3 Supply Chain Career Requirements for Millennials

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These days it seems you can’t spend ten minutes surfing the internet without seeing an article about millennials. Heck, we’ve even written about the generation of people spanning those born in the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. At the same time, in supply chain forums, media, and blogs, talk of the talent shortage in the industry is inescapable. So, how do these two topics converge? In many ways, as quickly becomes apparent. The supply chain management workforce is comprised mostly of Baby Boomers at the moment—but they’re starting to retire. And, the numbers of professionals transitioning out of supply chain careers will rise significantly over the coming years. Compounding the looming departure of thousands of professionals from the industry is the fact that a shortage of supply chain talent already exists. A study conducted by Supply Chain Insights found that demand for supply chain talent outpaces supply—despite the rise of supply chain-focused university programs over the last two decades. That study noted 46% of respondents stated “Talent: knowledge and availability” was their most significant business pain. Given these dynamics, it’s obvious attracting and retaining supply chain talent is critical. Many articles have explored how to entice young people to study supply chain management at the university level. But here, I want to focus on how companies can attract millennials currently working in supply chain management—and keep them happy and productive on the job. As you read on, you’ll see a common theme emerge.

Millennials Want Technology-Empowered Processes

The digital revolution was the hand that rocked the millennial cradle. For this generation, life and technology are inseparable. Computers entered the picture for them by elementary school. They’ve interacted with cloud technology since their high school years. They are the generation behind the wheel of the consumerization of IT—the expectation that the technology we use in our work life should be just as powerful and usable as what we use in our personal lives. As a result, millennials’ tolerance for inadequate workplace technology is low—very low. Excel spreadsheets, both beloved and bemoaned by innumerable supply chain practitioners, may never completely disappear from our daily work lives. But they’re woefully insufficient when it comes to meeting the technology expectations of today’s young professionals. Technology represents a vital tool to enable workplace achievement for millennials. If a supply chain organization doesn’t have the right level of technology to support its daily work, they’re unlikely to attract and keep top millennial talent.

Millennials Expect Collaborative Work Environments

Technology has also served to make millennials the most “connected” generation. While the internet has given us all virtually unlimited access to information, networks and—ultimately—other people, millennials have lived in that environment for more than half of their lives. They also came of age in a time where collaboration was, arguably, favored over independent work. Sports teams and group school projects instilled a sense of cooperation in this generation like none that preceded it. They’ve not only come to expect collaborative environments, they rely on the power of group dynamics to make the most informed decisions. An Intelligence Group survey of millennials found that 88% prefer a collaborative work culture rather than a competitive one When you combine these two realities—ubiquitous virtual connections and pervasive teamwork—it becomes clear millennials are particularly geared toward the global work and intricate partnerships required for success in supply chain management. But if your supply chain organization doesn’t support a highly cooperative environment (supported by collaborative technologies), you’re liable to lose millennial workers to one that does.

Millennials Need Data-Driven Decision-Making

Collaboration isn’t the only factor driving workplace decision-making for millennials. Data—big data—looms large for today’s younger professionals. Millennials have been swimming in a sea of electronic information for most of their lives. They’ve come to expect that the answer to any question is just a few clicks away. There is no delayed gratification here—“real time” is all the time. How does this translate to working in supply chain management? Best guesses, ad hoc decision-making, and antiquated forecasting and planning methodologies represent a minefield of frustration for the millennial worker. They want access to data and analytics that provide actionable insights—quickly. If you can provide them with that, their confidence in analyzing and acting on data will translate into significant operational effectiveness for your supply chain.

Obviously, the common theme amongst all of these career requirements for millennials is technology. Do you think most supply chain positions today meet these criteria? Will the talent shortage in supply chain ultimately be solved by technology improvements? Share your opinions in the comments!


Guy Courtin
- October 09, 2015 at 8:10pm
Good post, absolutely relevant across more than simply supply chain. The one aspect I scratch my head about constantly relates to your first bullet - technology empowered processes. I am 100% in agreement that the beloved, or disdained, excel spreadsheet will not satisfy a leading edge technology hungry work force. But how do you propose we transition this out of spreadsheets? Lotus 123 has become so embedded in supply chain management (as well as other industries such as consultants and finance) that I do not see how we extract ourselves from this addiction. Even new players such as Google's and Apple's offerings in the productive app space have an offering that resembles excel!

Is it possible that spreadsheets continue to be the core technology that supply chain professionals have to accept, but the cool technologies will be those that are around the edges? Supporting and building on excel...but alas not replacing the legacy of Lotus.

Art Aramino
- October 14, 2015 at 10:34am
Interesting. but for me it begs the question how we stop creating young workers who rely so much on technology. "Cooperative environments" are just crutches that keep millennials from having to make a decision on their own, a skill they were never taught growing up. How does one become a leader when they have to remain a part of and please the crowd (like the Borg)? Rather than perpetuate this problem, we need to invert the perspective that we need to provide technology that does everything for them. Rather, they need to learn how to function without technology. We need to see that these millennials are not prepared for a life on their own and we need to go back to preschool if necessary to start raising children in a way that teaches them how to deal with and overcome obstacles and failures so that the next generation will have the necessary skills to be successful.

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