For years, supply chain managers worked tirelessly in the background of organizations everywhere. Now everyone—from your relatives to the C-suite—knows how important it is. It’s official: supply chain has entered the zeitgeist. So what does that mean for the field?
For decades, Supply Chains — and the people who design and manage them — were the unsung force behind global business. Globalization brought a global market for goods. This led to outsourced manufacturing, and raw materials and finished goods being moved across vast distances using sophisticated, interconnected networks of shipping, trucking, air freight, and rail freight. At the same time, digital technologies enabled companies to gain massive amounts of data about their inventory, suppliers, and these product flows.
A strategic discipline arose, where organizations used their ability to build and manipulate supply chains to their advantage. Where before, companies were just concerned with “getting products at the right time,” they learned how to use data and processes to improve efficiency and optimize supply. Supply chain management allowed them to turnover their inventory faster, keeping less on hand. It helped boost new product development and introductions by bringing closer alignment with company’s suppliers, which allowed new innovations. It made them more nimble, flexible and responsive to changes in the marketplace.
Prior to 2020, most organizations knew that supply chain was important. And some of the most successful organizations (case in point Apple) knew how to leverage it to boost themselves over competitors.
But for years, supply chain managers laboured in the shadows. No longer.
Argentus has been recruiting exclusively within supply chain management (as well as corporate procurement) for over a decade. Prior to 2020, when one of us would go out to a dinner, say, or a casual barbecue, we would tell someone we recruit for supply chain management. Here was the typical response:
In 2022, everyone knows what we’re talking about.
Beginning in 2020, the pandemic and a host of other global events has led to the era of supply chain disruptions. These disruptions started out affecting individual businesses, as well as consumers of certain physical goods. They have steadily grown to impact the entire economy with rising prices, becoming a primary cause of the U.S. and Canada’s increased inflation over the past two years.
As a result, “supply chain” is now a household term—seen by many as a weakness to shore up, without many outside the industry really understanding what the issue is, or how to solve it. Dealing with these disruptions has become an imperative for organizations and governments everywhere. Now, everyone gets it. Because of that, supply chains are having a breakthrough moment.
Take a look at this image from Google Trends, showing the relative popularity of people searching for “supply chain” since Google began collecting the data in 2004:
The term had steady, seasonal growth over the past decade. Starting in March 2020, you see a significant spike. In October and November of last year, as the broad-scale impacts of supply chain disruptions started making the news, you see interest in supply chain rise to the highest it’s ever been.
Here’s another indication of the supply chain breakthrough: a few months ago, musician Jack White announced that his upcoming world tour was going to be called “The Supply Chain Issues Tour.” It’s clear that the Detroit-born musician, with roots in a major manufacturing hub, is gesturing towards something on everyone’s minds—how the pandemic recovery is being impacted by supply disruptions, and the inflation that they’ve caused. In a sense, “supply chain issues” has become a shorthand for almost any of the economic problems of life in 2022.
The idea of one of the world’s biggest rock stars and celebrities naming a tour after supply chain management was unthinkable only a few short years ago. It was almost laughable. And as a company who’s been working in an unsung industry for decades, seeing it happen is a little bit surreal.
It’s official: Supply Chain has entered the zeitgeist. So what does that mean for Supply Chain Management as a field?
For one, more supply chain professionals should find a more receptive audience when telling family and friends what they do. No more blank stares or topic changes. People might have questions about how supply chain works, or the disruptions. With more people understanding supply chain’s contribution, professionals in the field should have more recognition and respect.
This seems like a nice improvement to quality of life, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. Supply chain management’s rising profile should also impact its prominence in organizations. Even before the pandemic, more organizations were waking up to supply chain management’s strategic importance. Now, with everyone understanding that importance, more companies are investing in their supply chain capabilities.
In the short term: supply chain professionals will continue to be in very high demand.
It’s no secret that the job market is hot at this moment. Following the change in working styles during the pandemic, the “great resignation” had many candidates leave their jobs in pursuit of new opportunities, better work / life balance, more flexibility, and more money. Take this phenomenon, which is occurring across sectors, and add more particular pressure on the supply chain talent market as companies seek to improve their capabilities, and you have an extraordinarily hot market for supply chain candidates. In this environment, candidates are often fielding multiple job offers at once. This creates difficulties for companies looking to hire.
In the medium term: we could see more talent stepping in to fill the gap.
The shortage of skilled supply chain professionals — also known as the “supply chain talent deficit” — was an issue even before the pandemic. As we’ve cited before, shortly before the pandemic there were an estimated six open supply chain jobs for every new graduate. The importance of attracting new candidates has been understood for quite a while. For the past few years, more schools have begun offering supply chain concentrations —everything from college diplomas to MBAs. Organizations like Supply Chain Canada have worked to build bridges to get more people into the field. And companies began adopting creative strategies, including targeting high-skilled newcomers to Canada to help bridge these gaps.
In 2022, Supply Chain’s new, higher profile has raised the prospects of bringing more people into the field. For a long time, the problem was a communications one: most people didn’t even know what supply chain was. It was a field that people “fell into,” rather than seeking out. (It was also a field that most people love when they found it, it should be noted). Before the pandemic, this was already beginning to turn. More people were coming out of school, or going into school, with supply chain careers in mind. Now, when everyone knows what supply chains are—and how important they are—we might see a significant enlargement of the supply chain talent pool in the medium term.
In the long term: it’s a supply chain world. We’re just living in it.
Before the pandemic, Supply Chain Canada President Christian Buhagiar had an interesting quote: “no one understands the future like a supply chain professional.” Emerging technologies like automation, AI, drone delivery, robotics and others were already building to vastly change supply chain organizations, and the way that products come to market.
Supply Chain Management is a discipline that touches almost every aspect of a business. In 2022, the world has realized that it also touches so many things in our wider lives, whether we recognize it or not. We’re heading for a world where management of global flows of goods and information are crucial, where the top companies and even nations are those who can manage those flows when they become disrupted. Supply Chain has long been a key to strategic success. Now, more people than ever recognize that it’s a major key to the future itself.
We want to hear from you! If you’re a supply chain professional, have you noticed more understanding and appreciation for what you do? Let us know in the comments!