Building Bench Strength With Supply Chain Graduates

Gripped by financial pain in 2008, organizations across all industries cut labor to keep the lights on. While this approach provided short-term relief, many businesses were left with a resource plan that was thin.

Within the past year, the economy has improved and across most industries, organizational growth has translated into increased pressure for businesses’ supply chains to perform. People drive high-performing supply chains, but the reality is companies are struggling to build sustainable labor models.

Historically, the supply chain was perceived as a tactical arm within the organization; simply put, the supply chain was accountable for shipping product. Over the past 10 years, a transformation has occurred to transition the relationship into a strategic partnership that supports identifying cost savings opportunities. Presently, the following question is paramount: How do we get more out of our supply chain, and how do we build a sustainable solution?

The answer seems simple: Hire and develop the right people. But in actuality, it’s highly complex. Traditionally, organizations did not focus on the need for job candidates to have a supply chain education. Since the traditional expectation of the supply chain was to move product, the frequent business mindset involved training the individuals on the company’s precise processes and, if certain people required advanced knowledge, turning to outside organizations with certifications that could fill this gap.

Currently, the problem is time. Millennial and Generation Y individuals are looking to use their education and if the job is not the right fit, they will leave. The concern facing millennial and Generation Y job candidates within the supply chain is disconnect; basically, these individuals received specific supply chain education that was mostly absent during the baby boomers and more recently Generation X’s time in school.

Supply chain leaders need to be cognizant that their path to success is different than those of today’s job candidates. Senior leaders within supply chain roles need to understand the benefits, learning outcomes, and possibilities that supply chain graduates bring to an operation. Fifteen years ago, mastery of a supply chain position consisted of hands-on experience and then over time, individuals were groomed or acquired the necessary purchasing, inventory, planning, and logistics skills.

Today, millennial and Generation Y candidates who have a supply chain degree or education can immediately fill a gap that previously took a senior person. The issue is organizational acceptance of new supply chain employees in strategic positions; likewise, recognizing value in years of professional experience. Millennial and Generation Y individuals seeking more strategic positions in a supply chain often need help to better understand the realities of the work environment. The objective is to cultivate an empowered cross-functional environment that utilizes both the know-how of veteran employees and individuals with supply chain education to capitalize on new approaches.

In short, the goal is supply chain bench strength, and the question is how. First, examine what your company is looking for and place emphasis on candidates with a supply chain education. Individuals with this background can integrate innovative approaches to problem solving. Second, ask senior employees to create a mentoring plan for new supply chain employees. This strategy will help demonstrate the change from academic theory to professional practice and will decrease the risk of disconnect among team members. Third, ensure there is a plan that actively measures commitment and performance. Employees want to know what the expectations are, and should have a means to frequently review their performance.

Lastly, ensure leadership engagement. How often is the senior supply chain leadership team demonstrating that they are listening? The commitment to valuing employees needs to start at the top, and employees will benefit from seeing that their opinions and productivity matter.