Supply Chain Skills of the Future and How Organizations Can Prepare

Tags: Careers, Supply Chain

A recent CEO survey by Gartner1 cited “lack of appropriate talent and capability” as the top most inhibitor to a company’s digital progress. Supply chain organizations are no exception. The gap between the skills needed to compete in an increasingly digital world and those available in the organization is widening. Rise in robotics, algorithmic intelligence, and cloud computing is making an entire generation of supply chain professionals increasingly obsolete. These technologies are hollowing out the middle of the jobs’ spectrum, pushing the humans to the edges requiring extreme physical or cognitive dexterity.

At the physical end of the jobs’ spectrum, as direct-to-consumer shipments increase, a robot still cannot efficiently pick an object from a bin without damaging other objects. Thanks to a strong economy, this is increasing the need for more humans to fill such roles creating a shortage. Then there are jobs that require operation of the machinery and robotics, calling for a blend of physical and cognitive abilities and there is a serious shortage here as well. Retention is also a challenge accentuated by historically low unemployment.

The problem is further aggravated with white collared jobs. Here are some roles that organizations are finding increasingly difficult to staff.

1. Data engineers: They are experts in preparing the data needed for decisioning. Their role is becoming increasingly important as the data sources include internal and external, structured and unstructured data.

2. Modelers and citizen data scientists: As the pace of change quickens, it is becoming imperative for organizations to instantiate digital twins of their supply chains to simulate and optimize the future. This requires individuals who can model the supply chains spanning sourcing, manufacturing, logistics, and customer delivery in the digital realm with an end-to-end view.

With the advent of no-code decisioning platforms, “Citizen data scientists” are in need as well. Gartner defines a citizen data scientist as one who creates models using advanced diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive capabilities, but whose primary job function is outside the field of statistics and analytics. They can rapidly prototype and deploy models for decisioning, thanks to these platforms.

3. Leaders steeped in agile methodologies: As the cycles of innovation speed up, waterfall thinking and big bang approaches to running transformational projects will become less prominent. Agile approach of fast experimentation, learning and refining, and implementing quick win, needle moving capabilities will gain steam. Leaders who can bring such thinking will be highly valued.

These are few examples of several emerging possibilities. Here is how an organization can get ready to close the skill gaps:

1. Invest in the upskilling of the workforce: Leveraging online learning platforms such as Coursera and Udacity can be cost effective in training employees. Continuous learning will need to be made mandatory, especially for the roles at a risk of being outdated.

2. Embrace intern and co-op programs: This will help build a pipeline of fresh talent. Strong connections with community colleges and universities through active participation in recruiting and providing sponsorship in designing academic and vocational programs can pay off well.

3. Promote inclusiveness: Embracing gender and ethnic diversity will not only result in injecting varied points of views and fresh energy, but can also go a long way with retention.

4. Rotate employees through different functions: This can help employees gain broader perspectives and make deep personal connections across the organization. This will be critical as cross-functional, interconnected decisioning becomes the norm.

5. Invest in cognitive automation: As supply chains become increasingly complex, the volume and nature of decisions will be impossible for human minds to tackle alone. Investing in automation relieves employees of routine decisions so they can use the human creativity where it can be leveraged bringing the best of humans and machines.

By adopting these recommendations, organizations can turn the skill gap challenge into a competitive differentiator!

1“2018 CEO Survey: CSCO Role Viewed as Crucial to Digital Business,” Gartner, Dec. 2018