Chain of Thought

Finding Talent Isn't Enough

President Obama was in Cleveland this week for a small-business summit. With all the reports in the national news about labor unrest and the debate over collective bargaining, it was interesting to hear that many of the employers participating in the Summit were more worried about just finding good workers, let alone what they were going to pay them.

Several attendees complained that they needed a better pool of talent from which to hire. But President Obama noted that some regions of the country are benefiting from business/education partnerships that match skills to the opportunities in their region. Cleveland is—or at least it once was—known as a steel-making, thing-manufacturing town. Yet an employer from a Cleveland-based steel processor countered that the area's students don't pursue manufacturing and trades any more. He's worried because the age of his average employee is 50, and he's facing mass retirements and a sparsely-stocked talent pool from which to draw.

MH&L has a rich talent pool to draw from when questions about manufacturing and logistics arise: our editorial advisory board. Several members have worked both in academia and in the corporate world, so I figured they'd have some insights about the state of tomorrow's labor force—and how well academic institutions are preparing their students to enter it. Tan Miller, who was once a logistics pro at Pfizer, is now a professor of logistics. He's actually director of the Global Supply Chain Management Program at the Rider University College of Business Administration. This MH&L advisory board member sees a good approach to this problem in—advisory boards.

“Moving over to academia in the last 2.5 years after many years in the corporate world, I now have a better appreciation of the importance of external advisory boards to university supply chain programs,” he told me. “These advisory boards can provide an important perspective to full-time academics on the skill sets and capabilities that are most useful for their graduates to develop in order for them to best make contributions to the private sector once they graduate. Perhaps there are opportunities to make these partnerships more prevalent and stronger in the future.”

“Stronger” is the key word here, because there is a need for stronger, more real-world state-of-the-art information—not only among business students, but among today's logistics professionals. Logistics encompasses all businesses and many technologies, and both are constantly evolving. Education doesn't end upon graduation. At least it shouldn't. But another of MH&L's Advisory Board members feels that some of the systems integrators helping clients apply technology today could use a refresher course. Automatic Data Collection is a perfect example. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is hot and getting all the attention, at the expense of basic bar code knowledge, according to IDAT Technology's Bert Moore. That can result in poor system implementations and poorly applied technology. Something as simple as a label can bring supply chain flow to a trickle.

“Things are getting a little crazy in AIDC labeling,” Bert said to me. “I have heard that bar code label and RFID tag placement, once firmly fixed by EAN/UPC [now GS1] and ANSI standards [lower right-hand corner of the long side] is now getting chaotic per customer requirements. They want the label on the front or top or higher up or somewhere else. This is probably because of their automated conveyor/sortation design requirements. But is that because systems integrators are unaware of existing standards and practices or is there some other reason? Maybe that's where the real lack of qualified talent lies—with systems designers and integrators who came into the field after the development of all the bar code standards and who don't understand the struggles we went through to get things standardized. I have often said in presentations, ‘Standards are bad! Standard is good.'”

Our March issue will include the results from our annual salary survey. On a cursory glance, it doesn't look like the numbers have changed much from last year. But, just as things as seemingly simple as bar code labels can mean life or death to system productivity, I think it's time to take as deep a look at how talent can be developed and maintained as how it can be found and paid.

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