Could Liberal Arts Grads Fill the Supply Chain Talent Gap?

March 23, 2017

Written by Elizabeth Hines of Fronetics Strategic Advisors. Fronetics is a boutique marketing firm focused on the logistics and supply chain industries. 

Mark Cuban thinks liberal arts grads will be the next in-demand employees. Could they be the answer to the supply chain talent gap?

The supply chain talent gap has been called a “perfect storm.” Every report cites doomsday statistics of the impending crisis when, by 2025, 60 million baby boomers will exit the workforce, leaving only 40 million millennials take their place.

To make matters worse, future supply chain professionals need to master not only the hard analytical skills but also the soft leadership skills fueled by the transition from an industrial economy to an economy grounded in service and information. In numbers, it means only 20% of the workforce will possess the skills required of 60% of all new supply chain jobs.

Today’s supply chain companies face a more immediate challenge, however: filling junior-level positions (1-4 years of experience). According to Rodney Apple, founder and president of SCM Talent Group: “When you land your first job out of college… you’re not actively looking for a new job. So [companies] really have to do a lot of direct sourcing to find the analysts, engineers, inventory managers, and planners and sell them on why they should make a career move at this stage of their career.”

Where can employers find young talent that possesses both critical-thinking skills and future leadership potential?

Liberal arts majors struggle with employment opportunities in today’s economy

Students graduating in the past decade have been hit hard by a challenging economy. Almost ten years out from the Great Recession, 44.5% of recent college graduates still are underemployed, many settling for jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

This is especially true for liberal arts majors. Research shows that their peers in technical fields like nursing and with qualitative skills like engineering have fared better.

But this may soon change. Billionaire investor and Shark Tank personality Mark Cuban, among others, has recently stated that liberal arts majors will be the next in-demand employees. As more technical jobs like coding become automated, companies will need people with creative and critical-thinking skills to offer a human perspective to the automated output. These skills, of course, are the foundation of a liberal arts education.

Bridging the gap between underemployed liberal arts graduates and supply chain companies

Supply chain companies want to find talented employees that can succeed in junior-level positions now but that also could move into management down the road. “Soft skills” like creativity and problem-solving are crucial to both roles — not to mention, every role in between. “That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines, and working with others across the organization to achieve a common goal,” says Lynne Sarikas, MBA Career Center Director at Northeastern University.

Liberal arts graduates bring these abilities to the workplace. Supply chain companies could be actively recruiting these qualified and eager graduates to fill open junior-level positions now, and then groom them to become future leadership. As more jobs become automated, companies will have additional resources to invest in on-the-job training and professional education for their rising stars.

Educated, qualified employees and the shortage of supply chain talent could be an obvious fit — more obvious than liberal arts and supply chain initially sound together. This untapped market of graduates could be the answer to the supply chain talent gap. 

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