According to a recent survey of U.S. and European supply chain leaders about ‘cost of disruptions’ by The Economist, more than half (53 percent) of all organizations stated they were “lacking employees with advanced digital and analytical skills.”  The last 12 months brought these skills gaps into sharp focus, as most global companies discovered that their supply chains were unable to adapt to challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Driven by globalization, geopolitical upheaval, new technologies, big data, and artificial intelligence, supply chain management has become - and will continue to be - far more complex. Unfortunately, the way most enterprises recruit their supply chain talent has not kept pace with this reality. As a result, demand for supply chain talent grew by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, and the current demand to supply ratio of talent exceeds 6:1.
Most companies’ recruiting practices need to change if they want to operate an agile, data-driven, resilient, complex global supply chain to drive sustainable competitive advantage in the post-pandemic world.
So much more is now expected of supply chain and procurement professionals. They must have a deep understanding of the supply chain, knowing how their company’s product or service fulfillment gets planned, sourced, and carried through with logistics, and managed from a quality perspective. To be an effective business partner, these professionals must have deep category knowledge to give perspective on everything from the nuances of packaging specifications to the complexities of chemicals.
They also need to be technically savvy, working with a myriad of analytical and reporting software, and have the ability to manipulate large data sets to arrive at actionable insights. But too often, subject matter expertise can be overprioritized when compared to the candidate’s ability to think critically and strategically. By putting more emphasis on candidates’ theoretical or technical knowledge over their logical reasoning, interpersonal communication, or business partnering skills, enterprises put themselves at a disadvantage by not thinking about long-term business needs and how easily their people can adapt.
There are three keys to recruiting the new generation of supply chain talent:
1. Don’t be rigid with requirements; be more inclusive. Job boards today are full of postings that shut out candidates simply because they did not possess a particular degree or an arbitrary number of years of experience. Don’t look for veterans necessarily.
The skills and competencies required to tackle today’s supply chain problems, such as predicative analytics, didn’t exist a few years ago. Instead, open your recruiting searches to a wider range of candidates in, for instance, engineering, teaching, communications, and information technology, to find qualified candidates with key skills that are easily transferrable to supply chain. For example, hiring someone with a computer science degree for an analyst role is wise when that candidate clearly has an aptitude for data analysis and processing.
Hiring from other disciplines will also attract more women and minority candidates, allowing you to build more diverse organization with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
2. Prioritize critical thinking. During the interview and evaluation process, put more emphasis on candidates’ abilities to problem-solve and think critically. This isn’t to say that technical or “hard” skills aren’t important; rather, they’re becoming outdated increasingly fast.
Companies can teach technical knowledge, but soft skills like storytelling, creativity, communication and interpersonal skills are often overlooked yet paramount to digital transformation projects — which nearly every company is now undertaking to build a more resilient supply chain. Test for problem-solving skills by giving candidates supply chain-related case questions during the interview and asking them to work through an approach, which will better demonstrate how they are able to operate in unknown situations.
3. Constant development. It’s no longer enough to hire someone and expect their skills to stay current forever. Supply chain technology, and the world itself, is changing too quickly. Plan and budget to invest in training, especially in areas of problem-solving methodologies and creative thinking to equip supply chain professionals with skills to address new challenges.
This can be done through a “toolbelt” approach, teaching a variety of both hard and soft skills, such as Six Sigma, design thinking, and agility, which can be used in different combinations depending on the problem at hand. This is especially important for attracting younger talent. Unlike previous generations, millennials and now Gen-Z professionals leave organizations if they aren’t achieving development goals.
And with so much demand for supply chain talent today, companies face significant attrition without a robust learning and development function in place.
In an era of automated systems and processes and AI-driven insights, securing both the technical-savvy and critical-thinking talent is the key to future success of your supply chain. It will not happen with status quo recruiting practices. Organizations must become more inclusive and focus on empowering their employees, which will help them remain competitive and address complex business problems in an increasingly volatile world in order to secure their future.
John Carter is a Consulting Manager at GEP, a leading provider of procurement and supply chain solutions to Fortune 500 companies.
 The Business Cost of Supply Disruption survey of 400 U.S. and European business leaders, conducted by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) in February 2021