employer. Differentiate yourself through vision and ambition. Be the rising tide that will elevate your new hires with everyone around them. Show them that they will learn and grow as a member of your team. They’ll have the opportunity to experiment and try new things. They can brag to their friends and family that they’re part of a better future. Their team is making the changes to ensure supply chains are more robust and dynamic than before.

For all the frustrations brought on by the pandemic, we have an opportunity to learn, to get better, and to recruit new talent. These things go hand-in-hand. The pandemic proved we need to rethink the way we manage supply chains. Embrace the change: you’ll be an attractive employer for new grads, and they’ll be the wind in your business’ sails.

  1. 2. Create owners. Assuming you follow recommendation #1, then your business is going to be moving into some uncharted territories. Find a way to put your new hires in the middle of the action. The temptation will be to keep them on the sidelines, assigned to safer, well-established work. By and large, that makes sense. These youngsters may be ready to change the world, but realistically, they’ve got a lot to learn. What I’m recommending is that you find a way to allocate 20%, 10%, or even 5% of their time to the new stuff. I don’t deny that this creates some risks, but I have seen over and over again that the rewards out-weigh the risks:
    • Your trusted Manager or Director who’s spent 20 years in the trenches may be your go-to contact for setting up a new site or unblocking some supply-side bottlenecks, but they may not be the best person to lead an innovation initiative. However, pair them with a new-grad, and now you combine the best of both worlds: experience + ingenuity. Put the experienced person on-point, but have one-on-ones with the new grad in order to empower them.
    • Things will move faster. That new grad who’s fired up to change the world can’t help but push the people around them. Remember, for you and me, who have been in supply chain for 20 years, a quarter goes by in an instant. For the new grad just starting their career, a quarter feels like an eternity. If you want to bring some urgency to the team – turn quarters into months, months into weeks, and weeks into days – then put your new grad in charge of the schedule. You may have to sanity check some deadlines, but you’ll appreciate the new sense of urgency. Your other high-performers will appreciate it, too. 
    • Everyone will have more fun. That new grad is bound to make people laugh. It’s like bringing home a new puppy. Whether they ask a silly question or share some funny weekend stories, everyone will appreciate the added lightheartedness. 
    • They’ll start acting like owners. Let them step out of the shadows of the safe, supporting roles most new grads get relegated to, and let them prove themselves. With added responsibility comes added recognition. For the rock stars, that recognition will lead to more initiative on their part. They’ll work harder and longer. They’ll push others. They’ll care about the things you care about: costs, productivity, customer satisfaction. They’ll start identifying new opportunities and new projects to own. This might not be the case for every new grad. In fact, it may only be 10%, but that 10% will deliver 10x output. Give your new grads ownership, and you’ll figure out quickly who will be your 10xers.

The ideal project for a new grad has something to do with growth. It could be a new product launch, it could be a new site set-up, or it could be an innovative technology go-live. New grads are the future talent in supply chain. Connect them with the future of your company. Avoid projects solely focused on efficiencies or cost cutting, such as lean or kaizens. New grads have fresh, unjaded ideas. Take advantage of that growth mindset with growth opportunities.

  1. 3. Show them that supply chain matters. This point applies for the entire supply chain workforce. For much of the 90’s and 2000’s, supply chain was seen as a cost center. R&D innovated and Sales sold. Supply chain was merely a vehicle to connect R&D with Sales. Its sole purpose, to do so as cheaply as possible with as few disruptions as possible. The only time you heard about supply chain was when things went wrong. If Supply Chain had a seat at the proverbial table, then it was the kid’s table with the small chairs. Then, in the last five to ten years, we saw a sea change. More complexity in the global supply chain – more markets, more rules, more disruptions – put more importance on supply chain management as a skill. We also saw that a world class supply chain could be a major sales enabler, with 2-day and next-day shipping becoming standard. Companies like Amazon made supply chain management a core competency, buying its own fleet of planes and trucks. Other companies, like Apple and GM, actually promoted CEOs who built their careers in supply chain management. People want to work where they are valued. They’ll be paid more and have more opportunity for advancement. Most importantly, they’ll be respected by their peers. Signs that indicate supply chain is valued:
    • The Chief Supply Chain Officer reports to the CEO (If there is no CSCO and/or supply chain reports to the CFO, then supply chain is not valued)
    • The company is investing in supply chain with better equipment and innovation projects
    • Salaries for supply chain is on par with other function in the company
    • There is a growth path from supply chain to other functions and the C-Suite

New graduates have 30 years of work in front of them. They want to go where they are valued. They want to go where their bosses are valued. It’s not just for their own benefit, but it’s a sign of a healthy business. Supply chain has become a competitive differentiator. New grads want to work for the differentiated and differentiators. 

Take Advantage of the Opportunity

To state the obvious, hiring is incredibly difficult right now. I know you’re probably focused on keeping the factories staffed or filling that key executive role. But, it’s fantastic news that more students plan to make their careers in supply chain management. Take advantage of it! Don’t miss the opportunity to recruit some phenomenal, new talent. They’ll help you sooner than you think, and when everyone else stops to catch their breaths, they’ll be pushing your business to new heights.
David Blonski

David Blonski


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