When Gartner asked supply chain execs about the external forces with the greatest impact on supply chain resources, a lack of qualified talent ranked second. That’s likely because these talent gaps also stymy opportunities to expand businesses by driving change and supporting new capabilities.
Up through the 1970s, internal development programs tended to be strong, but the downturn in the economy put an end to that at most companies. That strategy was replaced by outside hiring, which worked through the 1990s. However, then the pool of skilled workers began to shrink; companies were poaching each other’s workers and staying essentially static.
Today, years of layoffs, training budget cuts, and the retirement of highly skilled workers have taken a toll, winnowing down the number of experienced professionals. Many execs say that, despite the growing number of supply chain programs, new graduates are scarce on the ground. This problem is exacerbated as supply chain management grows increasingly complex and technical, demanding more varied skills than ever before.
That’s why companies are exploring new ways to find and develop supply chain talent. Here are five tried-and-true tactics:
1. Internships - If this seems obvious, we agree. However, many internships haven’t worked to build a pipeline because the program wasn’t carefully designed. So that both you and your intern get the most out of the opportunity, set clear objectives, onboard carefully, and provide clear-cut managers and mentors. Use metrics to ensure you’ve hit all your objectives. With careful planning, you’ll have a young, tech-savvy intern who wants to take a job with you after graduation.
2. Non-traditional recruitment - If you faced a supply chain issue, you’d put your best minds on it, right? Well, your professional pipeline is a supply chain issue. While it’s a different industry, Cisco faced a similar talent challenge in the 1990s. Their solution? Data. HR professionals analyzed the 10-15% of top candidates Cisco wanted to recruit and discovered how they went about job hunting. Then, Cisco tailored its recruitment to meet these premium candidates’ methods. Cisco also targeted “passive candidates” who were content in their current jobs but would be interested in a better opportunity and showed success with that route. Challenge your HR department to find new ways to approach candidates.
3. Development programs - This is definitely a traditional route, but one that many have neglected in the past couple of decades (at least) because it’s expensive and retention has been an issue. However, as the Garter study mentions, most supply chain execs are more concerned with recruitment as opposed to retention. It’s also worth mentioning that development programs can be more informal and perhaps less costly, so it’s worth examining this option and tailoring it to fit your needs.
4. Increased diversity - Let’s face it. Supply chain employees tend to fit a certain mold and are predominantly male. Reaching out to an expanded pool of candidates can mean that you find qualified people you may overlook by searching using traditional methods and even through referrals. Make sure your HR department consciously casts its net wider than it would have in the past.
5. Outsourcing - Depending on your circumstances, it can often be a good strategy to outsource certain jobs or even entire divisions. Some executives have reservations due to a perceived lack of control, but it’s important to choose an outsourcing partner with as much care as you’d use to hire an employee. A good outsourcing partner can relieve training and administrative burdens -- either on a long-term or short-term basis. In some cases, it’s actually cheaper to bring on a partner who can hit the ground running, as opposed to the time and cost invested in recruiting, training, benefit, and more. It’s certainly an option to consider.
We can’t lie. Supply chain talent management is challenging, especially as it demands greater technical skills, but a strategic approach will help your company open up several avenues of recruitment. After all, the more irons you have in the fire, the higher the quality of employees. With serious pressure to match up to ever-more-efficient supply standards, such as Amazon, your company can’t afford to fall behind.