Are Women and Millennials the Answer to the Supply Chain Industry’s Recruitment Woes?

With the imperative to manage the often-complex series of activities from sourcing to production planning to delivery and service, supply chain organizations can struggle with complicated labor demands. For a company to thrive amidst the abrupt changes in supply chain activities, tools and goals require a staff with high levels of skill and competency–which is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

“Supply chain management is getting exponentially more complex,” says Linda Topping, vice president and chief procurement officer with Colgate-Palmolive Co., “so supply chain talent is the price of admission for the next decade.”

In the recently published Deloitte 2015 Supply Chain Survey, researchers attempted to pinpoint the areas where the lack of talent was being felt most acutely. They found that talent shortages were making an impact on both managerial and workforce–impact that could be mitigated by pursuing untapped younger and female candidates.

Younger Candidates to Reinvigorate an Aging Workforce

Supply chains face a problem found across all levels of the industry of an aging work force rapidly approaching retirement–with not enough qualified candidates to replace them. This has made supply chain organizations eager to pursue younger candidates who can be educated and developed into tomorrow’s distribution professionals.

With unemployment among young people between 18 to 24 exceeding 20 percent in the U.S., there is no shortage of candidates. A recent report by the Brookings Institute identifies distribution and transportation as two of the most promising fields for employment of younger entrants.

Still, supply chains are often reluctant to hire millennial candidates due to the perceived lack of relevant skills, education, and maturity found in young workers. Few supply chain organizations seem willing to consider candidates without extensive higher education–a barrier to entry for many young, unemployed people.

This however may be ruling out candidates that could grow into their qualifications. Supply chain organizations should be encouraged to put more emphasis on aptitude tests or a Predictive Index assessments instead of simply looking for a bachelor’s degree. The Brookings report also entreats supply chains to form stronger relationships with community colleges and technical schools to both as a both as a “pipeline for talent as well as a way to improve the skills of current employees.”

Creating Gender-neutral Supply Chains

Women represent a largely untapped supply of talent for supply chain organizations–and an often under-promoted one. While women account for 37 percent of students enrolled in university supply chain courses, only 5% of top-level supply chain positions at Fortune 500 companies are filled by women, according to SCM World, a research firm that studies corporate supply chains.

“There are two major challenges that women continue to face in supply chain management,” says Joyce Lewis, President of the Los Angeles branch of APICS. “External factors created by the industry and internal barriers created by women themselves.”

Both factors seem to be tied to a perceived lack of self-confidence found in female talent, which is often mistaken for lack of competence by management.

“Women continue to lack awareness of their natural leadership abilities, such as empathy, agility, adaptability and commitment and how best to use those skills to succeed in supply chain leadership roles,” adds Lewis. “Stereotypes within the SCM field must be broken, especially in the area of emotional intelligence or the acceptable behaviors for men versus women in the corporate environment.”

From “Passive” to “Active Consumers” of Personnel

More than anything, the writing on the wall is that supply chains need to change their approach to recruitment. SCM should be actively seeking out qualified candidates in new, unexpected areas and pursing talent that might not otherwise come to the fore.

“Non-traditional recruiting” as pioneered by Cisco over a decade ago, involves the targeting of “passive job seekers”–people happy with where they were but who are open to considering a more attractive position. This approach could lead to the better integration of as-yet-untapped talent pools that may not have considered a future in supply chains–including younger people and women.

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