Efficient supply chains don’t run themselves. They require expert, committed human assistance. But people with the right training and experience are in short supply. That makes the question of where to hire supply chain talent a pressing for many businesses.
Students in the supply chain management program at Michigan State University get an average of four job offers before graduation, according to Kelly Lynch, who serves as liaison between students and employers in the nation’s top-rated supply chain management department.
“We basically have a 100 percent placement rate of our students,” Lynch says. “Ninety-six percent will have a job before they graduate. And by six months later we’ll be at 100 percent.”
“There are more jobs than there are people to fill them,” Apple says.
Several factors may account for the shortage. The globalization of business has resulted in many companies sourcing from all over the world. Careers in technology companies are seen as better by many people starting out. And baby boomers who hold senior positions are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce in large numbers.
Whatever the cause, business owners risk significant trouble if they can’t find people competent to manage their far-flung supply chains.
“The big thing is not being able to efficiently support your customers,” Apple says. “Carrying the right amount of inventory is the holy grail. Not just getting the product to the customer on time, when and where they want it, but having the right amount, without any excess or stock outs.”
Building a Supply Chain Talent Hiring Strategy
Employers can use the same resources to fulfill their need for supply chain managers that they’d use to fill any management positions. Those include posting "help wanted" ads, paying headhunters, scouring university programs and developing internal talent.
To be able to maintain a competitive advantage and be a disrupter in your industry, you have to have the right people.
—Rodney Apple, managing partner, SCM Talent
All can work, Apple says, but it’s unwise to overly rely on one.
“You can’t just have one tactic,” he says. “You need an omni-channel recruiting strategy. You’re leveraging as many channels as you can.”
Lynch adds that, based on what he sees working with employers, each company may find success with a different approach or combination of approaches.
“There’s no right or wrong way to connect with students,” he says. “It’s whatever works for an employer.”
Techniques for Finding Supply Chain Talent
Posting openings to job sites, college bulletin boards and the like is an obvious move for employers. And while this can work, Lynch says it's best to consider it as part of a set of searching techniques.
“If they really want to attract good talent and always be in the game, they need to move to a model of continuous engagement—not just attending a career fair, but active engagement with students and faculty over the course of the academic year,” he says.
Successful employers tend to interface more closely with educational institutions, attending campus job fairs, discussing their needs with liaison officers and directly courting faculty.
“Get to know the professors who are working on placing their students,” says Rick Blasgen, president and CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals based in Lombard, Illinois. “Get well ahead of the game.”
Smaller companies can compete effectively with big-name employers by stressing advancement opportunities and the chance to work directly with senior executives including the CEO, Lynch says. Many students find smaller organizations attractive, he says.
“They’d have to be competitive in terms of salary and benefits, but being competitive doesn’t mean you have to beat the competition,” he adds.
Internships offer another hiring opportunity. Lynch says MSU students are eager to work as paid interns and nearly all have one or more internships while in school. Blasgen says internships are an effective way to get to know candidates before hiring them permanently.
“If they like you and you like them, make them a job offer,” he says.
Recruiters provide another piece of the supply chain hiring strategy. Apple says nearly all of the people at his firm come from other employers.
“We have a list of target companies,” he says. “Once we have the search profile nailed down and the idea of the sourcing strategy, we execute across those channels.”
Rather than paying recruiters, employers who have the time can potentially scan LinkedIn profiles to identify and recruit candidates on their own. Membership directories of professional associations like the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals provide a similar resource.
Professional associations can also help employers fill jobs with workers who lack college degrees in supply chain. Blasgen’s organization offers several different SCPro Certification programs that employers can use both to develop internal talent and to identify external candidates with suitable skills and experience but no relevant university diploma.
Of course, the fact that recruiters and employers are hiring from other companies means employers need to be aware that their own supply chain professionals may be on someone else’s radar. That makes retention another important part of the supply chain talent puzzle.
Projections in 2019 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics say all logistical and supply chain manager positions will grow about as fast as most occupations through 2028. But Apple says that finding employees with the specific skills to solve individual employers’ unique problems will continue to be a pressing concern and one worthy of a sophisticated and energetic effort.
“To be able to maintain a competitive advantage and be a disrupter in your industry, you have to have the right people,” Apple says. “That’s where putting a holistic strategy with the right people, processes and systems in place is critical for success.”
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