The Pipeline

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supply chain talent

I’m sure this question crossed your mind at some point, but I’m also sure you haven’t really dwelled on it: where would the next generation of supply chain talent come from?

I suppose it’s because the answers are pretty clear enough, at least at the moment. While there still aren’t many programs, especially at the tertiary level, dedicated to supply chain management, we’re seeing graduates from different disciplines – mostly from industrial engineering, but others coming from finance and other business courses – enter the supply chain sector. IE graduates are well-versed in process management, so putting them in charge of managing warehouses or transport routes. Others may be better at number-crunching, and so are placed in functions like demand planning.

At the moment, what’s clear is that a lot of up-and-coming supply chain talent are learning the ins and outs of the profession on the job. I don’t necessarily believe this to be a shortcoming. There is space, of course, for dedicated supply chain management courses – consider the intricate differences in perspective a supply chain manager has as opposed to, say, a marketing manager or a sales manager – but, at least in the Philippines, the complexities of the profession means there is more space for one to learn more. Theories and principles hold steady for the most part, but the continuing evolution of the supply chain landscape – the geopolitical picture, the advent of new technology, the changes in customer preference – means the applications tend to evolve along with it, too.

The immensity of the supply chain profession also means that, in one way or another, anyone who works in the organization has a stake in it. You may be working a pure sales or marketing function, or you may be working in operations or production, but you are still a key player in the business’ entire supply chain. Not everybody, however, gets the opportunity – or has the initiative – to move laterally, to see a different side of the supply chain, to add further to one’s understanding. But then, our mindset of moving up the ladder is difficult to go up against.

Luckily, the advent of continuing education programs covering either the entirety, or certain aspects of, supply chain management fills the gap. Both academic institutions and industry associations – or, in SCMAP’s case, both – have developed programs that address one point in the knowledge gap: the need for a holistic understanding of supply chain, to allow students to both improve their job performance and further their careers. The risk of relying on this alone, though, is shutting out those who work at the shop level – the warehouse workers and drivers who literally keep our supply chains going, and who are also as well-placed as those who start out in management training programs to understand the ins and outs of supply chain.

Another disruptor is technology. The outdated perception is that logistics is an “unsexy” profession, that it involves manual labor, tedious procedures and sweaty workplaces. Well, it isn’t entirely outdated, but technology is helping supply chain professionals across many disciplines with the nitty-gritty. No more inputting numbers manually; advanced analytics systems allow us to get the figures we need quickly, so we can jump straight to generating insights apt to our particular situation. Of course, smart warehousing technologies reduce inefficiencies and improve visibility across our operations, and also reduces the risk of injuries and other incidents in our warehouses.

The continuous march of technology could change things further for the supply chain professional. There’s still some skepticism about generative AI, but I still believe in its potential to make data relating to our operations easier for everyone to understand – the potential to democratize insight and empower more workers to make better decisions on the fly. Generally, the belief is that less time spent on menial, administrative tasks means more time spent on truly value-generating functions and exercises – a positive for our supply chains.

But, possibly, if we end up relying too much on technology – if we allow it to spoon-feed us every step of the way – then wouldn’t it have a long-term impact on that next generation of supply chain talent? Sure, we may have dedicated college degrees on supply chain management, or maybe existing business degrees would have been reoriented to embrace a more supply chain-centric approach. But even if that happens, supply chain talent is still developed on the job, through interactions happening within and outside the organization – with partners, customers, suppliers and fellow employees. If that interaction starts running dry because technology gets in the way, would we have a problem in our own talent pipeline? If we start to rely heavily on the insights generated by these technologies and fail to account for the nuances and intricacies of local markets and client needs, would we be able to develop what’s in the pipeline well enough to keep us going in the future?

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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