Building a Better Supply Chain Professional

What are the skill sets that will catapult your supply management group to its peak performance? Here is a guide to help unlock their potential


Additionally, procurement automation has freed up supply management groups to concentrate on more strategic requirements of the business. However, many enterprises have discovered that buyers often lack the domain expertise or skills to drive strategic activities. As a result, supply management executives are recruiting new talent to drive the mix of strategic activities. They are looking for those with graduate degrees in supply chain, logistics, procurement and finance. It's also quite common today to hear about manufacturing firms recruiting buyers with engineering degrees.

To accommodate the realignment of skills set requirements, corporations today partner with graduate programs to provide continuing education for current staff. Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business in the Department of Supply Chain Management annually hosts 20 to 25 managers from South Korea's LG Electronics for a month of advanced training in supply chain management. In fact, it's not difficult to find major corporations partnering with universities for specialized continuing education programs on behalf of their workforce to constantly close skills set gaps discovered by their training assessments.

Pharmaceutical firm Bristol-Myers Squibb's Global Sourcing and Supplier Management team uses several strategies, including partnering with universities for continuing education and special internship programs. Additionally, the team uses special assessment tests before hiring people, rotates current team members into the various areas within the department, conducts on-the-job training in addition to hosting a mentoring program, and has designed its performance review process to hunt for skill gaps that can then be fixed with continuing education options.

Maintain Those Skills That Withstand the Test of Time

While an ongoing assessment of skill sets influences and drives realignment, certain skill set requirements of the team will always be maintained. Some skills may simply increase in emphasis.

The Center for Strategic Supply Research (CAPS) in 2004 released its follow-up study on "Purchasing Education and Training II," authored by Larry Giunipero, Ph.D.; professor at Florida State University and Robert B. Handfield, Ph.D.; professor at North Carolina State University. The original 1993 study explored education and training requirements for supply management professionals. This follow- on study explored what has changed in the past 12 years.

In the area of skills sets, one of the study's key findings states "There are key skills needed for success in purchasing and supply management." The study then goes on to report what skills sets have stood the test of time and what skill sets have made the largest gains (See Table 1).

Most supply management executives SupplyStaff spoke with have some variation on the list of skills sets listed in Table 1. They all express the notion that while a shift in emphasis occurs as strategies are realigned, like ethics, they consider the cited list above as core to what they expect from their top supply management team members.

Identifying with interpersonal communication and influencing and persuasion, IBM's Cantwell explains that relationship management has been a long-standing skill set requirement for IBMers. "In a company that's 320,000 strong this is a very important skill set that can be used both internally with colleagues and externally with suppliers and clients."

A broader perspective of IBM's skill sets focus involves its Workforce Management Initiative (WMI), which is an effort to map IBM's hardware supply chain principles to the organization's growing service business. Thus, the supply chain team and IBM human resources have developed a new labor resource management system that enables IBM to efficiently match its labor resources to client needs and quickly deploy the exact expertise. The data can now be accessed by business units seeking a specific expertise for a particular assignment.

Build and Know Your Company's "Top 10"

That brings us to building and knowing your company's "Top 10." The executives SupplyStaff interviewed pointed out that the skill set mix required from a supply management team must be designed around the organization's short- and long-term strategic goals, and then drilled down to the specifics of the supply management department. In fact, for organization and ease of focus, some supply management groups will break out skills into three categories:

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