Collaboration Is the New Labor Movement

What it takes to fill the supply chain talent gap, pass on tribal knowledge and engage your workforce

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 fill 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 education organizations to encourage more students to consider the supply chain industry, offer more on-the-job and web-based training, and establish mentoring relationships within the workforce.

Investing in the Future—Training

There is no one supply chain skill set. While veteran supply chain professionals were expected to perform one specialty role for the supply chain when they started, comptemporary professionals vying for a career 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.

Many believe that tribal knowledge—the knowhow 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.” Jake Barr, principal and CEO of BlueWorld Supply Chain Consulting, told participants at the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit 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 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. 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.  

Do not hesitate to cross-train hungry learners—once a new skill is mastered, allow the employee it to practice it, 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.

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.

The Present, Past and Future—Attracting, Retaining and Developing

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employee turnover costs organizations a significant amount of money when weighing both the direct and indirect costs. 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 even lead to better productivity.

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.

The most important element of retention is communication. Cultivating an open-door/meeting policy is good practice, too, in theory and practice. Besides showing your employees they are valued within the organization, communication improves employee retention, which cuts down on employee turnover rates, which can become costly.

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.

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.