Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, companies were having a difficult time finding enough qualified candidates to fill positions in supply-chain management. With unemployment at 3%, many jobs were going unfilled. Now, with the economy in freefall as a result of millions of shuttered businesses, the situation has changed radically. But it’s still tough attracting people with the right skillsets. In this conversation with SupplyChainBrain Editor-in-Chief Bob Bowman, Charlie Wilgus, general manager of the supply chain and operations division at Lucas Group, an executive recruitment search firm, lays out the problem.
SCB: It might seem odd to be talking about the problems of recruiting and hiring for supply-chain management at a time when so many people are out of work, but how has the situation changed as a result of the pandemic and economic recession?
Wilgus: The reality is that there's so much unknown in the world of executive search, staffing and hiring right now. Most sales pipelines were blown up in a matter of minutes. That's the negative. The positive is that companies still have money in the bank. They have products to ship and sell, inventories are at a high level, and consumer demand is still there. There's just this unbelievable silence with this mysterious enemy that we're fighting, which hopefully will have an end soon. So there's just been a lot of uncertainty.
SCB: Has it resulted in a new awareness of the importance of the supply chain among the public?
Wilgus: Just two months ago, a lot of people didn't even know the phrase. Even though it's been around for decades, supply chain has now become a household name. It started with Amazon years ago, and the coming of direct-to-door delivery has broadened people's knowledge about where their products come from. Certainly, though, it has accelerated in the last few weeks, because supply-chain disruptions have caused people to not get their products on time, and not know where their food and other resources are coming from.
SCB: What about the impact on hiring?
Wilgus: You tie that into the staffing and executive search world, and it's more critical than ever to have somebody in your company making sure you’re producing and delivering goods as efficiently as possible. We’re so accustomed to getting our products when we want them. And we've seen that’s no longer possible at the current moment. You need someone to oversee that, because the company’s brand, reputation and ultimately revenue are at stake.
SCB: Before all this began and unemployment was at 3%, what challenges were you facing in recruiting and hiring in supply-chain management?
Wilgus: We had a lot of searches before the COVID-19 outbreak that were for upgrades to current roles or people they had. Maybe that person was great but didn't have the new technologies that were needed, or they needed someone who had done optimization on a bigger scale. We were doing confidential upgrades or taking it from manager or director to the VP level, because the company had seen some pretty healthy growth. A lot of it was related to the good economy, and finding better people to help them reach scale.
SCB: Supply-chain management incorporates so many different roles. What types of skills were most in short supply back then?
Wilgus: It was already becoming a case where companies wanted it all and we weren't necessarily able to bring everything to the table. No one has it all. But what we were finding the most demand for expertise in blockchain. That had become a common term, but what it meant was they wanted folks who had exposure to some of the more modern technologies related to supply-chain efficiencies — using blockchain in their systems and going digital instead of working off a ledger with pen and paper. It was about applying digital aspects to the supply chain from cradle to grave. Things are on such a timeline of urgency now. There are more products being shipped, more consumer demand. You've got to move to digitization.
SCB: Where were you finding people with those skills?
Wilgus: A lot of people were coming from bigger companies that had done that already, and were wanting to take that skillset to a medium-sized company that was growing. They were saying, "Here's how we've applied blockchain, here's how we've digitized our system, and here's how we can create visibility and optimization across the entire supply chain, from our suppliers all the way to our customers." It was about getting a holistic view, because ultimately that's what creates efficiency.
SCB: As we come out of this pandemic and as the economy begins to recover, do you anticipate we'll see any permanent changes in the way that hiring and recruiting takes place in the world of supply chain, and the types of skills that will be needed going forward?
Wilgus: I've thought about that, and I'd be lying if I told you I knew all the answers. My gut tells me it’s going to accelerate the need for more digitization. The breakdown in Asia caused a lot of heartache over here. When there's disruption in the supply chain, even if you have your own system optimized, you're still relying on another piece of the supply chain to do its part. In the past, that was less of an issue. If there was a breakdown, you'd just pick up the phone and make it work. Now, there are technologies that can tell me what's happening in the upstream part of the chain, so I can make sure there's no disruption by the time it gets to me. There’s more visibility, more data, more digitization. And it's going to be even more important going forward.
SCB: A lot of businesses will need to get back on their feet.
Wilgus: Most companies need to catch up on sales and revenue and ultimately profit. There are investors’ and EBIDTA goals to be hit. So you're going to see much more of an emphasis on bottom-line profits, and supply chains can help with that quite a bit. Like getting rid of waste and blockages in the supply chain that are causing companies to lose money. So someone who has a financial mind on how to optimize supply chains will be important.
SCB: There are environmental concerns as well.
Wilgus: There’s the whole green supply chain to think about. What's our carbon footprint? What kind of damage does our supply chain do to the environment? When you think about the health and wellness of a country, of the world coming out of a pandemic, green supply chains are going to be important as well.
SCB: Will there be permanent changes in the way we do work?
Wilgus: Before, a lot of our searches required that we relocate somebody or find them in a very remote area. Some people needed to be sitting at corporate and others needed to be in the field, and that caused some challenges to find the right person. Because of the influence of digitization, you’ll see more folks who can work remotely and manage the supply chain. Certainly you need to be close to your teams, but doing that virtually will be more acceptable in some of these old-school companies. It will allow them to be even more efficient, without having to have a physical person at a certain location.
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