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Hire Right! Transforming Recruitment for Supply Chain

Hire Right! Transforming Recruitment for Supply Chain


by Ben Chew, Business Director, TBC HR Consulting (S) Pte Ltd

Finding the right talent for the right job role has been a challenge for almost every industry and recruitment for the supply chain realm of operations stands no exception. The talent pipeline for the supply chain and logistic industry in Asia is undergoing a major trend shift with globalisation of resources and expanse of technology reach has, however, still not been able to bridge the talent-skills mismatch gap. Hiring managers today are on lookout for talent with a right mix of hard skills and soft skills on job, technology savvy and ability to analyse large amount of data to meet demand considerations of markets across the globe.

Supply chain talent is arguably the most difficult and unique of all the business requirements. The skills required to be successful in a supply chain organisation are diverse, complex, and broad.

The shortages are across the board in every supply chain skillset and include extreme shortages in drivers, technicians, mechanics, and first/mid-level managers. At a recent conference for supply chain executives in Phoenix, Mr John Kern, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Operations, Cisco Systems told Wall Street Journal, “The supply chain industry is undergoing one of the most massive talent shifts we have ever seen. Companies that do not invest in hiring or cultivating talent now will get caught flatfooted two to three years down the road.”

Substantiating the claims of talent crisis in Supply Chain, a recent survey by Deloitte Consulting LLP found that 71 per cent of the surveyed respondents have difficulty recruiting senior leadership for their companies’ supply chains; 74 per cent said they would need strategic thinking and problem-solving skills in their supply chain managers, but less than half said their companies are good at it now. According to a study by the logistics trade group MHI, 1.4 million jobs need to be filled in supply chain between 2014 and 2018.

This roughly approximates to 270,000 jobs per year. However, talent shortage is one of the critical barriers preventing innovation in the supply chain, Industry Week observed. This shortage of talent in Supply Chain Management is owing to the common misunderstandings and misconceptions about the profession strongly held in minds of the fresh graduates.

Most students or new recruits in the supply chain industry fail to understand the importance of relationships between the customers and suppliers to be successful in this space. Today’s professionals aspiring for a career in supply chain should possess procurement expertise, an understanding of how technology works to manage SCM operations, adaptability to work in a global environment, know-how of international trade trends, agreements and industry growth trends, along with good customer relationship management skills.

Building supply chain talent pool

According to a report released by the Supply Chain Management Faculty at the University of Tennessee, it emphasises on the aspects of developing a talent strategy to meet the global talent crunch. “The goal of a successful talent strategy should be to harness the collective human resources of a company towards an integrated effort to deliver on organisational goals.”

A report by McKinsey clearly states, “Collaboration and a sense of entrepreneurial pace characterise these regional teams in Asia Pacific. Top executives and specialists hop around markets, encouraging product designers in China, for example, to learn from innovations in Japan or a supply chain leader in India or to investigate techniques that simplified operations and lowered costs in Malaysia. According to many executives, getting managers throughout the region to speak a common language is essential for spreading such best practices.”

Talent should be the foundation upon which a business strategy is built and completely integrated with it. How can a supply chain team operate in global markets if they have inadequate experience?

“Unfortunately, there is a disconnect that prevents the collaboration of supply chain and HR managers from growing much stronger. Roughly half of them rate the performance of the HR function as excellent or very good in working with the supply chain organisation to meet its talent needs. It is very difficult for supply chain leaders to get more mindshare from HR without a greater sense of urgency that a problem exists. Certainly, talent practices can be improved with a greater sense of joint ownership and greater agility on HR’s part to keep pace with the supply chain’s changing needs.”

Key strategies to hire right in supply chain

How do you attract and retain supply chain talent within organisations is one of the main issues countered by HR professionals in the logistics and procurement industry. Some of the key strategies to recruiting right, and looking for talent at the right places could include harnessing potentials of the vast reach of social media and mobile-friendly technologies to target fresh graduates with lucrative offers.

Start by clearly defining who you are and maximising on the potentials of what you have: It is important for companies on a recruitment spree to be primarily clear about their business mission, vision and objectives to achieve. The new recruit should be briefed with a clear understanding of the operations and workings. In light of the global talent crisis, it is important for organisations to step up to the change and groom future leaders internally through mentoring programmes.

Hiring managers should understand the talent implications of the evolving supply chain and ask the right questions to candidates about their experience in supply chain management functions. Thereafter, strategically align those experiences with the business imperatives, before making hiring decisions. Trade-offs should be clearly defined with insights before forming a recruitment strategy.

Create sustainable business models to leverage talent in the Asian context: This means leveraging talent locally to meet regional considerations, overcome language and cultural barriers to set clear priorities as well as mobilise resources to drive supply chain and cost-cutting initiatives.

“Supply Chain Leaders now recognise the imperative to fuel growth through innovation and are putting it at the top of their agenda. Innovation should not be confused with invention. A leader today, can be a follower tomorrow, without a disciplined strategy and approach to building sustainable innovation capabilities,” according to report by Deloitte.

Recruit talent that will be required to be successful in the future. Qualitative skills like problem solving, logical structuring, communication, and persuasion will be more critical for supply chain. Outline cross-functional career paths and create targeted job rotations to develop broad functional and business acumen.

The changing face of supply chain recruitment in Asia

The Asia Pacific edition of a global series of PwC thought leadership focused on key human capital trends indicates at the significantly changing workforce dynamics in the region. “Asia Pacific companies continue to recruit external talent aggressively. Hiring levels in the region are twice as high as the West. However, only half the recruitment activity is growth driven. The other half is to replace leavers in existing roles.”

The predominance of supply chains in the economies of many countries calls for a careful consideration of where we are headed as a global community. According to a report by the International Labour Organisation, “Global Supply Chains (GSCs) developed at a fast rate over the last two decades and the number of jobs associated with them grew rapidly from the late 1990s until the financial crisis, reaching almost 500 million by 2007. But after a sharp drop in 2009, GSC-related jobs have only recovered modestly and their share of total employment in emerging economies has continued to decline, according to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2015.”

Mr Raymond Torres, Director of the ILO Research Department and lead author of the report said, “We do not know if the decline in global supply chain jobs is a short-term phenomenon or the beginning of a longer term trend, due to shrinking differences in wages between countries and lesser potential for outsourcing and offshoring to create savings on production costs. Trade growth is expected to stagnate in coming years, so the number of GSC-related jobs is not likely to rebound quickly.”

To ensure efficacy of talent performance in Asia, leaders should train new recruits with practical workings of supply chain processes, which is way far different from the old school theoretical learning of the discipline.

Focus on retaining talent in supply chain by bringing in a sense of loyalty within employees as a part of the workplace culture and do not make the mistake of taking “mid-management” workings for granted. They play a critical role in ensuring smooth functioning of the supply chain processes, so help upgrade their skills through necessary training as required for the job role, and provide them with opportunities for career progression.

About the Author

Ben Chew is a serial entrepreneur with 15 years of experience in the HR/Recruitment space. He currently has several HR tech projects, including a successful boutique recruitment business – TBC HR Consulting which is based in Singapore. He is also the Managing Director of Strategia Ventures. Ben is also involved in many community initiatives in the local startup ecosystem, including Startup Jobs Asia.