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Collaboration Is the New Labor Movement

Despite unemployment numbers remaining relatively high, around 6.6 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (at the time of publication), executives still believe there is a major need to fulfill supply chain positions, which linger on the market longer than comparable jobs. What’s more, because supply chain management professionals are in such high demand, they have a unique opportunity to not only be discerning in their career path, but also can be more easily lured to another attractive organization.

However, this talent gap, in which a specified pool of potential employees doesn’t have the necessary skill set to satisfy the jobs that are open, can be filled by using several different methods simultaneously. The supply chain industry, as well as individual companies and business units, can partner with educational organizations to encourage more students to consider the supply chain industry, offer more on-the-job and web-based training to get employees to the skill levels they need, and establish mentoring relationships within the organization to maximize workforce knowledge.


Investing in the Future

Many believe that tribal knowledge—the know-how that becomes inherent in longstanding employees and is acquired after a period of job acclimation—is being lost due to the volume of industry veterans hitting retirement age. Others call this loss of knowledge “brain drain.”

Sources say that between 25 and 33 percent of the supply chain workforce is at or beyond retirement age. What is lost is not tribal knowledge, though, as the most experienced employees leave the field. It’s the opportunity to take advantage of two shifting workforces—a cross-generational workforce shared between the pending retirees and the new technology-driven flock of employees—that work better together than separate, with contrasting but complementary skill sets.

Think of your employees nearing retirement age as wells of knowledge and think of your younger workforce as the pool in which these wells collect, craving expertise. Simply pairing the two groups together helps to optimize both sets of their skills. In fact, the more diverse a workforce is, the wider its base of knowledge, which can be easily transferred if a culture of learning is fostered.

While there is no good substitute for real-world experience, mentoring is a viable way to not only bring new hires up to speed quickly, but also train current employees on new skills or tasks. In addition to mentoring, companies can also more formally train employees through on-location classes, simulations, on-the-job and/or virtual training, and more.

There is no longer one supply chain skill set to achieve—there are different aspects that fall across a continuum. While veteran supply chain professionals were most likely expected to perform a specialty role for the supply chain when they started their careers, comptemporary professionals vying for employment must have a cross-functional knowledge base from which to draw. It can span the spectrum from sourcing and procurement to finance to logistics to demand planning to order fulfillment and more.

Do not hesitate to cross-train hungry learners—once a new skill is mastered, allow the employee to not only practice it to stay sharp, but also add to his or her knowledge base when he or she is ready. Cross-functional training is an ideal method for supplementing talent in emergencies and preparing an employee for long-term advancement with an arsenal of wide-ranging skills.


Engage Employees to Retain Them

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employee turnover costs organizations a significant amount of effort and money when weighing both the direct and indirect losses. Still many companies focus a lot of attention on recruiting good employees, but lose focus after the hiring process.

It’s key that employees know they are a valued and integral part of a team; employee engagement can lead to better productivity and customer satisfaction, in addition to employee retention. Make sure to nurture an environment in which employees are encouraged to provide ideas and feedback, essentially allowing them to take an active role in the organization.

Another important element of retention is communication between employees and management. Cultivating an open-door/meeting policy is a good management practice. Besides showing your employees they are valued within the organization, communication improves employee morale and retention, which cuts down on turnover. If possible, when assessing employee performance, turn the practice on its head by also requesting that employees evaluate their managers’ performance as well.

All it takes to make a difference between a good employee and a bad one is friction with supervisors. One of the largest causes of friction are unclear expectations. To avoid this supervisory pitfall, be sure there is no question what your employees are expected to accomplish and in what timeframe, what the earning potential is in their current jobs, what prospective career advancement is possible and how they’re performing—if a skill needs development, let them know and help them adjust it. Additionally, make sure that each member of the workforce has the tools he or she needs to succeed.

Formally, organizations can also choose to implement more formal career development programs, some of which include training schedules or established career tracks. These career tracks can represent steps down an anticipated career path, learning the necessary skillsets along the way, that is mapped to align with employee goals within the organization. These programs not only give employees a future to build toward, but also show that the company is invested in them in return.

Most importantly, make the organization a place with which you would like to work. Make sure all employs know, understand and apply the mission statement. Keep them involved and engaged.


Where to Turn

Talent management falls under many guises; there is employee sourcing, recruitment, retention, development, succession planning, and assessment or performance management. But there are several types of talent management software to help you on your way, as well as external recruiting agencies, industry associations, employee marketplaces and higher education facilities with which to partner.