Logistics Gets to Work

Tags: Education & Careers

Good news! Jobs are opening up for logistics professionals as businesses recover from the economic downturn.

When President Barack Obama announces a drop in unemployment numbers, even he admits the news sounds flat to someone on the wrong side of that trendline. But for logistics and supply chain professionals seeking work or career advancement, the ominous soundtrack of the past few years is beginning to play a lighter tune as the job market improves.

Recruiters such as Donald Jacobson, president, Optimum Supply Chain Recruiters, Rutherford, N.J., report that business is picking up and has been fairly steady for the last six months.

Scott Enustun, logistics recruiter for Philadelphia-based Management Recruiters International, agrees. “Business is back since the first quarter of 2010, and is growing stronger with an excellent outlook,” he says.

Companies are so thinly staffed that the economic uptick means they need people— and quick. Unemployment among professionals with four-year degrees has dropped from a high of 5.2 percent in May 2009 to 4.4 percent in September 2010.

Many companies, however, delay rehiring. Then, as business recovers, they discover an active— and sometimes urgent— need to find the best talent. “This surge particularly benefits key supply chain management roles,” says Pamela Ruebusch, president and CEO of TSI Executive Search, Mississauga, Ontario.

Hiring for supply chain jobs has experienced a steady increase since last November, says Jason Breault, managing director, Top Grading Solutions, Port St. Lucie, Fla. “The talent pool is, therefore, getting narrow,” he says.

Companies may even begin tempting new hires away from jobs they held through the recession. “People who were afraid to leave a stable position last year are now willing to take a chance on a new job,” says Marty McMahon, principal consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive Search, Irvine, Calif. “We’ll see higher turnover in the next 18 months, which will create new opportunities.”

Employers who want to hold on to their top performers and employees with high potential should strive to keep them happy and challenged, adds McMahon.

In stable economic times, turnover hovers at 15 to 20 percent, but the percentage of people who want to make a change is skyrocketing. “When you don’t reward people during hard times and they burn out, they tend to leave when the economy improves,” says Jacobson.

Some job seekers can benefit from the need of employers to fill specific roles. Companies that were caught off-guard by the recession, for example, are now building up new demand-planning organizations.

“The recession has done wonders for supply chain planning— and especially forecasting,” Breault notes.

Cash is king, and many companies now realize the benefit of using forecasts as a snapshot of the future. “Job applicants with solid forecasting experience are a hot commodity now, especially because companies with skilled forecasters and demand planners tended to hold on to them through the recession,” Breault says.

But forecasters aren’t the only applicants being courted. “Director positions and consultants are also in high demand,” says Brett Stevens of Atlanta-based SearchLogic Recruiting.

Stevens is handling a number of industrial engineering searches for logistics engineers. “It’s not an easy search,” he says, “but many recent graduates with an industrial engineering degree have received two or three offers.”

Recent graduates with logistics and supply chain management degrees also are in demand. It’s often easier to fill positions at lower levels, says Enustun, because there is a larger pool of candidates. Newly created positions and jobs at the executive or strategic level can be more difficult to fill.

Some companies are meeting their employment needs by combining jobs. This approach, however, can prolong the process and add to the complexity of filling the position. For instance, if a company had an opening for two positions, one covering domestic transportation and one covering international, it might look for a single hire to handle both areas. The knowledge and skill sets are somewhat different for the two positions, and, typically, someone who has specialized in international logistics has likely not developed the same level of skill in domestic logistics.

One strategy job seekers should consider is switching from manufacturing to a service provider role. Career opportunities with service providers are on the rise, and there are significantly more service provider companies today than in 2008 and 2009, says Neal Click, principal and managing director, High Road Partners Inc./Snelling Transportation Group, Bentonville, Ark.

Many positions are available in business development, but operations is also drawing interest. Safety leadership positions, for example, are on the rise as the transportation industry looks ahead to the CSA 2010 safety initiative. Freight brokerage positions are the easiest to land on the service provider side, Click says, especially for a professional who can bring along a following of carriers and shippers.

Bend, Don’t Break

Although the job market is improving, today’s job hunters may find it pays to be flexible in their demands. A full-time position may be harder to find than a contract opening, for example.

The level of commitment businesses are willing to make varies. Companies that are confident about the economy or their business outlook are taking on full-time employees. More cautious employers are bringing in talent on short-term contracts ranging from three to 12 months. These companies are buying time while they decide whether the business will stick. Overall, however, recruiters say temporary assignments are declining in a shift toward more full-time hires.

Job applicants may also be willing to bargain when it comes to relocating. “Some candidates are being held back because they have to sell their house before they can move to take on a new job,” notes Veronica Henderson, president of $100k+ Supply Chain Jobs LLC, Denver, Colo. Some firms are specifying local candidates, noting they will not pay relocation expenses.

