Where has all the talent gone? | by Kgosi Musi

Kgosi Musi 2With the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) upon us, we are moving towards a knowledge-based economy and this has brought about disruption across different industries and functions, and left us in dire need of new skills in our teams.

Information technology has been transforming supply chain for years. There are jobs in supply that have been displaced by the growth of technology and that trend is not showing any signs of relenting; rather we are seeing an exponential rate of displacement. Technologies such as RFID, bar coding etc. displaced clerical type jobs but also created new jobs that required different capabilities thus leading to a new skill been required.

Business has become more reliant on supply chain professionals to disrupt current business models, become advisors, and the function has become a critical core enabler for business. This has led to a critical shift in supply chain skills’ profile required and increased the demand for supply chain skills. But the problem persists that there are not enough skills to fill the pipeline.

The challenge for employers is finding candidates who are leaders, analytical thinkers, innovators and possess operational and technical skills.

In the past we have been able to fill job requirements as technology displaced certain supply chain jobs. Why can’t we keep up or fill the pipeline? What has changed? Where has all the skills/ talent disappeared to?

Based on research and observation, the themes that push us towards answering these questions are listed below:

o There is a genuine disconnect regarding what it means to work in supply chain for millennials. In particular, we see:
     - A misjudgment of the breadth and depth of career opportunities that exist in supply chain
     - Supply chain not perceived as a rewarding career option
o Having a specific area of expertise is a traditional path to success that in the 4IR world may be limiting your ability to move into a management role, due to lack of proficiency across the scope of supply chain
o Companies have not been forthcoming in investing, nurturing and rewarding needed skills, leading to insufficient upskilling and support as people move into management roles
o This is also a result of companies not having well-defined talent management strategies talent
o Supply chain salaries are based on soon-to-be obsolete job specification.

This crisis we face reminded me of a quote by Warren Buffet “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”.

I can help but wonder, has the exponential growth of technology caught the supply chain function napping when it comes to satisfying skills pipeline?

In a 4IR world, there will be a demand for people who have a deeper mental model of the comprehensive business process, thus in an event that a piece of automation isn’t working, they can understand both how it’s affecting the whole system and how to repair it- system and analytical thinkers.

So, how do we bridge the skills gap?

1. Change hiring processes
Many companies haven’t changed their hiring methods for the contemporary workplace. They continue to screen candidates against required experiences that will have nothing to do with the role in the near future. Critical competencies that will be essential to run supply chains in five years don’t even exist today. Companies should look for broader capabilities and skills—including supply chain capability, supported by soft skills such as an aptitude for learning quickly, networking skills, collaboration, team players, and the ability to lead virtual teams.

Millennials and GenZ are looking for careers in which they can have an immense impact, and they bring with them a tech literacy that should be harnessed. Supply chain is ideal for this, with emerging technologies being incorporated into the function, such as the Internet of Things, blockchain, quantum computing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation.

2. Focus of Retaining valuable skills

“The supply chain professional of digital age is not looking for a job; they are looking for a challenge” Randy Bradley, University of Tennessee

Companies need to entice early-career supply chain professionals by outlining a clear career path, so they’ll understand the benefits of staying on. It’s imperative to remember that millennials and GenZ have different job needs than Baby Boomers. They want to be engaged and feel an association with the corporate vision in order for them to be happy and fully productive.

Guided by this, there is a need to relook at:

a. Mentorship programmes
Develop mentorships programs that are mutually beneficial, i.e. senior managers/ executives impart their supply chain and organisational knowledge while the younger professionals also impart knowledge particularly about the latest technologies. Thus, enabling the organisation to lay a foundation of becoming a learning organisation. 
b. Personal development programmes
Most companies view personal development as an individual responsibility. The conundrum is that supply chain has become so cost-conscious to the point that training budgets tend to be cut as part of cost-cutting measures. Technology is changing at a rapid rate, investing in people to keep them valuable and viable for years to come is simply essential fo their personal development. Millennials and GenZ also value learning on the job highly, and as long they feel that they are growing they will likely stay with company.

c. Cross functional job experiences
Companies need to prioritise diversifying job experiences. Mattel moves their employees through various stages of the supply chain much earlier in their careers. The aim, is to assist workers in diversifying their job skill set, and provide a holistic experience to take into management. It’s a winning strategy that could be adopted by more companies around the world.

Companies that want to transition into the digital age need to keep investing in the right digital skill set. You can choose to bring skills in or skill up existing workers. A combination of both is likely to be a winning strategy, but either way there is no room for non-investment.

Finally, some companies need to change how they perceive supply chain. Supply chain is no longer viewed as a cost center but rather a strategic enabler for business. Those that find the right balance will benefit hugely in the future.

Kgosi Mmusi is the head of procurement for BME, a explosives and blasting manufacturer in the Omnia Group - www.bespoke.co.za

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Posted on January 17, 2019

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