CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 23, 2018
Forward Thinking

Help wanted: Supply chains desperately need employees with sophisticated technology skills

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As companies look to emerging technologies to improve supply chain operations, they struggle to find employees with the skills to manage and maintain them.

A blizzard of emerging technologies—from robotics and 3-D printing to predictive analytics and network optimization tools—has the potential to transform how supply chains operate, according to an annual industry report from the industry association MHI and the consulting firm Deloitte. That progress, however, is being inhibited by an acute shortage of people who are capable of managing and maintaining these sophisticated technologies.

The report, Supply chain innovation—Making the impossible possible, identifies eight technologies that could enable supply chains to keep up with rising customer expectations: inventory and network optimization tools; sensors and automatic identification; cloud computing and storage; robotics and automation; predictive analytics; wearable and mobile technology; 3-D printing; and driverless vehicles and drones. These technologies have the potential to yield enormous productivity and service improvements. However, their sophistication demands a level of skill and knowledge that the current workforce, on balance, appears to lack, according to the report, which is based on a survey of more than 400 supply chain executives. According to the survey, 31 percent of respondents said the absence of adequate talent to work with new technologies was "a significant barrier to their implementation."

In the initial report, issued in 2014, MHI and Deloitte estimated that 1.4 million jobs would be created in the logistics and supply chain management industries in the United States by 2018. However, the report cited 2012 data from the World Economic Forum that 600,000 manufacturing positions in the U.S. are unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers.

The supply-demand mismatch will take on increasing importance, in part because companies are expected to rapidly accept new technologies. For example, the report found that 24 percent of companies surveyed are currently using predictive analytics. That number, however, is expected to rise to 70 percent in three to five years, and to 77 percent after six years. Adoption levels for mobile and wearable technology—including smartphones, wireless devices, and "smart glasses," are projected to reach 64 percent in three to five years, up from 23 percent today.

The report can be downloaded here.

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