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Dr. David Closs Speaks at DHL Global Chemical Conference


The Importance of Developing the Supply Chain Talent Pipeline

Dr. David Closs, the John H. McConnell Chair Emeritus and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Supply Chain Management of Michigan State University, recently spoke on developing the supply chain talent pipeline at the 2019 DHL Global Chemical Conference. The conference, held at DHL’s new Global Innovation Center in Chicago, IL, encompassed a variety of supply chain issues relevant to the global chemical industry.  This two-day session covered important industry topics including Innovation, Environmental Health and Safety, Talent and Digital Transformation, among others.

The global talent shortage is impacting the chemical supply chain in very distinct ways. The most pressing issue facing organizations is the attraction of talent followed by the development of leaders and retention of top performers. In fact, Talent and Leadership is one of the six issues keeping executives up at night. Employers are looking externally for talent but are quickly realizing that there is not enough available talent in the marketplace.

Dr. Closs described how this challenge stems from the fact that supply chain management talent is now sought after in multiple industries. Supply chain managers have a valuable skillset that enables them to manage processes and resources, but the supply of talent does not match the groundswell in demand. Notably, some of the world’s largest and most visible companies including Amazon, Google and Microsoft actively recruit supply chain talent.  Recruiting against brand name companies like these is difficult in and of itself. Add the changing demographic profile of today’s workforce to the mix, and it is imperative that supply chain management executives develop new strategies to ensure that their firms can compete.

Regardless of industry, organizations have challenges in four areas related to Acquiring, Developing, Conserving, and Retaining supply chain employees, managers and future leaders.  Based on Michigan State University’s supply chain research, several lessons can be learned from industry leaders to enhance a firm’s talent and leadership development processes. Together, they provide a strong approach to modern talent issues.

First, firms must Attract interested candidates. Since today’s supply chain management talent pool has multiple job options, firms should seek out candidates who are likely to have an affinity for working and succeeding at their organization. Firms can accomplish this goal by creating talent pools and engaging internal resources to identify potential candidates.  Having interviews conducted by people across the organization, with each focusing on different competencies can help a firm identify the best possible employment matches.

Next, organizations should deliberately institute strategies to Develop a firm’s talent base. Deploying formal rotation programs is necessary to expose employees to numerous areas of the company. Working in different areas of the business and event different geographies allows employee to gain a more comprehensive employment experience. It also provides the employer with the opportunity to identify those employees who should be considered for future leadership opportunities.

Firms are also working to Conserve their supply chain management talent. Providing additional certification and education opportunities to high-potential employees helps prepare these employees to better perform their jobs. Furthermore, identifying mentors for these employees is necessary to ensure their ongoing development within the organization.

Each of the previous steps is required for the firm to Retain its talent. A critical element of employee retention is the realignment of career paths. In traditional supply chain management career paths for example, employees advance within silos of the organization (e.g., Procurement, Manufacturing, Fulfillment). Realigning career paths provides employees both breadth and depth of experience across the supply chain management discipline which fosters growth and development. Without these cross-discipline experiences, employees will likely seek employment elsewhere. Similarly, organizations must consider work-life balance and the need to explore flex-time, remote working and even job-sharing options.

Finally, Dr. Closs acknowledged that the talent shortage is indeed real. Importantly, he concluded by discussing the various strategies firms can pursue to better manage these issues. Thinking about these problems differently, and proactively managing limited supply chain resources can help firms make real gains in recruiting, developing and retaining their next generation of leaders within the organization.