The current wave of digitalisation is one of those rare events in history that fully justifies the overused term ‘paradigm shift’. Whereas most technical advances represent better ways of performing existing processes or running existing businesses, digitalisation offers entirely new ways of thinking about the nature of products and services, how they are created, distributed and acquired. These opportunities exist for every area of industry and commerce, but how will they directly impact supply chain recruitment? There are major implications for how the industry recruits and develops staff at all levels.
Digitalisation in the supply chain…
A common feature of technical advance is that it tends to create a cadre of ‘high priest’ specialists who alone understand and control the magic boxes, while everyone else mutely accepts the outputs. But in supply chain, with its intricate and all-pervading linkages, this will not do. Supply chains need leaders and managers who have the vision.
In a recent paper, Steven Steuterman of analysts Gartner writes that: “Supply chains of the future will undergo a major transformation process. [….] supply chains will ‘act on their own’ with the ability to self-regulate and take appropriate actions and as a result will increase and augment the capabilities of humans well beyond what is known today”.
But that presupposes those capabilities exist. Gartner point out that the world labour supply, and thus the talent pool, is shrinking, proportionately and in some advanced countries absolutely. Technology offers a way out of this bind and ‘digital dexterity will become an essential part of every supply chain recruitment team’.
IDC Manufacturing Insights
IDC Manufacturing Insights predicts some of the developments for which this talent will be required. By 2021, they say, half of all manufacturing supply chains will have invested in supply chain resiliency and Artificial Intelligence; by the end of 2020 half of all large manufacturers will have automated supplier and spend data analysis; by 2023 65% of warehousing activities will use robots and situational data analytics to enable storage optimisation; and so on from additive manufacturing through blockchain to the circular economy. Such changes are deep and cumulative: success requires active and far-seeing management, not just a half-day staff training course.
Skills needed for the future
Writing in ‘Supply Management’ recently, Dr Joerg Ries of London University notes that due to the continuous development of these technologies, traditional supply chain knowledge will not be sufficient for the future. That is not to say traditional knowledge and skills will be obsolete. But it will also be important to understand how new business models and technologies will affect the way of creating and delivering products and services most effectively and to manage the required process and technology innovations.
Dr Ries suggests that another factor contributing to the skills gap is a general lack of understanding of what supply chain management, as a discipline, involves. Rather than seeing it as a concept of intra- and inter-organisational integration and coordination to gain and sustain competitive advantage, those outside the field tend to associate it with low-level activities, which lead to a neglect of important strategic issues.
Not just, perhaps, those outside the field. A study for the EU by Zaragoza Logistics Centre has looked at the current provision of education and training/ development for supply chain professionals. It finds that not only is technical content frequently obsolete in the light of the new technologies, but ‘there is a gap between companies’ requirements and the competencies provided’ and that ‘current education and training programmes usually do not sufficiently consider a set of relevant topics for future supply chains’. Lacking in supply chain training is adequate discussion of the environmental and social factors around supply chain; awareness of new and emerging business models, global shifts, ways of partnering and contracting, collaboration and other potential novel supply chain configurations; and a range of personal and soft skills around leadership, communication, conflict resolution, holistic thinking and many more.
For the increasing number of companies that recognise that this is just the beginning, not the end-point, of the supply chain paradigm shift, looking for people with the skills and vision to drive successful transformation will be a big challenge. Where can such paragons be found?
Ultimately the supply chain and logistics sector will have to ‘grow their own’, through apprenticeships and graduate schemes, and companies individually and collectively need to send clear demand signals to education and training providers about the need for enhanced, expanded and updated content. Second, a much deeper commitment to continuing professional development is required. It isn’t easy in a fast-paced world, but staff at all levels need to be given the incentive, and the time, to read, study, discuss and think about possible supply chain futures.
How to achieve a wider perspective…
Individually and as teams, supply chain professionals need to acquire a wider perspective. One way of achieving this is by internal cross-fertilisation – give supply chain staff exposure and experience in other operational areas, and equally, second staff from marketing, procurement, manufacturing et al to the supply chain function.
External supply chain recruitment also has its role. However, given the shortage of skilled professionals it can be hard to find a candidate ‘tailor-made’ for the company’s needs. In any case, a track record of successfully applying today’s solution may not be quite what is required for a firm trying to anticipate what tomorrow’s supply chain may look like. It may be worth casting the net somewhat wider, looking at candidates from other commercial sectors or different disciplines. Many of the merely technical aspects of logistics and supply chain can, after all, be taught – the ‘vision thing’ is harder to find.
How we can help…
The synergies between Bis Henderson Recruitment and Bis Henderson Academy, and the long-standing relationships we have with many companies within the supply chain and logistics industry, means we understand the current and future needs, options and constraints in supply chain recruitment, training, and the further development of both new hires and existing staff.
Our close contact with industry gives us real insight into the new supply chain paradigms as they emerge. Using these insights, we have developed with our clients’ innovative thinking and new approaches to resolving industry’s skills problems, for example by identifying less obvious sources of talent and devising pathways to equip such people for new roles and ways of working. We help companies to develop a forward view and strategy around skills requirements, and we can then provide practical support in recruitment and training to help companies achieve these goals.
A word from Leigh Anderson, Managing Director, Bis Henderson Recruitment...
Just as important as agile supply chains are agile individuals; people who can adapt quickly to changing business dynamics and flexible methods of working. From our perspective we see that the human component of the supply chain is still as vital as the technological aspect – and changing just as fast.
Prepare for the new paradigm by planning your company’s supply chain recruitment and skills development needs with Bis Henderson Recruitment. Contact us today to see how we can assist you.