The Supply Chain Talent Deficit is Real – But What About the Experienced People Who Can’t Find Work?

August 29, 2016



job searching

It’s no secret that we write a lot about the Supply Chain talent deficit – the growing industry consensus about a looming shortage of talent needed to fill Supply Chain, Procurement, and Logistics jobs as those roles grow in prominence and the baby boomers retire. It’s an important issue to the field that we recruit in, and we’re interested to see how companies, educational institutions and other industry players respond as it plays out. But today we wanted to comment on an interesting side note of the whole issue:

Every time we write about the Supply Chain talent deficit, on the Argentus blog or elsewhere, we see comments from experienced professionals in the field who aren’t able to find work. We’re always sure to say that the Supply Chain talent deficit is a big-picture trend, and doesn’t mean that everyone in the field is going to be able to get a job easily. But it’s interesting that we hear from quite a few people who are having difficulty finding work, despite the fact that companies are having more difficulty hiring in the field than perhaps ever before.

A comment by 3PL executive Valerie Kucherenko on one of our recent LinkedIn Publisher posts pointed out this disconnect, and got us thinking. First of all, here’s the relevant part of the comment:

“Frankly speaking there are so many articles, including the ones by Argentus Supply Chain Recruiting, indicating a shortage of qualified candidates in the Supply Chain field that I am torn between this feeling of high demand for Supply Chain professionals and the fact that many experienced ones can not find a job. Where is the confusion coming from?”

Let’s try to answer this question.

If there’s a Supply Chain Talent deficit, why are there so many people in the field having trouble finding work?

First of all, the talent deficit in Supply Chain isn’t just buzz. Experts throughout the industry are talking about it, but it’s also something we’re hearing about daily from our clients looking to hire in the field, and from executives we speak to. We’re on the front lines of the talent war in this industry, and we can observe it directly. So it’s not that the difficulty of hiring in Supply Chain is made up.

Of course, the trouble that certain experienced people are having looking for work isn’t made up either. So we started thinking about big-picture reasons for this disconnect, based on our experience as people who have been recruiting in Supply Chain for over a decade. Here they are:

A certain amount of churn in employment is inevitable, and even a productive fact of the economy. There’s a reason why under economists’ definitions of “full employment,” there’s still about 5% of the workforce that’s unemployed. Structural factors such as geographic shifts and technological change mean that there will always be a certain number of unemployed people, independent of other factors like economic downturns, etc. This means that no matter the demand for Supply Chain talent, there will always be a certain number of people in between jobs – people who haven’t yet found work because it takes some time to get the right opportunity in front of the right people.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The other thing that helps explain this disconnect is the fact that the deficit of talent isn’t, strictly speaking, a numbers game. What matters isn’t necessarily the raw number of experienced candidates vs. positions (e.g. 10,000 candidates and 50,000 positions) so much as the kind of experience companies are looking for. This is one of the things that comes up over and over again in our conversations with executives.

Supply Chain’s role in companies is expanding. Instead of just being about putting product in the right place at the right time, Supply Chain now uses data, innovation, and supplier relationships to provide companies with a strategic edge. It interfaces with sales to plan and predict demand, etc. And while the function’s scope is increasing, companies are becoming more specific in their experience requirements. For example, more companies are looking for specific category experience (like Real Estate or IT) in Procurement. It’s possible that certain experienced professionals don’t have the right experience in the most high-demand niches (such as Demand Planning, S&OP), making it harder for them to find work than if “Supply Chain” was a more monolithic category. The nature of the experience required is changing – for example companies requiring specific software experience – and much of the deficit of talent exists on this cutting edge of skills requirements, rather than for more general, classic Supply Chain roles. 

The solution to this issue? We think it’s two-fold: companies need to be more open-minded in their hiring, recognizing that strong business acumen can be as important to Supply Chain success as niche experience. And on the other side, candidates need to constantly work to adapt and diversify their skillsets, expanding their knowledge to follow the niches that are in highest demand among companies.

