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Supply Chain Trends and Trend-Setters

  • Rex Magadia

I love the classroom dynamic. I look forward to one day being a mentor, confidante, and source of inspiration and guidance for my future students — just as many of my professors were to me. I plan to teach supply chain management with a focus on sustainability and ethics. As networks continue to grow enormously in complexity and scope, a business education centered on these three principles is the perfect contextual training tool to make students more global, fair-minded and creative business leaders.

Supply chain management is an integral part of organizations and is essential to company success and customer satisfaction, but there is a massive supply chain talent shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in logistics are estimated to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020. Additionally, the DHL report “The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis” estimates that demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by a ratio of six to one. To make matters worse, more and more Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce.

DHL found that the largest driver behind this shortage is changing skill requirements. According to the report: “The ideal employee has both tactical/operational expertise and professional competencies such as analytical skills, but 58 percent of companies say this combination is hard to find. Additionally, tomorrow’s talent must excel at leadership, strategic thinking, innovation and high-level analytic and technological capabilities.”

The perceived lack of opportunity for career growth and the belief that supply chain jobs lack excitement also have a significant impact on supply chain talent sourcing and retention. “The industry is still contending with the impression that other fields are more prestigious and offer more opportunities, fueling lack of interest in the industry within the world’s future workforce,” the report states.

Because education is uniquely capable of addressing these variables, I wanted to learn more about how educators (and businesses) could help. I met with Douglas Carlberg, who has worked in some of the top global supply chains for nearly 30 years. He also teaches graduate-level supply chain courses at Golden Gate University. The following are key takeaways from our conversation.

Supply chain needs a “rah-rah” person. Carlberg made the distinction that, it’s not that supply chain is viewed in a negative light; it’s that there’s a lack of awareness and a substantive misunderstanding of the discipline — particularly the benefits of pursuing the supply chain career track. He referenced the countless TV shows that glorify and popularize professions such as law, medicine, advertising and hedge fund management. By the same token, the supply chain field needs someone in the limelight to permeate the cultural bubble and shatter the stereotypes — a luminary who can go and spread the word of exactly how a supply chain career can be the ideal job. “We need someone of influence who can relate to others and say, ‘Hey, I work in supply chain, and I love it,’” he advocated.

The education system must step up even further. Until our supply chain idol comes along, Carlberg and I both agreed that the onus falls on the educational system — primarily through school counselors and teachers. “And the seeds must be planted early,” he urged. Students even in elementary school should be exposed to supply chain, how it offers a unique view of how a business works, and the many ways that it enables organizations to satisfy customer demand and improve economies all over the world. Once this critical big-picture understanding is internalized, young people can drill down and discover their personal passions and how they fit into the overall model.

Students also must be reassured by their counselors and teachers that supply chain salaries are competitive, if not greater than many of those more admired jobs. John Fowler, a professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University (ASU), told U.S. News & World Report that the average starting salary for ASU’s full time MBA students who specialize in supply chain management was between $95,000 and $120,000 annually. In addition, these students received a five-digit signing bonus on average.

Business must take another look at comprehensive training programs. Carlberg and I both agreed that the findings in the DHL survey with regard to new graduates having both tactical and operational expertise, as well as professional competencies, were unrealistic. Rather, the expectation should be that new hires have the business acumen and work ethic to develop these aptitudes and, consequently, learn the nuances of the supply chain industry as they advance in their careers. Companies must train and invest in undeveloped employees. That’s the only way for young professionals to become supply chain professionals.

For decades, large companies had big training budgets and well-defined programs, through which an investment in employees would pay off as these people became dedicated, trustworthy professionals for years. However, these programs became scarce during the dot-com era, largely because people were not staying in their jobs very long, and executives didn’t want to devote time and resources to someone who was just going to take their newfound knowledge and skills elsewhere. But if we really want to close the supply chain management talent gap, it’s time to get over our fears and give these training philosophies strong consideration. 

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