Supply Chain Isn't Sexy

addtoany linkedin

Those are the words I kept repeating in my head after seeing a presentation by Kevin Maynard, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. But why not?

First of all, let’s put this in context. In a recent survey of high school students across Canada, students were asked to name a profession within the supply chain field. Only 14% of all students surveyed were able to name one, and of all the answers provided, only two professions were identified: dock worker and forklift driver.

I was shocked! How could they not know about supply chain? How could they not realize that their tablets, smartphones, running shoes, and pretty much everything they owned, consumed, and threw away in their lives had to at some point work its way through a supply chain? Surely they must understand that it takes a whole lot more than a couple of forklifts and receiving personnel to make it happen. Let’s take it a step further. Take away even just a few links in a supply chain and see what happens… Imagine a world where there were no logistics practitioners or procurement specialists, retailers or assembly/manufacturing personnel. How would we get our products? How far would we have to go to get them? How much would it all cost? That assumes that we would even know what to do with all of the pieces once we got them. Think about it: Without a supply chain, all we would have is a bunch of design documents, recipes and a vague idea of where to get the stuff we needed to make it happen. Admittedly, I had no aspirations of becoming a supply chain expert when I was in high school – I was going to be a rock star. I think today if you were to ask high school students what they want to be when they grow up, their answers wouldn’t be all that different. Not too long ago I read that one of the hottest, most desirable professions among young adults was “video game developer.” What is so different about designing the flow, players, alliances, and obstacles involved in a good video game from designing a complex and well executed supply chain? Sure, maybe I didn’t dream of this job when I was growing up, but I think that is because I didn’t realize the potential and the scope of it all. Managing a well-executed supply chain is like conducting an orchestra. It’s filled with nuances, personalities, unexpected events, and it’s different every time! It is artistic and methodical. It is massive in size yet surprisingly detail-oriented. It is complex yet brilliantly simple. A good symphony conductor knows how to bring all of the pieces together and elicit the desired emotion of an audience in much the same way a good supply chain manager knows how to orchestrate all of the right pieces and players to meet company objectives. The best conductors of a supply chain symphony are the ones who can read their audience (or customers) and respond to the energy they are getting from them. That is why a performance of any piece of music or supply chain execution is never the same way twice. The speed at which the conductor reacts to these changes in mood (or demand signals) affect the overall performance value. Symphony conductors have sheet music, a baton, and a cast of musicians to help achieve their goals and supply chain managers have similar tools to help them control the rate and delivery of their products or services. In both cases, their ability to anticipate, adjust to, and correct for any changes in the predetermined program determine the response from the audience. In a world of globalization, mass customization, postponement, ATO, ETO, MTO, outsourcing, and consumerism (to name a few), doesn’t that make supply chain about, well, pretty much everything? And everything IS sexy! Yet, with all of this exciting information, the demand for supply chain professionals still heavily outweighs the supply. Perhaps it is due to the growth of supply chains themselves, or the lack of interest on the part of young professionals. Regardless, the need is there. Excerpt from Canadian Supply chain Sector Council 2012 HR Study Update:
The supply chain sector is growing. Over the next five years, employers are expecting a growth in the number of employees from a low of 8.4% (Tactical: Transportation) to a high of 14.9% (Managerial: Marketing and Sales), with all other occupations and sub-functions falling in between. Based on the current sector total of 767,200 employees, an annual employee demand growth rate of 8.6% will result in approximately 65,979 new and vacant positions to be filled. In addition, respondents to the employer survey indicate current unmet employment demand of 3.5%, resulting in the need to fill approximately 26,852 current vacant positions within the sector. This is an enormous challenge.

So, my fellow supply chain geeks, hold your head up high. Ours is a truly noble profession and one that provides us with exciting and artistic challenges every day. Be proud of what you do, and tell others about the dynamic and rewarding work that is being done.


Trevor Miles
- April 14, 2012 at 4:29am
Hi Andy

Here is a counterpoint in the sense that it indicates that Supply Chain is at least gaining some traction in universties and business schools.


Leave a Reply