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Essential Supply Chain Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce

supply chain skills

Getting workers into today’s supply chain industry is tough. The need for reliable employees with forward-thinking supply chain skills has become greater than ever before as e-commerce sales continue to rise. And while warehouse employment reached its highest-ever numbers last September — 1.25 million workers in the U.S. — it’s not exactly the top career choice for new graduates seeking a job.

I’ve been working with supply chain leaders and warehouse workers for more than 20 years, but it’s in the last few years I’ve seen a huge shift in the skills needed to succeed. Let’s face it, today’s supply chain operations are fast-moving, more complex and more difficult to manage than ever before. As more supply chains move to digital warehousing it will require employees to have a much greater depth and understanding of technology.

All of this led me to consider what are the essential skills needed for the modern supply chain? I’m sharing my top five supply chain skills that you should look for when recruiting and building a winning team.

Five Essential Supply Chain Skills for Your Workforce

1. Adaptable

This is the era of change and it’s especially true in the supply chain. Agility is needed to handle all the increasing expectations and requirements of today’s customer. Recent studies support a move to introduce more flexibility in the supply chain. Companies with a resilient supply network grow faster because they better adapt to shifts in demand, potentially boosting their order rate by as much as 40% and customer satisfaction by up to 30%, according to a study by Bain & Co. Look to hire new staff who have a history of taking on new challenges and reacting well, even leading new ideas through to implementation.

2. Comfortable with Technology

The reality is that technology and supply chains are almost synonymous nowadays. Someone working in your supply chain without solid, technical supply chain skills will struggle. Research from Accenture Strategy shows a growing demand for deep digital and technical experience in supply chain processes. To succeed in this new environment, your company must ensure that the right talent is in place to drive effective execution of new digital supply chain operations. You need people on your team who are comfortable and skilled in the use of technology and data-driven decision-making.

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3. Willingness to Follow Processes

Whether or not you view this as good or bad, there are some things in your supply chain that are just required — you simply must do certain tasks to be compliant with a business requirement or a government regulation. While agility and adaptability are important, a willingness to follow processes and just get on with the job as defined is still a very important supply chain skill. Having a warehouse management system (WMS) that is designed to optimize operational processes will help support your supply chain staff in this area.

4. Problem-solving

I read an interesting article in Material Handling & Logistics by an executive recruiter who observed, “Through conventional classroom education, most of us have come to believe there is usually a right or a wrong answer to a problem. As such, we tend to study our most pressing business problems to find a single right answer — as if we are solving for X in a math problem. Yet in the logistics world, many problems don’t become clearer the more we study them. Instead, they may become larger and more confusing.” You need people on your team who are not afraid of this challenge and are able to come up with better ways to improve your operations. I encourage you to walk your next job applicant through his seven-step problem-solving framework to get a better idea if your candidate truly demonstrates problem-solving skills.

5. Open to Failure

The ability to create new ideas and innovative processes is an excellent supply chain skill, but I think it’s equally important to have the ability to take failure well. The truth of the matter is that not every idea is a good one — even if it initially seems good, it might crash and burn after trying it out. The ability to fail and learn from it to make things better is the difference between good and great. Your supply chain operations should encourage new idea trials and nurture through failure. If you do this, I promise you will develop a strong and trusting team that will pay you back many times over.

Final Thoughts

In this economy we don’t need more robots who just go through the motions of managing the supply chain. Today and especially tomorrow’s supply chains need a team who can enhance and improve their operations. Your responsibility as a supply chain leader is to give your staff the trust and nurturing they need to start testing ideas and concepts. Building your team with individuals who possess these five supply chain skills will help drive your organization towards success. Good luck with finding and creating that dream team.

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