The Future Supply Chain Workforce: Can Supply Chain Organizations Balance Their own Demand and Supply?

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The central theme of the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference last week was all about supply chain leading the next decade. I too believe this to be the case – both out of necessity and because of the progressive evolution of the function. But a function doesn’t lead, people do. So who are these people that will manage and contribute to supply chain management in the next decade? 

Well, going by the sessions at the Gartner conference, there will seemingly be a lot of roles that will be difficult to fill, and for those roles that are occupied, they will be increasingly held by women and many millennial. The face of supply chain is most certainly changing, and it’s happening at the same time as the profile and dependency on supply chain is intensifying. Ironically, for an industry that is all about balancing supply and demand, there doesn’t appear to be much balance when it comes to its own human resources going forward. It’s time for supply chain organizations to do a reality check and apply some basic planning and course correction initiatives within their own internal organizations. Consider these opposing trends that are driving significant resource gaps (thank you to keynote speaker, Linda Topping, Vice President, Chief Procurement Officer at Colgate Palmolive for some of the stats included below):

Increasing demand

# of supply chain jobs will rise 25% in next decade.

Shrinking workforce

25% of workforce will reach retirement by 2015.

How do you fill more jobs with less people?

Increasing capabilities required

Less than 20% of today’s workforce have the skillset required.

Depleting experience and lagging academia

As experienced workforce retires, key supply chain competencies will depart along with them. And while the number of supply chain university programs is increasing, the scope and depth of curriculum is lagging behind current needs.

As supply chains become more complex, the sophistication of the supply chain function is increasing and so too must the analytical capabilities of the people that run it. Where will that come from?

More millenials

Millennials will account for 36% of the workforce by 2015, and 75% of workforce by 2025.

Slow to change organizations

Millennials expect:

  • Personally fulfilling work
  • Sense of culture and community
  • Flexibility
  • Career movement
  • Flatter, less-hierarchical organizations
  • Social and collaborative environments
  • Highly technology-enabled work

Millennial's want more out of their work environments and because of the industry’s resource constraints they will have the power to demand it. Who will fight or face this fact?

Increasing capability needs

According to a session I attended on “Revelations from Gartner’s 6th Annual Supply Chain User Wants and Needs Study” by Gartner analyst, Dwight Klappich, the basic conclusion is that while organizations talk about the urgent need for transformational and innovative technologies, for many, their activities and investments remain very tactical and focused on maintaining existing technologies.

Despite survey respondents citing that among their top supply chain challenges were the inability to orchestrate the end-to-end supply chain, and the lack of cross-functional collaboration, 61% of technology investments are made with the goal to reduce operating and support costs.

Continued investment in legacy technology systems

Paraphrasing the presentation, companies continue to spend on the technologies they already have in place; they are investing in what they know, instead of what’s new.

There is a disproportional amount of money going to just “keep the lights on”. Less than 20% of budgets are spent on technologies intended to transform the business, whereas upwards of 50-70% is spent on technologies that run the business.

Make no mistake, technology is a resource issue. Technology is what can enable efficiencies that require less people. Technology is what can arm supply chain decision makers with the advanced analytical capabilities that today’s supply chain complexity necessitates. Technology is what can satisfy the millennial's appetite for effective and “cool” ways to work.

Ultimately, technology is what will enable the supply chain to lead in the next decade.


There is one trend that is going in the right direction I believe… the increasing quantity and prominence of women in supply chain. I know this topic has been talked to at length, even on this blog (and we have an upcoming webcast on this topic as well – get more details here), but it hit home again for me at the Gartner conference. It was satisfying and inspiring to say the least, to see that women represented the majority of the main-stage sessions - 5 out of 8 speakers in fact. And they were informative and engaging speakers on top of that, leaving no doubt to anyone their credibility and effectiveness…not that this was something they needed to prove. These were not women supply chain leaders; they were simply supply chain leaders. And to me, that should be the goal as we look towards defining the next decade. 

It shouldn’t be about categories of people, but about their skills, experience and success. Having said that, I do believe today’s environment does favor a women’s strengths if we were to generalize. I think Tom Peters (influential business thinker & co-author of In Search of Excellence), also a Gartner keynote, said it best. “Guys do hierarchy well, women do ambiguity well.” In a time of complexity and variability, effective supply chain management becomes about consensus decision making and collaborative trade-offs. There is certainly an argument to be made that managing in these conditions could come more naturally to females (the same could be true for millennial with their innate social and collaborative predispositions). The mission will be to make sure companies enable these leaders with the organizational structure, processes, culture, and technologies that are required to empower them in new and evolving roles. Given the demand, those that don’t take this to heart will no doubt be scrambling for supply.


David Hardman
- June 12, 2014 at 4:26pm
"Technology is what can arm supply chain decision makers with the advanced analytical capabilities that today’s supply chain complexity necessitates. "

Excellent point. Global supply chains can't be managed from an Excel spreadsheet. Real-time analytics and tracking, alerts about inventory, and other advances in supply chain tech keep the industry up with the times.

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