Hopefully that sheds some light on why it can be tough for certain Supply Chain professionals to find work even though there’s a deficit of Supply Chain talent more broadly. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Which is true (in our experience), but we get that it doesn’t make it any easier for those Supply Chain workers who are having trouble finding that next role! Feel free to reach out to us for help. logo_icon

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  1. Sheila

    You missed that companies are reluctant to train, which they could easily do on software. Another issue is going from one e-bidding service to another is child’s play. “X” amount of experience is not required.

    Is H/R the barrier?

  2. Paul Beekman

    What about HR Personnel who do not have a foggy idea about the job position within the company, I recently had a phone interview, when the HR { Head } stated that she didn’t know how the Contenetial Shift worked at her place of employment. Needless to say I didn’t get the job……….

    You mentioned something about schoooling, I know I did a stint with Trios College where I was speaking to the SCMP class about Inventory Control { my specialty } and should colleges that do have a Supply Chain program reach out to professionals who are unemployed { like myself } and these professionals share their thoughts and give valuable information to the students that the textbooks fail to deliver
    I have been unemployed since May 1st 2015 no longer collecting EI – I spend about 5 hours a day reviewing job posting emails { Workopolis, Indeed, Top Jobs, LinkedIn, } – applying to roughly 5 jobs a day or 25 jobs a week times that by 74 weeks = 1,850 jobs I’ve applied to – had 5 phone interviews, 4 face to face interviews
    My age 59

    • Jill Button

      Hi Paul, Consider actively pursuing consulting engagements as an independent. The new freelance or gig economy shouldn’t be ignored. My customers are in the SMB space and while they can’t afford to hire full time, they are hiring for projects such as running RFP’s or negotiations. My team of independent consultants are entrepreneurs who get to work from home, pick and choose the engagements they want to work on and are helping to grow a niche consulting practice. If your looking for something that is full time hours on contract, ARGENTUS recruits and places candidates for these roles as well. Good luck!


  3. Valerie Kucherenko

    Thank you for responding to the raised question and answering the best way possible.

    There is certainly a gap between demand and supply in this employment equation, but as it was rightly pointed “devil is in details”, since certain skills required by employers are not possessed by candidates.

    It is crucial like never before for candidates to understand that staying up to date on new technologies and currents of supply chain is required to be in demand.
    It is not that the demand is not there, but the Supply Chain industry itself has been rapidly changing for the last several years driven by global shift in sourcing patters and technologies.

    This is what candidates have to take into consideration as well when looking for job.

  4. Tim Gilks

    I agree with a lot of this article.
    As employees we need to treat ourselves as a business and be reinvesting in the asset we own, being ourselves. Employees need to be keeping up their skills to meet the needs of the changing Supply chain in order to get to the short list of candidates.

    As well, Employers pretty much all suggest that their biggest assets is their people, so they need to be putting proper succession plans in place to ensure they are adequately covered, have training programs, education assistance programs, mentoring. The one big thing I believe is Companies/Executives have to think outside of the box when it comes to the supply chain in their company. Historically, supply chain was a forgotten, after thought in most companies. It is now starting to be more important, and therefore needs to be better understood at the top.

  5. Greg

    I can certainly appreciate the frustration of candidates like Paul. What really gets me is that I have been quite comfortable working with agencies and on short and long term contracts, yet some companies still are “scared” by a history of short term jobs, even if all they are offering is another contract position! This is just plain silly but one of the realities one has to grin and bear in a rapidly shifting hiring culture.
    I also agree that HR is a major hurdle to overcome; they do not have the expertise to carefully analyze a candidate’s qualifications. Told to find a professional with SAP experience, for example, they can be blinkered to only those candidates with SAP on the shopping list, not realizing that an experienced MRP user is going to pick it up quickly, and they may be blind to the other skills that may put an applicant way ahead of others.

  6. Manuel

    HR Professionals,
    Take into account what Greg is saying!

  7. Umair Farooqi

    I also agree that demand for Supply Chain professionals is there. However, this demand relates back to the ever changing skill set and new perspective brought in this field. If individuals can prove that they have worked on projects to bring a new optics from the strategic or even process standpoint and that initiative have brought value to the process. Then there should be no reason why he or she doesn’t get a chance.

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