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Workforce Development in Logistics: Closing the Skills Gap

By Abe Eshkenazi, CEO, APICS

Abe Eshkenazi, CEO, APICS

Supply chain management is a very exciting field and opportunities are abundant in the long term for those who want a career in the sector

To succeed in today’s supply chain and logistics career paths, those in the field need to be able to adapt to the changing environment. They need to be active problem-solvers who can tackle the minuscule details of their organization’s operations while taking the global supply chain picture into account. While trends such as globalization and technology have transformed the skill set required for successful supply chain professionals, the industry boasts one of the most rewarding and exciting careers for accomplished, college-educated, young professionals, particularly in logistics, transportation and distribution.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation and logistics is the second largest employment sector in the United States with more than 6 million people. While growth is beneficial for the industry, and creates opportunities for individuals, it also can create obstacles for employers. In the case of supply chain and logistics, it has resulted in a major talent gap. A recent survey shows that 67 percent of manufacturers report a severe shortage of qualified workers. Furthermore, 56 percent of respondents expected that shortage to become worse. It was also projected that 5 percent of manufacturing jobs—600,000 positions across the U.S.—go unfilled for lack of skilled workers. Despite the auspicious career trajectory and financial benefits, accomplished professionals often overlook opportunities within supply chain. What they fail to realize is that those who enter the industry have immense opportunities for advancement, personal growth, and more often than not, long-term success. How can the industry attract and retain the top talent? Organizations need to ask themselves how to turn promising employees into successful leaders so that they stay engaged throughout their careers.

Here are suggestions for organizations seeking to attract the right people, and then retain and grow them into the leaders of their supply chain organizations of the future:

1. Recruiting, recruiting and more recruiting.

Hiring managers should always be on the lookout for new recruits. In many organizations, recruiting and networking to prospective employees is not a priority until there is an immediate need. If companies search for potential employees continuously and always keep it top-of-mind, it will be easier to tap into a pool of talent when a need does arise. Tip: to attract the younger millennials, make it easy for entry-level candidates to find your organization online and engage with recruits by starting a dialogue via social channels.

2. Encourage diversity.

The industry must focus on recruiting from the entirety of the supply chain talent pool, rather than a subset of it. More women and minorities are entering the supply chain and operations management workforce. Diversity brings people of differing points of view and experiences together and facilitates the expansion of the organization’s knowledge base. Tip: Take the time to review the organization’s recruitment and retention strategies. By doing so, companies can improve on the existing (or non-existing) approaches to diversity. Over time, the industry will be able to engage with the right talent and illustrate the career potential of supply chain positions.

3. Target the millennial generation.

Millennials are image conscious and socially networked, which may create widespread opportunities for organizations. They are continuously curating their personal brand, sharing their thoughts, influenced by and influencing others, with the expectation they will be heard and receive a rapid response. Taking steps today to attract and retain millennials will result in a skilled, stable, and motivated staff and improved supply chain operations.

4. Don’t forget women.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and as noted in the recent Women in Manufacturing Study commissioned by The Manufacturing Institute, APICS, and Deloitte, women account for 47 percent of the total workforce and make up a mere 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce. Management must consider the policies that appeal to women—a flexible work environment, leadership opportunities, equal pay, and a company culture that understands the need for a heterogeneous pool of talent—to get them in the door.

5. Emphasize the career path.

Candidates are more likely to be engaged if opportunities for career advancement are on the table and they can envision their career trajectory. Management should iterate to employees that opportunities for career advancement in transportation and logistics are vast and provide an atmosphere for ongoing and consistent learning.

6. Mentors instead of managers.

Mentorship programs create a platform for collaboration and understanding between employees at different levels and career stages.Whether through an official program or informal support, mentorship is the key to retaining talent and encouraging individual and professional growth.

7. Provide ongoing training and learning.

Ambitious employees have a strong desire to differentiate themselves through education and professional development as a way to hit the next career level, earn more, and support the lifestyle they want. By encouraging employees to develop professionally and making it easy to do so builds employee loyalty, while strengthening your workforce. Many associations offer professional certifications, topic-specific training and webinars.

8. Align as an industry.

More students should be exposed to the supply chain profession in high school and college. Many college educated students and even young professionals are unaware of the positive aspects of a career in supply chain. Organizations should make a coordinated effort to promote the profession as a whole. A good way for businesses to get involved and collaborate is by aligning with a professional association.

Supply chain management is a very exciting field and opportunities are abundant in the long term for those who want a career in the sector – your prospective employees just don’t know it yet. To ensure the profession continues to progress, the talent gap needs to shrink and companies need to be more proactive about communicating the benefits of supply chain careers.