Can Technology in Supply Chain Create More Jobs in Supply Chain?

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I recently received a comment on a blog post I did back in May, where I discussed how technology has changed Supply chain as part of the SCM30 celebrations.

The comment was more of a question; “Can technology assist in creation of employment in supply chain?”  I was going to post a response (and still will) but thought that this question warranted a full blog post on its own. So my answer to the question is “no”. “Well, that’s simple” you say. “You didn’t need a whole blog post for that”. Ok, yes. There is more to it than that, much more. No, I don’t think technology will directly create jobs in supply chain.  In many cases, technology attempts to reduce labor within the supply chain. Whether it is robots, automated assembly lines or supply chain software, one of the goals of technology is to reduce the labor input into the value stream.  That being said, there is an indirect impact of technology on supply chain, in that technology helps us to be more competitive. Compare the printed circuit board assembly techniques from 20 years ago to the automated processes used today. Machines can stuff components onto a board at a blindingly fast pace, far outperforming what could be done manually, with far better quality.  The same can be said comparing automated painting systems, automated storage and retrieval; the list goes on. On the supply chain side, advanced supply chain planning tools have significantly improved our ability to plan and more importantly respond to the rapid changes we see in supply chain today.

  • Integration capabilities allow you to see data from across multiple systems so that there are no data walls – even if one location is using SAP, another is using Oracle, and a third location uses JDA.
  • Alerting technology informs you that change has happened – and in more advanced systems, lets you know what the impact of that change is.
  • Scenarios allow you to try different resolution options then compare them to see which option provides the best alternative.
  • In-memory analytics and data models allow you to run these comparisons in seconds rather than hours (or days).
  • Advanced reporting tools mean that you can visualize all of this information quickly and easily in aggregate or in detail.

Believe it or not, many companies are still trying to respond to urgent supply chain problems with big ERP suites that are based on technology from the 70s and 80s (Urgent problem? Need to know all locations that use this component? Sure, I can run that report – check back next week!) Both of these factors show that technology can make your supply chain much more competitive. But how does that tie to jobs in the supply chain?  First, the fact is that supply chain jobs didn’t just disappear.  There are still lots of jobs in supply chain. But where are those jobs?  Right now, they are in Asia, Eastern Europe, India, etc. Why? These places have been more cost competitive than North America and so there went the jobs.   It stands to reason that, within limits, if North America can again be competitive on the manufacturing front, some of the jobs will come back. Of course, the evolving manufacturing and planning technology means that the types of jobs available will change. There will be less of the basic manual or clerical type jobs; assemblers, inventory control, shop floor control type jobs will likely be replaced my automated systems.  However, the more interesting, value-add jobs in advanced planning and those associated with deploying, managing and maintaining these systems will grow. (See Trevor’s recent post where he talks about the future requirements for supply chain talent.) To wrap, let’s bring it back “Can technology assist in creation of employment in supply chain?” Not directly, however eventually I see more but different jobs coming to supply chain as a result of changing supply chain technologies. The question is will we have the talent to fill the new types of jobs in supply chain? I’m hopeful, but only time will tell. What do you think the future of supply chain employment?  Comment back and let us know!

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TK Cambridge
- August 25, 2013 at 1:44am
Hey John great article. I was actually having this conversation a few days ago. So just to make sure I undersatand this in basic terms. Your thoughts are that the "grunt labor" is what will be replaced by technology, but as a direct result there will be more jubs created for process managers and supervisors? If this is true, then do you believe that with the new innovations in supply chain systems that much of the outsourced oversees work will come back to be managed at home?

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