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Finding and Retaining the Supply Chain Workforce of the Future

June 19, 2015
If you want to attract fresh supply chain talent and keep employees engaged, you've got to make recruiting a 24/7 priority.

The supply chain management profession is experiencing rapid change and growth. Only 15 years ago the field was just emerging and not a focus of employers, university programs, or job seekers. Today the field is garnering new levels of attention and boasts one of the most rewarding and vibrant career paths for determined, college-educated, young professionals.

Technology and globalization have changed the skillset required to be successful as a supply chain professional. Those pursuing supply chain careers need to understand not only their organization’s supply chain, but also that of their customers, vendors and suppliers. Few business functions require this vast range of expertise, and employers are making significant investments in training to keep up.

However, despite the best efforts of educators and employers, fast growth has resulted in a major talent gap. In the manufacturing industry, for example, a recent survey shows that 67% of manufacturers report a severe shortage of qualified workers. Furthermore, 56% of respondents expect that shortage to become worse in the next few years. It was also estimated that 5% of manufacturing jobs—600,000 positions nationally—go unfilled due to the lack of qualified workers.

While universities are now offering undergraduate and master’s programs to fill this void, they can’t keep up with the demand for supply chain talent. As a result, it’s important that companies take action to find qualified individuals and retain them, a process that has become increasingly tough.

Following are action steps supply chain organizations can implement to attract fresh talent and keep employees engaged.

How to Attract the Most Qualified Talent

Focus on the individual’s career path. Organizations should define and articulate the career opportunities available across their supply chain. Opportunities for career advancement in supply chain are vast and provide an atmosphere for ongoing and consistent learning. Candidates will be engaged more easily if they can envision the career trajectory for the job they’re considering.

Make recruiting a 24/7 priority. In most organizations, recruiting and networking to prospective employees is simply not a priority until there is a business need. However, if companies make searching for employees an ongoing process, it will be easier to access a pool of potential talent when a need arrives. Hiring managers should always be on the lookout for new recruits.

Align as an industry. More students should be exposed to the supply chain profession in high school and college. Many college educated students and even young professionals are unaware of the positive aspects of a career in supply chain. For example, many don’t realize it is one of the highest paying jobs that doesn’t require a graduate degree. To combat this lack of information, organizations should make a coordinated effort to promote the profession as a whole. A good way for businesses to get involved and collaborate is by joining a professional association.

Hiring great talent is only half the battle. Keeping them engaged is just as important.

Retaining the Best Employees

Embrace diversity. Diversity is healthy for companies because it brings people of varying points of view and backgrounds together and expands the organization’s knowledge base. Examining a company’s recruitment programs may reveal opportunities to identify atypical pools of applicants. By taking the time to review retention programs, companies can improve on the existing (or non-existing) approaches to diversity. All organizations should have programs in place to foster and develop a diverse employee base.

Emphasize mentorship over managers. Whether through an official program or informal support, mentorship is key to retaining talent and encouraging individual and professional growth. Mentorship programs create a platform for collaboration and understanding between employees at different levels and career stages.

Provide generous training and learning opportunities. Encouraging employees to develop professionally—and making it easy to do so—builds employee loyalty while strengthening your workforce. Many associations offer professional certifications, topic-specific training and webinars.

Supply chain management is a very exciting field and opportunities are abundant in the long term for those who want a career in the sector. However, to ensure the profession continues to progress, the talent gap needs to shrink and companies need to be more proactive about communicating the benefits of supply chain careers. Taking steps to attract and retain employees will result in a skilled, stable and motivated staff and improved supply chain operations.

Abe Eshkenazi is the CEO of APICS, a professional association for supply chain and operations management. Prior to joining APICS, Eshkenazi was the managing director for the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. In addition to his CPA, Eshkenazi holds a master of business administration in management from Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management; a master of business administration in finance from DePaul University; and a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University. Eshkenazi is also an APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), a Certified Healthcare Executive (CHE), and a Certified Association Executive (CAE).

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