You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the seemingly widening talent gap in supply chain management, behooving anyone in the business of education to consider what can be done to narrow the chasm.
There’s evidence to suggest that part of the problem is a disparity between what people entering the profession believe to be the necessary skills to succeed, and the reality of supply chain management in the 21st century.
The Supply Chain Career: A Personal and Interpersonal Journey
In our work with supply chain organisations, we see no shortage of technical ability, either in graduates and other new entrants to the SCM arena, or those who have been in the game for years.
On the other hand, plenty of companies are experiencing a deficit in the necessary range of soft skills and personal attributes essential for supply chain leaders.
Whether this is a symptom of misaligned expectations or an imbalanced approach to supply chain education, the imperative is the same—to emphasise the need for practitioners to focus on personal development and interpersonal skills from the beginning to the end of the career path.
Balancing the Educational Approach
So what can your company (or you if you are an independent student of supply chain operations) do to ensure education and professional development ventures effectively address personal growth as well as technical skills and abilities?
Perhaps the first step is to thoroughly review the balance of topics covered in supply chain education programs. Such a review will often reveal opportunities to improve personal development without executing major changes.
Create Better Business Communicators
For example, supply chain management and leadership requires the frequent presentation of arguments and ideas—not to a group of receptive student (or trainee) peers—but to professionals in the workplace, who have limited time and are interested mainly in the practical aspects of those arguments, such as what they mean to supply chain performance and above all, the bottom line of the balance sheet.
Am I suggesting that supply chain education and training programs include topics focused on communication and presentation skills? Absolutely!
Teach Teamwork Differently
You’re surely familiar with team-based learning activities, but have you noticed how the approach to these activities is always the same—and pretty unrealistic to boot? These activities would be more valuable for instance, if teams and team leaders were chosen by facilitators, rather than allowing trainees to form their own teams, as is so often the case.
This becomes much closer to real-world teamwork, in which individuals seldom get to choose who they work and interact with.
Similarly, assigning team roles (instead of letting trainees choose their own roles) would place trainees in positions where they may not necessarily be comfortable. Again, this makes preparation for the supply chain workplace much more realistic.
The above are just a couple of suggestions for changing the educational approach to be more focused on personal, rather than purely technical development. What I’m trying to illustrate is that personal development can be incorporated into the actual training process to offer a more appropriate educational mix.
Complement the Theoretical with the Pragmatic
Another way to achieve a better personal/technical skills balance is to focus on pragmatic methods of education. For example, case studies can be presented in a way that emphasises the role of change management and leadership in overcoming a logistics or supply chain problem, as well as demonstrating the application of technical solutions and academic theories.
In summary, it’s not likely that the supply chain talent gap will diminish any time soon, but you can take steps to reduce its impact on you and/or your organisation.
It’s my belief that educational and personal development strategies which include pragmatic training, and balance technical topics with a focus on soft skills, can help companies combat the current supply chain talent gap. In any case, such strategies can’t do any harm, since they ultimately enrich the skills and knowledge portfolios of individuals and hence, the organisations for whom they work.