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How Serious Is the Supply Chain Talent Gap?

There is a serious and growing talent shortage in the supply chain profession. Art van Bodegraven of Discovery Executive Services discusses what's behind the talent gap and and how to address it.

How Serious Is the Supply Chain Talent Gap?

The talent gap is a universal condition within the supply chain universe, says van Bodegraven. “I don’t go anywhere these days without hearing about problems people are having with finding, getting or keeping talent,” he says. “It is taken for granted that there is a shortage of truck drivers, but we also don’t have enough analysts, clerks, technicians or IT support people.”

The biggest gap actually is for mid-level supply chain managers, according to a survey by Supply Chain Insights, van Bodegraven says. Employers are taking five to six months, on average, to fill mid-management positions, he says, because it is not just a matter of filling seats but of finding people with the right set of skills and perspectives. “One of my great frustrations is that at the same time that employers are talking about the difficulty of filling positions, we have a small army of people with 25 and 30 years of experience who can’t find jobs,” he says. “I think there is a belief that our world is changing so rapidly and so dramatically that the skills and experiences gained a generation or two ago are no longer applicable.”

The loss of these veterans from the industry is a compounding problem, he says, because many industries went through years of stagnation and added very few supply chain professionals. As a result those that have retired or are in the process of retiring are being replaced by a generation that is 30 years younger. “How do we transfer their knowledge and maintain the robustness of the corporate DNA when there is that kind of gap between the generations that are leaving and coming up?” he asks. “This is a big challenge in a lot of industries.”

The new generation has a different concept of a work/life balance, van Bodegraven says. “Corporations have to figure out how to work with that, but the newcomers also have to figure out how to work with us old timers,” he says. “Both have something to add to the total equation.”

Enlightened leaders are forming teams that are designed to promote the energy and creativity of young managers while preserving the body of knowledge of the passing generation and passing on some of the corporate lore that is very important in the real world, he says.

The second-biggest talent gap is in the realm of analytics, van Bodegraven says, noting that a good analyst needs more than raw mathematics skills. “Those skills are insufficient without context and experience,” he says. A highly seasonal product with four peak periods might appear to have a simple seasonal pattern, “but if we dig a little further, we might find that those peaks are actually artificial creations driven by volume incentives and are totally independent of the marketplace,” he says. “A mathematical analysis would lead us on one direction, but experience will point us in another. We need to marry these two.”

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