Each year, Susan Shey Dvonch, partner with Shey Harding Executive Search, pens an article about the most pressing issue related to the management of “human capital.” Her most recent submission identified “a lack of qualified talent at all levels,” she said late last year at the Cargo Logistics America conference, held in San Diego, Calif.
With the exception of 2009, Dvonch’s recruitment business – she’s one of the few to specialize in maritime-related jobs – hasn’t slackened. Thanks to the dearth of talent, though, “positions remain open for an awfully long time.”
When it comes to filling key vacancies, it’s very much a seller’s market. Often companies must be willing to bear the cost of relocating qualified candidates. Salaries need to be competitive enough “to provide an adequate hook for someone to leave one job for another,” Dvonch said. “And they’ve got to act quickly.”
Some of the big transportation providers, especially the major ocean carriers, have made things worse for themselves by eliminating the training programs that helped early recruits to get a start in the industry. As a result, new hires need to be up to speed almost immediately. Depth of experience becomes essential – and so do salaries that are high enough to reward that history.
Add to this an aging workforce, with insufficient numbers of younger people entering the industry, and you have a pronounced shortfall of talent – notwithstanding the efforts of maritime academies and university supply-chain programs to keep the pipeline flowing.
There’s no lack academic programs and certifications to encourage professional advancement – far more than in prior decades, said Abe Eshkenazi, chief executive officer of APICS. But the crisis is made worse by the infrequency of a direct path from supply-chain expertise to the executive suite. Rarely do supply-chain managers achieve C-level positions, he said. On the contrary, the discipline continues to be viewed primarily as a back-office function.
The perception only serves to dampen awareness of the profession. Eshkenazi noted that APICS has evolved from an organization focused on inventory and production control to one that touts supply chain as an “enabler.” (No doubt that’s why the group has jettisoned the original name behind the acronym – the American Production and Inventory Control Society.) But supply-chain management continues to be a job that most people fall into. In informal surveys, fewer than 5 percent of APICS members say they specifically sought a career in supply chain when entering the workforce, Eshkenazi said.
Those with awareness of the profession might be turned off by pay disparities. Women tend to start out with compensation that’s equivalent to, if not higher than, that of men. But after 10 years in the workforce, the pay gap widens by around 34 percent, Eshkenazi said. What’s more, employers are paying insufficient attention to the work-life balance that’s required by many young employees, both male and female, today.
The problem isn’t limited to the U.S. There are approximately 803,000 supply-chain professionals in Canada, according to Corrie Banks, president of Calgary, Alberta-based Triskele Logistics, Ltd. By the end of 2015, she was anticipating some 350,000 vacant positions, with an especially serious gap in the longhaul trucking sector. “We cannot fill those jobs right now,” Banks said.
Recent downturns in Canada’s oil and gas industry could shake loose a number of qualified candidates for jobs in transportation, Banks suggested. “For the first time in my 20-year career, we have a lot of people looking for work because of significant layoffs in Alberta.” But workers expelled by the oil and gas sector tend to be unaware of the career possibilities in supply chain.
“I’ve been working on talking about supply chain as a career of choice, an interesting and diverse career,” Banks said. “It’s not [just] driving a truck or working in a warehouse.”
With education systems emphasizing diversity and inclusion, it’s important to attract new immigrant groups into the supply-chain workforce, Baker said. She claimed that companies with more inclusive hiring practices have 39-percent greater customer satisfaction, 22-percent lower turnover rates, and are 27-percent more profitable.
“The numbers are really compelling,” Baker said. “There’s a broad-range spectrum of talent available to us.”
The problem isn’t solved at the moment of hiring. Nyanya Diagne, director of human resources with Yusen Terminals LLC, said there continues to be a lack of focus on leadership – specifically, how to develop teams and set performance expectations. For tenured employees with decades of experience, the emphasis has been on technical competency. Leadership training is needed to compete in an age of intense automation, Diagne said.
Nancy Nix, executive director of Awesome, a group promoting opportunities for women in supply chain, picked up on the theme of diversity from a gender perspective. “We haven’t made the progress we need to make in terms of women in leadership roles in supply chain,” she said. Half the workforce at entry level is made up of women, she noted, but that share dwindles to between 10 and 20 percent at senior positions, and just 5 percent at the CEO level.
Better gender balance can help companies to achieve more intimate knowledge of their customer base, said Nix – especially since an estimated 80 percent of consumer decisions are said to be made by women.
Progress is slow, Nix said. But companies need to embrace every possible avenue if they are to fill those vacant positions in supply-chain management – and ensure a steady supply of qualified talent in years to come.