Executive Memo: Warning Signs

Confronting the skills gap for supply chain executives

[From Supply & Demand Chain Executive, June/July 2006] Late last year the National Association of Manufacturers, in conjunction with consulting firm Deloitte, issued its "2005 Skills Gap Report — A Survey of the American Manufacturing Workforce." Based on a survey of manufacturing executives, the report's authors pointed to a widespread "skills shortage" in the U.S. manufacturing sector that they believe threatens the nation's ability to compete in an increasingly fast-moving global economy. In the supply chain, the skills gap is apparent today with regard to radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, with the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) reporting earlier this year that RFID deployments are being hampered by a shortage of individuals proficient in the technology. In another functional area of the supply chain, Accenture reported recently on a "supplier relationship management skills gap," noting that its own survey of senior executives had revealed that "supplier relationship management requires supply chain skills that appear to be lacking inside and outside of the procurement department."

Our own surveying here at Supply & Demand Chain Executive confirms that the skills issue is top-of-mind with our executive readers. In our April reader survey, when we asked respondents to cite the most critical business issues facing their supply organizations today, a typical response was "lack of expertise in global supply chain management." Other readers commented on the challenges of "recruiting high-caliber people" and "attracting, developing and retaining talent." These comments reflect the dual nature of the skills issue. First, senior executives want to ensure that they themselves have the proficiencies required to steer their companies' supply chains through the choppy waters of the global economy. And second, these same executives need to understand which skills they must seek in the senior-level vice presidents and directors down to the mid-tier managers that help run their supply organizations.

In recognition of the growing importance of the skills issue, Supply & Demand Chain Executive will soon undertake a new Professional Development feature focusing on skill sets. We aim to arm you with the intelligence you need to assess your own proficiencies and those of your direct reports. And we'll provide you with information on opportunities for raising the level of your own supply chain skills and those of your organization. We'll kick off this regular feature in our next issue with a look at professional certifications for supply chain executives. In coming issues, we'll look at university-level programs for supply management, as well as continuing education opportunities.

Another common thread that emerged from our reader survey was an increased focus on the challenges and benefits of running global supply chains. Interestingly, given all the hype around low-cost country sourcing, respondents said they were looking for information not only on how to run supply operations between, say, Asia and North America, but also how to set up and manage supply operations in different regions of the world. For this reason, Supply & Demand Chain Executive plans to debut a Global Focus column that will look at the practical aspects of establishing and operating supply chain with, and within, specific countries or regions of the world, with an initial focus on China in our next issue.

Finally, readers told us that return on investment and best practices continue to be critical when they are investing in new technologies and processes to improve their supply chains. Supply & Demand Chain Executive has always highlighted these aspects of supply chain enablement. But beginning with our August/September issue we will be stepping up our coverage of ROI and best practices to ensure that our readers have a realistic understanding of the potential benefits of supply chain investments and the change management necessary to reap those benefits.

Supply & Demand Chain Executive continues to evolve our editorial coverage in response to the changing needs of our readership, and we welcome your feedback to help us better serve your interests. As we implement new features in our forthcoming issues to provide the information that you have said you need most to ensure your success and the success of your supply organizations, please feel free to send your thoughts to me at [email protected]. I'll look forward to hearing from you.