Insights

Solving COVID-19 Supply Chain Challenges: Here are the Skills Companies Need

June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a host of Supply Chain issues across a number of industries. Here are the main skills and roles that companies need to address these challenges.

As we’ve been writing about recently, COVID-19 has raised major Supply Chain challenges for companies across industries. Organizations in Retail, Consumer Goods, Pharmaceutical, Manufacturing, Medical Devices, Aerospace and beyond have faced an unprecedented amount of pressure on their operations. Laypeople across the world are waking up to the vital importance that Supply Chains play in our society. In moments of crisis, the world relies on strategic Supply Chain Managers to get goods in the hands of consumers, crucial medical equipment in the hands of front-line workers. In time (sooner, rather than later, we hope!) the world will be relying on them to deliver a vaccine to billions of people.

No matter the organization, responding to the immense challenges has been a difficult task. It’s required creativity, talent, and verve. Many business leaders are realizing that their Supply Chains weren’t as resilient, or as strategic, as they had hoped. It’s even more difficult to respond if your company lacks the strategic bench strength in key Supply Chain competencies – not to mention the difficulties around adding additional capability while fighting daily fires on the ground.

Today, we wanted to address this by drilling down into some of the specific Supply Chain challenges raised by COVID-19, and offer our perspective on the particular Supply Chain people who are best equipped to address them.

We hope this guide can help leaders and hiring managers clarify their hiring needs. We’re going to describe each challenge, and then highlight the skills that companies need to solve them.

The Challenge: Supply disruptions due to manufacturing disruptions, lack of freight capacity, new border restrictions, and other emerging issues.

Perhaps the biggest – and most complicated – challenge is dealing with disruptions along Supply Chains. Companies sourcing from China first felt this pain when many Chinese manufacturers shuttered in January and February. Now, companies across the world are facing this challenge as COVID-19 cases – as well as policies to prevent them – cause disruptions in labour conditions and movement of goods. Most organizations have built some tolerance for risk and supplier failure into their Supply Chains, but what do you do when that risk skyrockets?

The Talent Solution: In an age of uncertain supply, organizations need to broaden their supplier bases to minimize risk. There’s tremendous demand for Sourcing Professionals who deeply understand supplier markets for raw materials and finished goods, either domestic or overseas. The most strategic Procurement professionals are also skilled at Supplier Relationship Management, ensuring that you have strong enough ties with your suppliers that they collaborate with your organization, and keep you in the loop about potential upstream disruptions.

Beyond supplier management, there’s a need for Import / Export and Customs professionals to navigate the complex trade landscape. Many organizations are also waking up to the need for Supply Chain technology transformations that can implement new systems that use big data to offer deeper insight and transparency up and down the Supply Chain. Supply Chain Network Designers can also rethink supply networks to make them more resilient to disruptions. It’s a complex package of skills and roles, so organizations need to embrace hiring individuals who can break down silos and think holistically.

Key Skills: International or Domestic Sourcing, Supplier Relationship Management, Risk Management Customs and Import / Export, Network Design.

The Challenge: Changing demand patterns due to physical distancing measures, as well as restricted consumer spending.

Many of today’s Supply Chains were built with a just-in-time inventory model – meaning products are only produced, or finished products only arrive, at the exact moment that customers require them. Keeping a lean inventory is one of Supply Chain Management’s biggest contributions to profitability. But as industry thought leaders like Bob Ferrari have highlighted, the COVID-19 crisis has thrown just-in-time inventory strategies into disarray. Demand for certain products has skyrocketed, while other demand has dropped off, making demand tougher to forecast. It’s also made it tougher to plan how much companies should supply.

The Talent Solution: Demand Planners and Supply Planners are key steps in the S&OP process to match production to consumer needs. The best Demand Planners use sophisticated market analysis and modelling techniques to forecast changing consumer patterns. Skilled Supply Planners, Production Planners and Inventory Planners can retool production strategies to match this demand while avoiding extra costs.

Key Skills: Demand Planning, Supply Planning, Inventory Planning, Production Planning.

The Challenge: Adapting to eCommerce, Direct-to-Consumer Delivery, curbside pickup and other physically distant delivery options.

Physical distancing restrictions and store closures across the world have raised particular challenges for companies getting their products to consumers, once they’re in hand. Retailers have most acutely felt this challenge, as they’ve had to radically shift their Last Mile and Retail Logistics to adapt. But it’s also been felt by some Consumer Goods companies who are looking for new ways to deliver direct to consumers with retail in upheaval. Many companies across industries have realized that their eCommerce and Last Mile Logistics aren’t up to snuff. Brands that seek quick fixes open themselves up to risk if it leads to a bad user experience – such as a delivery that doesn’t arrive on time, or missing items, or a host of other issues.

The Talent Solution: The pandemic has sped up the need for eCommerce transformations at a lot of Retailers. In the industry, it’s been a hot topic for years, with many raising the need for eCommerce business transformation while still focusing on brick and mortar, as Amazon continues to build their capability and capture market share. These retailers – as well as Consumer Goods companies seeking new markets, need transformative Supply Chain leaders who can design smart Logistics networks, build relationships with 3rd Party Logistics Providers, and provide an exceptional last mile delivery experience to customers. It’s a highly strategic Supply Chain role, encompassing a wide range of skills. But companies who can expand this capability have a massive opportunity to innovate for the future, even beyond COVID-19. (See our interview with Retail Transformation Executive Gary Newbury for more details about how retailers in particular can address this challenge.)

Key Skills: Logistics and Transportation Network Design, eCommerce, 3PL relationship management, Supply Chain Transformation.


This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of the challenges – or of the immense breadth of Supply Chain skills that candidates have to offer – but hopefully it’s a good introduction. Do you have any major Supply Chain challenges to add? Let us know in the comments!

And as always, reach out to Argentus if you need to boost your bench strength in any of these areas, either on an oustourced contingent basis or for permanent employees. We have over 15 years of dedicated recruitment experience in this particular vertical, and a developed network of high performers who can multiply your resources and address these challenges. Call (647) 364 9919 or send an email to recruit@argentus.com.

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