But some companies are applying creative solutions to the relocation challenge. One approach is setting up new hires in temporary housing for a longer period of time than would normally be associated with a relocation. Another solution is managing a combination of temporary housing and a long-distance commute.

Relocation seems to create less of a problem on the service provider side, where employers will fund relocation for the right candidates. And many candidates will move for a desirable location and a position that is properly compensated, Click says.

Unfortunately, some candidates find that they have to compromise to gain the winning edge over others competing for the same job, sometimes taking lower positions for lower pay than their experience warrants.

Those who are between jobs can use the time to retool skills and finish degrees, says Kurt Baumann, president of Inde Supply Chain Consultants, West Allis, Wisc. Certifications such as Six Sigma and Lean can also give applicants a leg up, notes Henderson.

The economy may still be facing a long, slow recovery, but the market for logistics and supply chain positions is improving, and should continue to expand.

Moving In, Not Through, Logistics

Logistics and supply chain professionals consider their positions part of a career track, not simply assignments, according to the 39th annual Survey of Career Patterns in Logistics. Logistics is not a field for those just passing through, survey respondents say.

Conducted by the Department of Marketing and Logistics, Max M. Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, the survey reached members of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).

As with past surveys, the majority of respondents (91 percent) are male and most are at the midpoint in their careers (35 to 54 years old or older than 54). The median number of years in logistics is 18 for manufacturers and channel members and slightly higher (23 years) for third-party logistics providers (3PLs). Most respondents have been with their firms for 11 to 12 years, leading to the survey’s conclusion that logistics is a career, not an assignment.

The survey reveals some interesting facts about the logistics and supply chain job market. “We do not see firms staffing their entry-level supply chain management positions with transfers from elsewhere in the firm, but with personnel hired specifically for these positions,” states the report. That changes a little for mid-level positions, however, which are filled more from internal promotions than external hires.

This year’s survey questions focus on the impact of the economic recession. Surprisingly, salaries continued to rise despite the recession. The survey didn’t reach a large or broad enough group to offer much data on regional or other breakdowns, but the authors observe that salaries and bonuses are higher and that channel members (distributors/retailers) fare slighter better than manufacturers or 3PLs on salary and benefits.

The number of senior positions at 3PLs has experienced some decline, but there’s less indication of that among manufacturers or channel members. There’s no strong indication of outside hiring for these positions.

Among the key challenges for individuals at the senior level are knowledge of supply chain management tools (indicated most strongly by 3PLs) or knowledge of the supply chain function (manufacturers and channel members). All agree that a key challenge in staffing senior positions is finding general senior management skills.

What is the best way to prepare for a role in senior management? Respondents favor a series of positions with increasing responsibility in supply chain management over alternatives that emphasize experience in the company or industry.

“Respondents say this career path offers the best combination of perspective from having experience in different organizations and the functional knowledge that comes from experience in one industry,” says the report.

Number of Mid-Level Supply Chain Positions is Declining

When asked about declining numbers of mid-level supply chain management positions, the 3PL group expresses slight agreement, while the manufacturing and channel groups are more neutral. The channel group’s level of agreement is significantly below that of the manufacturing and 3PL groups.

We Mostly Hire From Outside the Firm for Entry-Level Supply Chain Positions

When asked about hiring from outside the firm for entry-level supply chain management positions, all three groups indicate slight agreement, with no significant differences among them. Firms are not staffing entry-level positions with transfers from elsewhere in the firm, but with personnel hired specifically for these positions.

Key Challenges in Staffing Senior-Level Supply Chain Positions are Primarily Related to:

Source: Survey of Career Patterns in Logistics

Women Make Their Mark

The 14th annual Survey of Career Patterns of Women in Logistics, prepared for the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals by researchers at The Ohio State University, shows strong commitment to the field and raises questions about managing younger professionals.

More than half (56 percent) of the women surveyed fall in the 31-to-50 age group. Nearly an equal number hold graduate degrees as hold undergraduate degrees (45 percent and 44 percent, respectively). An MBA is the most common degree, and more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) report a concentration in logistics.

Nearly one-third of the women surveyed are managers (31 percent) and 38 percent are in upper management (director and above). More than one-quarter of respondents have direct responsibility for logistics functions, and 28 percent say they have advisory responsibility for logistics functions. Nearly half (46 percent) have both direct and advisory responsibilities in logistics.

Seventy percent of respondents say they are satisfied with their current positions, but that figure has dropped from 77 percent in 2009. Still, they say opportunities for building a sound career in logistics are better now than ever before. Factors they attribute to success in the field include “understanding the big picture, strong interpersonal skills, good communication, leadership skills, and analytical ability.”

What Women Like Best About Being a Logistics Professional

What Women Like Least About Being a Logistics Professional

SOURCE: Survey of Career Patterns of Women in Logistics