Accenture Academy Blog

Talent development is a hot topic in supply chain management. A few weeks ago, Gartner released its second report on the issue: Talent and High-Performing Supply Chains. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals has identified talent development as a high-priority research topic for 2011 and 2012 and will fund two to three university studies. And, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sounded a warning bell in late 2010 with a related white paper: Are You Prepared for the Supply Chain Talent Crisis?

Why is supply chain talent development such a captivating topic when the global economic recovery is in question and unemployment remains high? First, talent development is critical to continued success. Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the Wharton School of Business, says, “Failing to manage your company's talent needs is the equivalent of failing to manage your supply chain." He is concerned that companies are not developing the talent needed to stay competitive. Also, talent planning isn’t being done well, if at all. Cappelli suggests taking a supply chain approach to talent management where the focus is balancing supply and demand so that you don’t end up over- or understaffed in key areas.

Second, there aren’t enough skilled supply chain candidates to meet future demand, according to an article on the CNNMoney website. Part of the problem is the fact that supply chain management is perceived by many outsiders as a blue collar, non-sexy field that fails to attract candidates. The other challenge is the nature of the field with more complex global operations that must be coordinated. Combine the relatively small talent pool with a complex work environment, and a shortage quickly emerges.

Finally, the required skill set for a supply chain professional is expanding. The MIT study suggests that supply chain management has evolved into “a high-tech, high-stakes game that calls for a scarce combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills.” That is, the 21st century supply chain manager needs a stronger skill set that combines technical knowledge of supply chain processes with broad business skills, problem solving, diplomacy, and the ability to manage in ambiguous environments.

The 2011 Gartner study concurs with this assessment. It highlights the need for supply chain professionals to adapt their skills to the 21st century model of networked supply, unstructured information flows, and demand management. Industry leaders are leading the move toward a value chain model that requires supply chain professionals to adopt a wider span of control and manage functional interdependencies. Some of these emerging skill requirements are in short supply (highlighted in red in the diagram). Many, such as governance, technology enablement, and new product design, have not traditionally fallen under the responsibilities of supply chain managers. Instead, they were managed independently or by other functional areas.

Another important capability mentioned by the MIT study and many recruiters I encounter is the need for greater financial aptitude among supply chain professionals. A working knowledge of financial tools—budgeting, interpreting profit and loss statements, capital investment planning, and related capabilities—are essential to career growth.

How important is this? Recently, a senior vice president of logistics for the world’s largest retailer told me, “I spend a third of my time on financial issues and a third on people issues. The other third is spent on logistics matters.” The VP’s quote links directly back to the need for hard and soft skills that help supply chain professionals to adapt to the broader span of supply chain control and interdependencies identified by Gartner.

After reading these reports, I know that it is time to update our supply chain program at Auburn. We will quickly lose relevance and credibility with employers if we fail to close the gap between emerging industry requirements and our curriculum. We will have to figure out how to squeeze these additional topics into our classes.

How about you and your organization? Is it time for some skills development? You undoubtedly have more than enough work to fill your day, but it is always valuable to expand your professional skills and those of your employees. I’d be interested to know what you are doing to make yourself more promotable and build the bench strength of your supply chain team. Send me an email or provide a comment.

Remember, the supply chain never stops evolving, and your skills need to keep pace. The status quo is not an option. If you are not advancing your supply chain, finance, and people skills, then you’re falling further behind. Don’t get caught in the not-enough-time trap; make professional growth your priority for the second half of 2011 and beyond!


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