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The top three barriers facing the next generation of supply chain professionals


The supply chain and logistics sector faces a major human resources challenge in the coming years. By 2017, the industry needs an additional 500,000 highly skilled individuals, trained and qualified, to address the demands of increasingly sophisticated supply chains. But as an industry, we are failing to attract the next generation of bright young things and this comes down to three key barriers:

1.    The image gap

Young people have little or no understanding of what logistics and supply chain management is all about. The general perception is of trucks and sheds, and this is reflected in the images with which we choose to portray our industry. These may be pertinent to showing physical logistics activity, but they fail to convey the critical and strategic role supply chain management now plays in the economic performance of business.

Leading companies in retail, manufacturing and the service sector must lean towards using imagery and language that reflects the exciting ‘game-changing’ nature of modern supply chains; how intellect and technology combined can transform the value proposition to the customer – from multi-channel retailing, to global sourcing and niche manufacturing. We must communicate to the young that supply chain management is as important to business as marketing or finance, and is a valued profession where financial rewards can be high and a pathway to the boardroom is open.

2.    Education and entry points

To ensure supply chain and logistics becomes a tangible career option for young people, it needs to be ‘made real’ to them as they progress through the educational system. At school, the curriculum for GCSE and A-levels should include elements of supply chain management, particularly within business management, geography and economics modules. After all, globalisation and international supply chains are intrinsically linked.

Through schools, the young should learn of the importance of supply chains in creating wealth, driving commerce and developing competitive advantage. Teachers and career advisers need also to be briefed on the rich opportunities that our profession offers school leavers, through either moving into corporate management training schemes, apprenticeships or taking a degree course dedicated to logistics and supply chain management.

Supply chain and logistics should also play a bigger part in general business management courses at university. Given the number of organisations across the UK that have a direct interest in running highly efficient supply chains, bringing 2,000 graduates into the industry on an annual basis should be an easily achievable target. But businesses need to create those graduate posts.

3.    The definition of job function

Supply chain management is an activity that touches so many other parts of business that setting out what the job entails is difficult. For young people it may appear complex and mystifying, but as a profession, we have the important task of explaining to the next generation exactly what is involved – from planning, execution and compliance, to collaborating with internal departments and suppliers. And we need to be clear to young people what we are looking for in terms of skills – the ability to communicate well, solve problems, use IT effectively, demonstrate leadership, show organisational skills and apply a creative mind. But above all else, we need to enthuse and excite in order to create the motivation that will make young people want to select logistics and supply chain management as a career for the future.

If we can overcome these barriers, then we will be opening the way to the next generation of supply chain gurus.

Andy Kaye is CEO of management recruitment company BiS Henderson, and founder of The NOVUS Trust logistics and supply chain BSc degree course.

