CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 15, 2017
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Supply chain's continuing image problem

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A new DHL survey finds that changing job requirements and a lack of respect for the supply chain discipline are hampering companies' ability to recruit and retain supply chain talent.

If you've tried to hire a supply chain management professional in the past five to 10 years, then you're sure to be aware of the ongoing shortage of supply chain talent. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of logistics jobs will grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, most global studies have found that there will not be enough qualified talent to meet demand—even with the continued expansion of supply chain degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

According to "The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis," a new research brief from third-party logistics provider DHL, the leading cause of this shortage is not this rise in demand. Rather, writes report author Lisa Harrington of the lharrington group LLC, recruitment efforts are hampered by a continuing misperception about the supply chain function's strategic importance.

Historically supply chain management positions have been considered to be tactical—more involved in operational tasks, such as making sure products get from point A to point B or making sure suppliers get paid on time and in full. However, in the past 10 years or so, supply chain management jobs have become much more strategic in nature, requiring a different set of skills and competencies.

And this is making recruitment a challenge. DHL surveyed over 350 supply chain and operations professionals in the five major regions of the world as a basis for its research. Fifty-eight percent of the companies surveyed said that it is hard to find potential employees who possess the right combination of tactical/operational expertise and professional competencies such as leadership and analytical skills.

Although supply chain managers are aware that their jobs require taking on a more strategic role, that perception does not seem to be shared by job candidates or even internally at managers' own companies. According to the DHL report, almost 70 percent of surveyed companies said that their search for supply chain talent is hampered by a "perceived lack of opportunity for career growth" and the "perceived status of supply chain as a profession." This same misperception is also an internal problem, according to the survey. Only 25 percent of survey participants agreed that their own companies view supply chain as equally important as other disciplines.

Leading companies are tackling this problem head on by developing clear career paths, offering continuing education programs, working to change internal culture, and creating talent-development partnerships with outside providers. However, one-third of the companies surveyed have not taken any of these steps.

Until this image problem is solved, the report concludes, companies will continue struggling to fill the supply chain talent gap.

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