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Normally this column is dedicated to the best supply chains, but in my recent travels, it's become increasingly clear that the worst supply chain in the world might be the one for talent in our own profession.
This past week, I moderated a panel at a conference in Singapore. A consistent theme among the panelists was the mismatch between the skills needed and what's available. On stage, leaders like Didier Chenneveau of LG Electronics and Kalpesh Pathak of Fiat India Automobiles talked openly about the urgency to find and develop people prepared to think of supply chain in value creation terms, rather than just functionally. Behind the scenes, the discussion is even more frank, as executives concede - off the record, of course - that many struggle to retain staff once they've gotten them up to speed. This is especially true in booming supply chain centers like China and India.
Part of the mismatch is rooted in a surplus of narrow technical skills against a shortage of broader business skills. Two of my panelists represented a trend Gartner sees of executives without supply chain backgrounds taking the lead as businesses wrestle with growth, rather than the traditional supply chain mantra of cutting costs. Aditya Roy Choudhury of Tata Steel (Thailand), for instance, assumed the supply chain leadership role, following many years in finance and mergers and acquisitions. James Keegan of Schneider Electric holds the title of vice president of supply chain and logistics, having earned his stripes with the company in marketing, strategy and customer-service roles. Broad business process expertise as well as organizational savvy comes from integrating knowledge of things like finance and marketing into supply chain strategy. Unfortunately, this type of career path seems all too rare.
The other major mismatch is geography. The University of Wisconsin's Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management teaches supply chain the way it should be: broadly as a business discipline, instead of narrowly as vocational training. The Grainger Center regularly graduates smart, hard-working MBAs hailing from Asia, Latin America and Africa, all of whom would be snapped up by employers itching to fill jobs in the growing supply chain centers of the emerging markets. Unfortunately, many of these students would rather stay in the United States to round out their own international business experience rather than go straight home. Good supply chain jobs are available at many prestigious American companies. It's just that the jobs are more often based overseas.
We've been hearing about a "war for talent" in supply chain for several years now, both before and through the global recession. Our 11-station talent model was published for the first time two years ago as a guide to help companies specify the skill development path new staff should follow. Other research calls out universities offering degree programs in supply chain that have the deepest and best offerings. And yet still I get a steady stream of personal inquiries from people I respect looking for new positions as their organizations transition and their jobs are eliminated.
Something is out of whack here. Supply is available. After all, unemployment is pretty much stuck at 10 percent in the United States. Plus, the front end of the pipeline is being filled faster than ever. Our supply chain talent study included 26 universities in 2008 and will feature at least 40 this year. Most are adding courses and extending their reach with dedicated research centers, such as the Stanford Global Supply Chain Management Forum led by Hau Lee or the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics led by Yossi Sheffi. The stack of resumes flowing into our offices may be anecdotal evidence, but I'm certainly impressed by both the quantity and quality of people out there looking for work.
Companies tell us they're starving for talent. They proclaim demand, but I'm starting to wonder whether we're all being a little too picky and maybe even a bit lazy. Whatever happened to the traditional model where great companies bring in new people and train them the way IBM, GE or Procter & Gamble always have?
This is no online auction. Mismatches in skill and geography don't lend themselves to quick fixes. People want careers and employers want talent. If ever there was a supply chain begging for a little collaboration, this is it.
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