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Andy, Great article. I believe three other pieces are missing, and a supplement to your 1 &2. 1 & 2) Image Gap. - A Supply Chain leader is literally a mini-COO. One touches most every facet of the business if the organization is aligned properly, i.e. marketing, engineering, finance, manufacturing, logistics, suppliers, etc. Many top Supply Chain leaders are stepping into COO roles. - Finance - A strong background in finance, not accounting, is a plus. Understanding the impact of cross functional discipline plans, wants, etc, and putting those into the language of a CFO can gain credibility and integrity for the Supply Chain Team. 3) Comfort Zones and Alignment of Objectives - Many cross functional leaders do not understand the value of Supply Chain. No other function in a company controls 40 - 80% of a companies total revenue. Corporations are aligned more around individual or BU objectives versus total and KPI's into cross functional objectives. Creating this alignment, forces personnel to work as a team, versus a functional you are not hitting your objectives. Therefore, I am missing my factory or BU objectives, and I will run Supply Chain. I have seen this in marketing, manufacturing, engineering, etc. 4). Marketing - Supply Chain leaders are have to have both Finance, Sales,and Marketing skills. Selling the functional leaders on the benefits is not a one off project. It is constantly bringing the benefits of collaboration for total value. Not an easy task. Many companies BU's do not like playing in the same sandbox with each other. The Supply Chain leader must have support from the top. 5)Support from the Top -- If the CEO, COO, do not support the Supply Chain and Logistics function as a strategic element of the company, and do not promote the leader as having a seat at the table, the leader's role is difficult, and if the Marketing pitches do not work, value is diminished.
Correction, The sector I managed was South Europe/North America sector. Regrets for the omission. Alain Chahine
Andy, Nice article indeed. I would like to make some additional comments especially to what Mark Berlin shared in his feedback. I spent the last 24 years of my career in the maritime sector with a steamship line managing the South/North America trade sector. Those of us involved in a commercial capacity in that sector (that includes logistics in general) must always be on the lookout for which button to push, or which colleague (or even sometimes vendor) to reach out to in order to put a logistics “package” together for a potential customer, be it a 3PL/logistics provider and/or a BCO (beneficiary cargo owner – the importer/exporter). By definition, logistics is and should be an inherent of any company’s marketing functions and be treated as a “sine qua non” integral part of that “4P” function consisting of product, place, price, and promotion. Saying in plain & simple terms, if the product does not reach its intended customer, a sale does not take place along with the adverse impact this will definitely have on the balance sheet of any company. Unfortunately, the logistics function is far too often taken for granted. Mr. & Mrs. Consumer rarely(if at all) take the time to figure out how that banana made it to the supermarket, or the fuel that powered his/her vehicle made it to the gas station (petrol “across the Pond”). Only when some major stoppages (due to strikes and/or natural disasters) take place do people “finally” realize that necessary daily staples are not at the stores’ shelves. Some lean manufacturing gurus (i.e. 6-sigma & al.) treat the logistics function as “muda” (or waste). If used the wrong way, the logistics function could indeed be considered as “waste.” It is the regular dialogue between all the major corporate functions (finance, marketing, manufacturing, etc…) that must insure that “muda” does not happen. Unfortunately, and similar to the consumer at large, some top brass at the “C” suite far too often take logistics for granted and shrug it off as a “necessary evil” as well as a cost center. Last but not least, the logistics function does indeed require top notch tools to efficiently and effectively the flow of (especially) goods and (sometimes) services. It is not the “dirty” work that the younger generation appears to think of it nor is it (unfortunately) a glamorous one at the entry level. Nevertheless, this rather important sector, in spite of its occasional shortcomings, is still a very fascinating one indeed and always keeping us on our toes and sharpening our minds.
Hi Andy, Whilst I agree with what you have said regarding attracting a new generation of logistics talent to the industry, using better more attractive imagery, this is going to take time and there is more that can be done now. Existing logistics companies could/should invest more in the formal training of lower and mid level supervisory/management levels. I say formal training because too many companies mask a lack of investment in this area by specifying only local training with no formal certification or qualification. How many have attended the Saturday morning training session to qualify them in company processes with an expectation of being able to competently manage said process. This is then viewed as a training commitment by the organisation. This neither shows commitment nor investment in the individual and serves only as a short term perpetuation of local knowledge. Although this has some value it must be bolstered by more commitment and investment in formal qualification, the cost of which is often preclusive to the individual. We need a multi pronged approach to ensure the future sustainability of talent within the industry as well as attracting new talent.
Never was a truer word spoken; 'spatch is the 5th largest sector in the UK economy and largely ignored. The average age of LGV drivers seems to go up a year every year. Almost too late we realised that if we didn't do something about power generation, the lights would go out. Are we going to wake up and realise that if we don't do something to attract and train good people in logistics there will be no food in the supermarkets and goods in the shops? I've been training new managers in the sector for over 30 years but in the last five demand has gone down - we are truly sitting on a time bomb!
Thanks Andy for sharing this great piece, with which I totally agree. It reminds me of something that I wrote some time ago. In case you want to have a look: Have a great day, Alejandro