As the academic year begins to wind down, my attention shifts from class preparation to placement of students who will soon graduate. While I worry that they face an uphill battle, there are signs of life in the job market.
After major layoffs and hiring freezes over the past two years, companies are ramping up their recruiting activities, according to Don Firth, president of JobsInLogistics.com. In a recent Logistics Management article, he stated, “Many of our clients are expressing confidence in the economy and planning increased hiring for 2010.”
This brings up two important questions that I frequently ponder. First, what types of SCM roles are being recruited? Second, which candidates have the necessary skill sets? In an effort to answer these questions, I spoke with industry experts regarding SCM roles and candidate skills sets.
What? Identifying SCM Roles
One might expect that as supply chains grow and become more global, that SCM professionals need to be narrowly focused on individual functions. While it’s important to have knowledgeable people in transportation, inventory control, and warehousing roles, companies are looking for broader talent to oversee their supply chains.
Ideal managers are supply chain generalists who cover a broad spectrum of competencies, according to David Aquino, research director of supply chain process and technology service at AMR Research. He and fellow Supply Chain Talent: State of the Discipline co-author Lucie Draper indicate that generalists are better able to understand the interdependencies of supply chain functions. As company needs dictate, they can become SCM specialists.
Doug Grant, vice president and COO of The Oppenheimer Group agrees. He believes that supply chain positions are becoming less specialized. “We need jack–of–all–trades managers with knowledge of IT, process improvement, transportation, food safety, and a host of other areas,” states Grant. The idea is to create a broad vision around your company’s supply chain issues.
The primary exception to this generalist concept involves positions with technical requirements and steep learning curves. For these highly specialized positions (e.g., commodities buyer) that take a long time to learn, the appropriate move would be to hire more narrowly focused experts.
Who? Finding SCM Candidates
People ultimately determine the success of a supply chain. Choose the right supply chain professionals, and operations will run smoothly. Make poor choices, and chaos may ensue. Hence, it is critical to understand the key responsibilities of the position to be filled and find candidates who possess appropriate skills.
The industry experts prefer candidates with supply chain experience that is directly related to their respective industries. For example, agricultural companies seek SCM candidates who know how to properly handle food commodities from the point of harvest to packing and processing, and onward to the consumer. Similarly, retailers want to hire supply chain professionals who can balance in-stock availability with inventory cost control.
When these dual-knowledge candidates are not available, the experts are split on just who to hire. Some advocate supply chain experience, while others prefer industry knowledge.
Alan Siger, president and CEO of Consumers Produce Company, is a strong believer in supply chain expertise. “As a wholesale distributor with flexible customer delivery schedules, I’d rather hire someone who really understands logistics.” He adds that the industry-specific issues can be learned quickly.
David Case, partner, supply chain and strategic sourcing search for Briarlake Partners, is an advocate of industry knowledge. “If you understand the strategic nature of the business, you can learn supply chain management. A lot of it is common sense, and a strong individual can quickly figure it out.”
Transferable Skills Needed
Whether well versed in SCM or a specific industry, candidates must possess relevant capabilities. The experts cite the following attributes of top-notch candidates:
- Analytical skills—Case notes that SCM is becoming more strategic and analytical. Companies want supply chain professionals who understand the big picture and can analyze relevant data. Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Inc., cites the ability to understand retail and consumer trends, demand information, utilization rates, and service levels as keys to success.
- Boundary spanning expertise—Grant expects members of his SCM department to successfully reach across the supply chain to suppliers and customers in order to improve efficiencies both internally and externally. The AMR Research study agrees, stating that companies want candidates who are “able to connect the dots” of the supply chain.
- Practical problem solving—Tom Nunes, Jr., of Foxy Produce hires supply chain managers who will roll up their sleeves and spend time in the trenches. He stresses that a working knowledge of all processes is needed to address supply chain challenges. Leonard Batti, senior partner with The MIXTEC Group concurs: “The most successful supply chain professionals are problem solvers. They see problems as opportunities.”
- Regulatory understanding—While they don’t have to be legal experts, supply chain managers need a working knowledge of compliance issues within their industry. Without this awareness, it’s difficult to comply with regulation at an efficient, economical, and practical level.
- Positive disposition—Given the challenges of SCM, it’s important to hire SCM managers who thrive under pressure and are comfortable with frequent change. Batti wants positive people who don’t get flustered easily, are well organized, and add systematic disciplines to processes to reduce the level of chaos. Case’s clients seek out leaders who are energetic, get the most out of their teams, and prepare them for career progression.
While education is no substitute for supply chain experience, companies are increasingly seeking candidates with academic credentials. Pepperl’s organization typically hires college grads because they have a passion for SCM, have taken the time to achieve key credentials, and are skilled in adopting new ideas and strategies.
Aquino indicates that organizations respect and value degreed candidates because they arrive with an understanding of the vernacular and specialized skills. However, he warns that there are content inconsistencies between universities. To combat this concern, Case suggests that employers focus on candidates with supply chain, engineering, or business degrees from large, well-known universities.
SCM certification is another piece of the education puzzle, though it is used more for current employee training than to qualify candidates. Continuing education programs, online training like Supply Chain Academy, and test-based certification are valuable for people transitioning into SCM roles and for people who need to brush up on new technologies, strategies, and best practices. Each company interviewed for this article supports management development through seminar participation, conference attendance, and/or site visits.
As competition intensifies in an industry, SCM will become a more critical issue. Grant believes that companies able to leverage the work of supply chain professionals for greater value and competitive advantage will be the survivors. Hence, it is important to recruit and develop supply chain generalists with the needed skills and compatible personalities. In both times of prosperity and challenge, these individuals are the cornerstone of greater company efficiency and profitability.
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