War for supply chain talent

Inspired-Search | 15 June 2016

Written by: Mick Jones

At the recent eft 3PL and CSCO conference in Venlo I had the enormous pleasure of chairing an Interview for Inspired-Search with Jonas Cederhage, the former Senior Vice President Global Supply Chain at Nilfisk around Supply Chain Talent and the complexities and difficulties in getting it, keeping it, and developing it that we are currently experiencing.

The interview ‘morphed’ into a very interactive and open panel on the same subjects with of Henri-Xavier Benoist, VP LSCM (Logistic and Supply Chain Management), Bridgestone, Ruth MacIver, European Logistics Director, Jabil, Rogier van Zon, Head of Global Warehousing and Distribution, TP Vision (Philips TV) and Edwin Tuyn, Managing Director, Inspired-Search.

I know that this is a key topic for all of us, but it is one that has been around since 1997 (the first mention in print of the ‘War for Supply Chain Talent’)! Surely it can’t have been an issue for ALL of that time!

My simple brain and the simple logic that it works on suggests that if the issue has been around that long (1) It is an issue that really doesn’t exist or more realistically (2) a problem that we never, ever resolve.

Maybe – and I think this is a strong MAYBE – it is something that we walk away from these conferences harbouring all of the good intentions in the world: We come away with real passion and belief in the subject and a resolution to ‘DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT’ ….. then we are re-absorbed into the cost consciousness ‘Borg’ as we walk through the door the next day – we pass through the force field that strips away all of our good intentions and reloads the realities of business ….. We ‘make do’ as we always have done – and we go away and we morbidly attack organisational structures and try to do more with less. You getting that sickly sticky feeling of ‘that’s me’?

I get a feeling that it is different this time – it appears to me that there could be a real wind of transformation in Supply Chain. A Tsunami of change is rolling in towards us all – DIGITAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL and CULTURAL change – that is going to have a significant impact on the relevance, the availability and the capability of skills and talents in the SC industry.

We will need to learn to swim to keep our heads above the water – that might not be enough – someone told me once that‘standing still is the new going backwards’ – so just in case, better learn to surf so that we keep on top of and ahead of the wave – either that or drown! Some will drown.

First let me make two statements – don’t immediately assimilate talent with leadership – I think that is a mistake we all make. We probably need SME’s more than leaders in the coming Digital Revolution and we need strategies to deal with that – and don’t create a talent strategy that labels people one time as talented or not. Talent has a time and a place, and it doesn’t always surface at the earliest point of contact.

There are loads of areas that we need to tackle outside of the Talent Strategy that will help us and prepare us – I will leave that for another blog on another day – but as sure as eggs is eggs most of the trends we are going to have to deal with in the future will require talent and capability that we might not have at the moment.

I read recently that the changing demands of the supply chain profession mean that 60% of new jobs in the 21st Century require skills that only 20% of today’s workforce possess. Think about that statement – so not only have we got a need to find talent, we have to load that talent with new skills, new experiences and new capabilities. That brings in Universities and Educational establishments.

We had an interesting ‘tennis match’ of banter at the conference around University placements in Industry – Universities claiming that they need good Industrial placements to provide the ‘real’ end of their theory – Businesses claiming that they don’t have the time to ensure that those placements are real and that Universities should take more control! As a former Civil Engineer, I remember a bridge in the North East of England that was built from both sides of a river, from separate plans – it missed in the middle – sort of harkens back to that a little. So why don’t businesses get their recent graduates & younger talent to manage those placements directly with Universities – as a ‘personal objective’? They can then use all of their people and business skills, knowledge and inbuilt understanding of the situation to ensure that we all get what we want.

Talent is definitely leaving the business at one end – as Baby Boomers move into retirement. That fantastic figure I read recently from Global Age Watch … ‘..10% of people today are over 60 years of age – by 2050 this will have grown to 20% globally – an unprecedented demographic change..’. I have a view that we are missing out on using our departing ‘Baby Boomer’ Business Leaders to Mentor the new Leaders in the latter years of their careers – perhaps as part timers – and ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated (us old ‘uns have made most of them already), that the realities of the business are passed on … sort of part-time wily old fox teaches young cubs to hunt! That wouldn’t cost too much, it would ensure transfer of knowledge, it would certainly help the up-coming leaders and it would give a real ‘end of career’ strategy and dignity for departing leaders.

Somehow we need to make our industry a destination shopping experience for talent. We are the only generation of leaders so far in History who have had to manage 4 completely disparate generations in one workforce: Baby Boomers, Generation X – the Millenials, Generation Y our current young workforce and Generation Y – the new, instantly connected, multi media youngsters who are entering our workforce now. We have to design, create, and run businesses that cope with those 4 very different generations, and develop talent strategies that encompass ALL of that ‘difference’. Worse – how do we ensure that we compete for the BEST talent with Digital Media, Digital Marketing, Digital Entertainment, Sports Management etc etc etc.

Anyway, I’m concerned:

  • I’m concerned about the disappearance of Graduate Training Schemes – when I asked that room of 100 leaders if they had a graduate training scheme 4 hands went up!
  • I’m concerned that we don’t build talent conversations into our regular operations and strategy processes in business – we leave it to HR – again a similar question in the room of 100 business leaders heralded 5 hands
  • I’m concerned about the lack of operational skills and apprenticeships that mean anything
  • I’m concerned that we focus on leaders and not on SME’s in ALL of our rhetoric and effort
  • I worry that our Universities and Colleges STILL struggle to focus on the skills and capabilities that we want in our workforces
  • I’m worried that we don’t have the time to look at the demands WITH universities and ensure that the skills meet the needs that we have to have in the ‘field’
  • And I worry that we are still – very much – a male dominated industry.

MOSTLY I worry that we are all sitting in one of the most change sensitive industries on earth and we still struggle to get the excitement and the opportunity that that provides across to young people and attract them into our industry.

This industry will be THE most exciting place to be for years to come young people entering this industry have a massive opportunity to be in involved in something special and spectacular.

I have a real dream that Supply Chain can become the creative HUB of a business – an organisation that can be the electric shock that jolts a business into life. That we have CSCO’ who can spend time innovating and intellectualising rather than apologising for their Headcount budget.

To do that we need the right people.

A massive opportunity!

Mick Jones