Logistically Speaking: The Best Career Move You Can Make

Feb. 20, 2014
With the skills gap ever widening and the government incentivizing people not to work, what’s a supply chain manager to do?

The Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) suggests that full implementation of the act will reduce the U.S. workforce by 2.5 million people. Sensing that this sounds like pretty bad news, the White House quickly rushed to reassure everybody that this in fact was good news because it meant that people could now work fewer hours, or even no hours, and still have healthcare insurance. So in this ObamaCare utopia, people will choose to leave the workforce because the fewer hours you work, the more “affordable” healthcare coverage becomes.

When you also factor in the statistical anomaly that the officially sanctioned unemployment rate goes down as more people give up looking for work, it almost looks as though the federal government has all but given up on the attempt to create new jobs, instead opting for election-year platitudes about the dignity of non-work. And this attitude couldn’t come at a worse time for American industry as 87% of manufacturers and distributors polled in a recent APICS/LMA Consulting Group study said they are currently experiencing a skills gap, with many indicating they cannot find the talent needed to support their operations. And almost half (47%) of the respondents said the gap is wider now than in previous years. Uh-oh.

As revealed in the comments of respondents to our 2014 Supply Chain Salary Survey (www.mhlnews.com/salarysurvey), an oft-heard lament among supply chain managers is the difficulty in finding and retaining qualified people. Adding to that challenge is the sense that few if any current employees have the basic presentation and communications skills to advance to managerial positions.

As a consultant who focuses on helping companies select and implement strategic priorities, Lisa Anderson, president of LMA Consulting Group, typically would begin a project by assessing the technical skills of a company’s workforce and identifying how they could meet the shortfall in such areas as demand planning, production planning and supply chain management. In the course of conducting the skills gap survey with APICS, however, Anderson discovered “a bigger issue that impacts the way we get things done. The inability to write a memo or communicate process changes in a meeting is problematic for any organization seeking to improve its operations.” Too many managers, she points out, have to take on lower-level administrative tasks rather than focus on managing future change.

When managers were asked in the APICS/LMA survey to identify professional skills lacking in their workforce, more than 40% pointed to such skills as demand planning, supply planning, inventory management, capacity planning and Lean/Six Sigma. The main culprit, at least according to the respondents, is a disconnect between post-high school workforce preparation and what’s required for success in business. More often than not, employees lack the problem-solving skills needed for workplace situations, so they go to their manager for help rather than suggesting solutions of their own.

Many employees, Anderson believes, are still shell-shocked by the recession and its aftershock effects. “They didn’t want to lose their jobs or create extra work when they were most likely already short-staffed,” she says. As the market begins to recover, however, your best workers are likely to move on to other opportunities, “while your ‘do-the-time, get-the-dime’ employees will stay put without expanding their skills.” Indeed, according to a recent Accountemps survey, nearly half (48%) of employed workers say they haven’t looked for a new job for the last five years, and 30% haven’t looked in more than 10 years.

With skilled workers hard to come by and potential management-level workers even harder to come by, companies need to make employee retention a higher priority. Some of the main strategies companies are turning to include mentor programs, succession planning, leadership training programs, reward and recognition programs, and support for certification and continuing education programs. And maybe the best option, Anderson suggests, is good old-fashioned networking. “Smart executives are thinking about how to get the word out about key positions,” she says, “and about why their company is more attractive than the rest.” Salary is important, as our 2014 Supply Chain Salary Survey makes abundantly clear, but since managers are measured by the success of their team, having top employees working for you is the best career move you could possibly make.

Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.