Transferable Skills and Hiring: A Supply Chain Director’s Perspective

January 25, 2016

Teach me your industry and I’ll apply that knowledge. It’s all about building a cross functional team. It’s never about me finding a new supplier. It’s about us finding a new supplier.” – Supply Chain Director David Astles.

 

Transferrable Skills

Last month, we published a post which generated a good amount of discussion in our network titled “Why Transferrable Skills are the Unsung Hero of Hiring,” The post dealt with the issue of transferrable skills in Supply Chain and its related functions (Procurement, Logistics, etc.), with the goal of answering the question: Are companies being too rigid in their hiring goals, and leaving some of the best talent on the table, if they insist on hiring candidates with very specific industry / category experience?

We argued that, often, companies are willing to hire talent and train specific skills / industry expertise internally, but when it comes to external hires, they are often very exacting in requiring that Supply Chain professionals have the right industry background and category experience – downplaying the core Supply Chain skills that allow superstars to excel, regardless of industry.

We received a great comment from David Astles, a Supply Chain director with experience in a variety of industries, about this issue. We followed up with him for a brief interview about the Supply Chain field, and about his perspective on the issue of training and transferable skills.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background in the field?

“I’ve had 30 odd years in Supply Chain,” says Astles when asked about his background. “I started as a Buyer in Procurement, then moved into Warehousing, then into Manufacturing Operations, then into a Materials Management role, and I’ve taken over warehousing, planning. I’ve been all over the gamut. I’ve had roles that had Supply Chain responsibility but also manufacturing and design engineering responsibility. I’ve never moved completely away from Procurement or Supply Chain.”

“I’ve worked in quite a few industries: predominantly high-tech, but I’ve worked in everything from airport security equipment to a startup tablet manufacturer to capital equipment manufacturing, to mining.”

You reached out to us to comment on our post about why transferrable skills are the unsung hero of hiring. Could you comment about how companies in different industries hire, and whether they hire based on core skills or specific category / industry experience?

“Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are some very cliquey industries,” says Astles. “Automotive, consumable products, CPG. They tend to be less willing to hire outside of their industries, even if the candidate has the core skills. It’s difficult sometimes to break through the Human Resources barriers to demonstrate your skills and strengths. Whenever I’ve been able to do it, it makes a huge difference to be able to cross that line [HR] and demonstrate my knowledge, skills and drive. I’ve always found it more challenging, more interesting, to learn the industry and use my core Supply Chain skills. My current industry is mining, so I’ve spent tons of time learning the nuances of mining vs. the high-tech world that I came out of. You can teach anyone the industry. What you can’t teach is the passion, conviction, and desire to apply what you know. That’s the harder thing when I’m doing my own hiring.”

You’ve mentioned to us that in your experience, finding a Procurement person who has the talent but not necessarily specific industry or category experience allows a company to bring an open mind and the ability to see opportunities that those who’ve only worked within the industry do not. Could you give us an example of the kind of value you’re talking about?

“The last company I worked for manufactured capital equipment,” says Astles. “The company was adamant that if you didn’t know the industry you wouldn’t be able to survive it. I think they had slightly pigeonholed themselves to think that, if you don’t come from my industry, you don’t understand. Many companies have dealt with the same suppliers for so long. For example: steel forgings. They always bought from the same supplier for 30 years, and with a new overseas supplier they’re saving 55% over the price that they were paying out of the U.S. It’s a matter of baby steps and helping people understand best practices. Sound Procurement skills will get you the right suppliers. You’re not compromising their values, standards, or technical requirements. Teach me your industry and I’ll apply that knowledge. It’s all about building a cross functional team. It’s never about me finding a new supplier. It’s about us finding a new supplier.”

Thanks to David Astles for providing his comments and expertise!

As specialty recruiters in the Supply Chain space, Argentus is always paying close attention to hiring trends in the field. We’re in an ongoing dialogue with our network about what they’re seeing, both when looking for work and when hiring Supply Chain professionals. And we’re committed to sharing that market intelligence with you, our blog readership. It’s a virtuous cycle. So we’re curious: what do you think of this issue? What are the most solid “Core” Supply Chain skills that apply across industries? And what do you think of the idea of hiring talent and training industry experience? Let us know in the comments! favicon

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1 Comment

  1. Manuel Oyarce

    This is an awesome point of view and I agree 100 % with David. The challenge is to convince HR departments and/or hiring managers to have an open mind when it comes to hire a professional for Supply Chain.

    Reply

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