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How to recruit, train, and retain talent for Supply Chain 4.0

Simon Hinds

Based in Melbourne, Simon has more than 15 years’ experience in leading and deploying transformational change programs worldwide, with a focus on supply chains.

The integration of digital technologies into the supply-chain function has made it more critical than ever to recruit, train, and retain the best supply-chain talent. The challenge becomes even greater as more and more tasks are automated, requiring a shift not only in skillsets but also mind-sets. In a fast-moving and competitive talent marketplace, how can supply-chain organizations best position themselves for this next stage?

Companies are still struggling to solve this issue. With a few notable exceptions among the most visible technology leaders, supply-chain companies may not appear to be the most exciting career options at first glance. But as the adoption of digital technologies passes the tipping point to become widespread, these roles will offer opportunities for candidates to develop and hone their digital skills in a function that touches every area of an organization, from planning to distribution.

We therefore believe that an organization’s employee value proposition provides a useful starting point. By considering—and increasing if necessary—the weight placed on the supply-chain function as a critical enabler of an organization’s success, there is an opportunity to reposition the supply chain as an attractive career option for digital professionals.

Developing a talent pipeline to sustain the transformation into Supply Chain 4.0 requires the recruitment of early-career people with the right capabilities (exhibit). To ensure access to graduates with the digital and business-planning skills needed to thrive in supply-chain roles, organizations can partner with education institutions in designing tailored curricula. For example, successful graduates of a supply-chain program developed by a group of pharmaceutical companies in the same business park and a nearby technical college get preferential placement opportunities at the companies. And as these individuals progress throughout their tenure, they should be encouraged to continue their development through an independent professional body, several of which provide qualifications in a range of supply-chain disciplines.

Analytics practitioners need more than just technical capabilities.
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As well as creating a set of graduates with the skills needed to thrive in the supply-chain function, organizations should seek to capitalize on the digital talent pool already available, such as the Asia-Pacific bank that moved IT staff into new digitization roles. Their expert input can create advanced-analytics tools, apply design thinking to challenges within the discipline, create apps to be used across an organization, and design and develop algorithms that combine to create a faster, more flexible, more granular, and more efficient business function. These digital experts, and the tools and skills that they bring, help break through silos in an organization’s supply-chain, creating a connected ecosystem that allows organizations to react quickly, improving both performance and customer satisfaction.

Beyond these roles is the need to recruit—or reskill—from within an organization “digital translators,” who will monitor and interpret the masses of data produced by these digital inputs, and champion the translation of analytics insights into business actions to sustain the impact of a solution. Recruiting to this type of role from within an organization, as a large telco did for its retail operation, offers the opportunity to fill these specialist positions with people who already know and understand a business, making their translation skills more valuable than those of a pure digital expert. Conversely, making an external hire can bring in a more objective viewpoint to the table when decisions on how and where new technologies should be applied, are being taken.

Other challenges in retaining supply-chain talent echo broader employment trends in a wide range of industries and disciplines, particularly amongst professionals with a digital skill base.  These specialized employees know their value and have high expectations that their career and workplace will offer the right conditions and opportunities for progression, including roles that allow for extensive pilot programs to test and learn from new technologies. Freelance, contract, and remote working prevail in many areas, and organizations must decide which professionals should be brought into an organization and which roles can be outsourced to experts.

A role within a contemporary organization’s supply-chain function is more than the logistics and warehousing management of old. In the latest iteration of Supply Chain 4.0, it offers professionals the opportunity to work with the very latest DnA technologies, in a function that is a key strategic pillar supporting an organization’s growth, touching every area from R&D and planning, through to distribution. An investment in your current talent—and careful development of the pipeline of future talent with the skills needed in Supply Chain 4.0—will create a function within your organization ready to meet rapidly evolving consumer demands.

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