College has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it's because my wife and I just packed off our youngest daughter to college, a day that we knew would someday come but never dreamed it would occur so soon. Or maybe it's because of the incredible response to our recent slideshow on the mhlnews.com website profiling the 10 Best Schools for a Supply Chain Education, indicating a real thirst among the community for nascent supply chain talent. (Not to give anything away here, but the Big Ten dominated the rankings again this year.)
The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) lists roughly 200 U.S. schools in its directory that offer supply chain management courses, with 40 out of 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) represented. As Russ Meller, vice president of R&D with supply chain and distribution services firm Fortna and formerly a professor of logistics and entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas (as well as a member of the MH&L Editorial Advisory Board), observes, "Supply chain is a hot field—opportunities abound and there's a real drive towards innovative solutions for the future."
Hot it may be, but that doesn't mean that companies are having an easy time identifying and hiring this next generation of leaders.
"The personal demands of supply chain leaders increase each day," points out Peter Bolstorff, executive director of APICS Supply Chain Council, "and the organizational pressure to recruit and retain effective supply chain leaders is continually increasing. Given the impact of supply chain performance on shareholder value, developing future supply chain leaders is a strategic imperative."
Companies are looking in particular for specific skills from their supply chain leaders-of-the-future. According to APICS research, those skills include:
- Applying certainty to uncertain situations affecting others, such as in forecasting or decision-making;
- Balancing risk and reward in careful analysis, using hard and soft skills;
- Aligning tactics to strategy in planning and harmony with organizational culture;
- Maintaining and improving relationships with supply chain partners;
- Satisfying competing priorities and stakeholders on an ongoing basis.
As you might expect, finding, developing and retaining talent was a top-of-mind topic amongst our Editorial Advisory Board members as we assembled our annual Roundtable Report. As the director of Rider University's Global Supply Chain Management Program, as well as a former supply chain professional, Tan Miller serves as an academic advisor to supply chain majors and has learned from them what techniques work best when companies are in search of undergraduate supply chain talent.
First of all, Miller says, it's important that companies attend university career fairs. "This provides exposure to many potential student applicants and provides visibility for the firm, which gains access to potentially good future supply chain candidates."
Another good approach companies should adopt, according to Miller, is to allow students to shadow a supply chain professional at their firm, which can be scheduled during semester breaks. Offering supply chain internships and co-ops are also popular with students, and just as importantly, they offer "perhaps the most direct way of searching and procuring talent prior to a student's graduation."
If possible, it's also recommended that companies designate a member of their supply chain organization to be responsible for recruiting from a particular university. This individual, Miller suggests, should work with the company's HR department to identify and recruit potential employees while they're still in school.
Hiring talent and keeping them are two very different things, of course. As Al Will, president of PWG Distribution Solutions, observes, "Many entry-level employees in distribution and supply chain want to see a career path that leads to promotion and increased financial rewards. Day-to-day development occurs through experience on the floor and supervisors willing to mentor."
As I see it, supply chain talent—while keenly sought in the marketplace—is not that much different from any other type of talent. If you offer people challenging tasks (no lack of that in today's global economy), and if you incentivize them to continually drive improvements in their area as their skills mature, then chances are good they'll stick around for the long haul.