Is there a Talent Deficit in Supply Chain? SCM Executive Don Dougan Weighs In

July 31, 2014

Today we bring you another guest post from Don Dougan, a senior Supply Chain executive with tons of experience in the Transportation space. In this post, he gives his take on the predicted Supply Chain talent gap that we’ve covered on our blog, specifically when it comes to the front-line workers in Supply Chain. 

“One of the key reasons for the lack of people interested in working in Supply Chain activities is the lack of understanding of what is actually being done.”

Many of us involved in Supply Chain activities have seen the projections that there is a serious shortage of as many as 1.4 million people who will be needed in Supply Chains by as early as 2020. For several years, we have seen companies deal with driver shortages, especially for long haul movements. Some have resorted to importing drivers from other countries. Large Distribution Centres have challenges in attracting order pickers and material handlers. So, when there is an unemployment rate of 7%, and we know that it has been much higher since the recession of 2008, why is it that we cannot attract people to work in an industry that affects such a large portion of our lives? There is almost nothing that you can buy, save for electronic downloads, that was not moved by truck, rail, air, ship or a combination of all of the above.

One of the key reasons for the lack of people interested in working in Supply Chain activities is the lack of understanding of what is actually being done. A common misconception of the industry is that it is hard work, a less-than-attractive environment, and does not provide a suitable mental challenge for most people. In many instances, Supply Chain is seen as a default type of work, ‘until I find something else.’ While it is a requirement that drivers meet qualifications for operating trucks by obtaining a Commercial Drivers Licence, and material handlers need a Certification for operating handling equipment, there is a lack of training in our education system for many Supply Chain activities.

We have raised successive generations of people who grew up with the notion that in order to be successful, they had to be in “white collar” professions like accountants, doctors, lawyers. No one told them to become drivers, dispatchers, order pickers, load planners, or warehouse workers, inventory analysts, demand planners and so on… Many assume that this kind of work does not require post secondary education and so it is mostly ignored.

But wait! Supply Chains are being challenged to be more efficient, cost effective, and offer businesses and consumers a number of alternatives to their current behaviour. In order to do this, Supply Chains are developing very sophisticated systems to manage inventories, track shipments, use drones for delivery, and virtually every activity from sourcing raw materials through to the end user. The software requirements and processing capabilities required to meet the increasing demands for ERP systems, WMS, and TMS mean that we need programmers and planners with real world experience in every aspect of Supply Chains in order to develop the level of functionality required. We are not there yet.

Most of my colleagues in Supply Chain tell me that they have experienced frustration with systems that failed to deliver on systemic projects primarily due to the fact that their IT support group did not fully understand the requirements. Or they were not able to deliver a functional solution. Or, after repeated failures, the financial support for these projects was withdrawn or significantly reduced. There is a great opportunity, right here, right now, for the industry to develop a type of apprenticeship program where new members will learn about all Supply Chain activities and take this knowledge into their IT development area so that they can provide functional and cost effective solutions to Supply Chain information and processing challenges. Existing Supply Chain education can also be enhanced to allow students to take skills from other disciplines to develop new alternatives in Supply Chain that have not even been conceived of yet.

The business community should be working with Colleges and Universities to enable this to happen and it has to happen immediately. We may not create future roles that rival investment banking, but we will create meaningful, satisfying work for many of our future graduates who need direction and support for their career success.


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