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Attracting and Retaining Millennials: What Young Supply Chain Stars Can Teach Us All

At 29 years of age, Katy Conrad, site lead at Shell's Geismar Chemical Plant, is a terrific ambassador for her profession. She loves everything about supply management - working with smart engineering and business professionals, solving tough problems, and making a bottom-line impact. At Shell, she has delivered significant savings, built a regional B2B sourcing strategy, and held an overseas assignment.

Attracting and Retaining Millennials: What Young Supply Chain Stars Can Teach Us All

The supply management industry needs more outstanding young professionals like Katy to lead it into the future. It’s well-known that we're facing a perfect talent storm. Many of the Baby Boomers who "dominate" the sector will retire soon - leaving more jobs than people to fill them. Indeed, a report from consulting firm Deloitte notes that the demand for supply management professionals may soon exceed supply by a ratio of six to one.

To maintain its strength, the industry must attract new talent now, and Millennials (age 18-34) are a natural fit for these open positions. Not only are they the largest generation in the U.S. workforce; their values and expertise dovetail perfectly with the industry’s needs. Yet, on many supply chain teams, there are few, if any, Millennials in sight.

However, there is a bright spot on the horizon, as evidenced by the first “30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars” honored by ThomasNet and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). These emerging supply chain leaders and others like them are already making their mark—collectively saving their organizations hundreds of millions of dollars, and introducing new strategies and technologies. Katy was recently honored as the “megawatt professional” among them.

How can the industry attract and retain more of these up-and-comers, and what can they teach us all? Five “Rising Stars” and one of their nominators tackled these questions during a recent industry roundtable discussion. Many of the winners also answered a survey about their work and outside interests. By listening—really listening—to their responses, we can begin to surface what's working, what's not working, and how we can collectively bolster our industry’s strength and vitality through this new generation.

Getting to Know These Emerging Leaders

As a group, the 30 Under 30 are socially conscious and want to make a difference to their organizations and communities. They love that their jobs enable them to improve access to vital products and services like medicine and clean energy, and contribute to sustainability goals.

They’re also high-energy, giving their all to their work, family and friends. (See a related video featuring new mother and “30 Under 30” winner Leah Halvorson, Director of Procurement and Supply Chain Development, Minneapolis Public Schools, talk about work life balance)

What else gets their juices flowing?

Roundtable panelist Jami Bliss, director of global procurement program management at Teva Pharmaceuticals, nominated several of the 30 Under 30 winners. A few years ago, she conducted her own research through ISM’s Richter Scholar program, on how companies can attract and retain Millennials. “The number one thing they're looking for is meaningful work. They want a role where they can contribute and add value to their organization,” she says.

Panelist Wesley (Wes) Whitney, sourcing specialist at Enterprise Products, Houston, backs her up. "We all want to do good for our companies and help make them more profitable. I've been able to see the fruits of my labors very early in my career."

Turning Challenges into Rewards

Sometimes for the 30 Under 30, the most satisfying parts of their jobs are also the toughest.

Take Matthew (Matt) Bauer, procurement administrator, City of Mesa, Ariz., whose group oversees procurement for 40 separate divisions within his municipality. “One day I may be purchasing bullet-proof vests and the next day I’m doing health benefits, and so I have to become an expert on that particular product or service in a very short period of time. It’s a huge challenge and the rewards are great as well,” he says.

For Nicholas (Nick) Ammaturo, director of profit improvement and procurement for Hudson’s Bay Company in New York, being able to steer the ship is both difficult and gratifying. “Saks has just become part of us, and that means we need to rebuild our procurement process. It’s been really fun to actually shape it versus being a cog in a wheel.”

Amy Alpren, manager, strategic sourcing, CBS Corporation, says that building consensus within a decentralized environment presents its own set of obstacles. “Our services span across all divisions; CBS Film, Television, Distribution, Simon and Schuster and more, and sometimes the hardest part is bringing everyone together to collaborate. We recently finished a project that included 15 to 20 different internal stakeholders. It was a long, challenging process, but we finally got there and it was a great success.”

Moving on to the ‘Next Big Thing’

Mastering difficult situations like these is what Millennials live for, and managers who want to retain them need to take notice.

“The biggest challenge is keeping them challenged, frankly. They’re always looking for additional special assignments, and often expecting to move to a new role every three days after they conquer and succeed so quickly,” says Bliss.

So how can their employers keep them fired up? Conrad recommends that managers invest time in Millennials, and move them between roles fast. She has had the chance to hold different positions in Houston, London and Baton Rouge, and that keeps her excited.

Ammaturo also recommends that companies recognize and encourage Millennials’ strong need to grow. “Any company that’s worth its salt is going to see a driven young man or woman, and if they’re up to the task they’ll nurture it,” he says.

Focus on Millennials’ Incredible Motivation

The “30 Under 30” are representative of a generation that is driven to add value wherever they are, and they decry the perception of their generation as lazy and entitled.

“We don’t need nap breaks! We want to know that what we are doing matters, and if we do we are incredibly zealous to jump in and work as hard as we can,” says Whitney.

Hard work, in fact, is in their DNA—literally. When asked who their mentors are, the “30 Under 30” most commonly cite their parents, and their dedication to getting them where they are today.

Attracting, Keeping Your Own Rising Stars

What can you do to attract more of these outstanding professionals, who combine skills, drive and good character? It isn’t easy because supply management is often not on their radar—and if it is, they may have outdated perceptions of it as a career. For example, Whitney’s grandmother was a supply management professional, and he swore he’d never enter the field until a roommate made him aware of how it had changed. Here are some suggestions to consider:

Promote the industry to college students—Katy Conrad never thought she’d enter supply management, either, until she was a business major at Ohio State University. There, she heard a presentation by a logistics professional at Limited Brands. That presentation led to a three-month internship in the procurement group at Shell – and forever changed her aspirations. 

Move Millennials around -- They will gain invaluable experience along the way. Several of the panelists advocate rotational programs, which help them understand how their company operates, and where they can make a unique contribution.

Look for opportunities to mentor new supply chain professionals—Many of our Rising Stars have at least one mentor who offers advice in a non-judgmental way. These Millennials also appreciate “tough love”; they respect the insights of experienced professionals, along with advice on where they need to improve.

Emphasize supply management as a career that taps into their interests and strengths—Amy Alpren, for instance, gets to “apply everything I’ve learned — my communications skills, ability to organize and multitask, and my financial and analytics background, all in supply management.”

Support and champion association outreach efforts, like Matt Bauer, Katy Conrad and Nick Ammaturo have done—Matt is the former chair of the Young Professionals Group at AZNIGP (Arizona State Capitol Chapter of NIGP, The Institute for Public Procurement), focused on bringing more Millennials into the public sector. Katy helped create the Emerging Professionals Group for ISM-Houston, now a model for other affiliates. Nick is President of ISM-7 Counties, where his passion is building a community of young supply chain enthusiasts.

Katy Conrad’s devotion to supply management is a result of many individuals throughout her career. Each, in their own way, has worked to engage, develop, mentor and reward her. It takes commitment to attract and retain people from this exceptional generation of professionals. However, each action is well worth the time and effort to sustain and grow our profession.

NOTE: ThomasNet and ISM are inviting nominations for their second “30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars” Recognition Program by Oct. 30, 2015. Click here to nominate a deserving professional.

M.L. Peck is Senior Vice President, Programs & Product Development, Institute for Supply Management. Linda Rigano is Executive Director, Media Relations, ThomasNet.

Source: ThomasNet

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