What are the skills and attributes required to be successful in supply chain organizations? In an evolving field, supply chain professionals and the universities that train them are constantly seeking new answers to this ever-changing question. In order to stay on the leading-edge of supply chain talent, efforts toward professional development must be grounded in an understanding of the rapidly developing field.
Supply chain talent must remain flexible as job requirements evolve. That’s why the next generation of supply chain professionals are preparing to fulfill a wider variety of roles than ever before. From large international corporations to third-party logistics companies, it’s clear there’s no “one-size fits all” candidate. However, new research shows there are essential skills that all candidates must possess.
A research study from the University of San Diego School of Business’ Supply Chain Management Institute (SCMI) has identified the profession’s most-demanded skills. The survey asks supply chain professionals from a broad range of industries to weigh in on what’s required of supply chain talent today. The results benchmark hiring managers’ top criteria roughly every three years, and recent results demonstrate that a combination of soft and job-specific skills make a candidate a “triple-threat.” This year, the demand for technical skills emerges as a must-have, especially for new talent. As the supply chain landscape integrates globally, professionals must be equipped to evaluate and implement technology to achieve the industry’s lofty goals.
Survey at a Glance
- 154 responses
- 90% United States; 10% international
- Broad range of industries: 29% manufacturing; 13% logistics services; 11% consulting; 8% academia; 39% other
- 48%>$1 billion revenue; 52%<$1 billion revenue
The increasing complexity and importance of supply chain management will require talent willing to accept increased levels of responsibility. More than ever, supply chain organizations prioritize soft skills (e.g., communication, emotional intelligence, grit) that prepare candidates to collaborate with internal teams and external partners to meet evolving demands. Supply chain professionals must have a well-rounded “triple-threat” skill set that prepares them to:
- Find the solution: Supply chain talent must be well-versed in business analytics. Today’s supply chain management acumen requires skills in analytical problem-solving and data analytics. Gone are the days of siloed thinking. A good supply chain professional can develop end-to-end solutions that positively impact P&L.
- Gain the buy-in: It takes more than leadership skills to collaborate in international business. Supply chain talent must be able to communicate across functional and cultural boundaries — both internally and externally. They must learn to cultivate relationships and use their influence to deliver results.
- Get it done: In an era of automation and integration, “moving parts” proliferate in the blink of an eye. Supply chain talent must possess the unique ability to make decisions and execute These self-starters have impeccable project management skills to ensure all the factors are addressed. Plus, they can accurately manage stakeholders’ expectations to ensure everyone is satisfied with the results.
An Emerging Priority
Technology presents limitless opportunities to increase supply chain efficiency and cost effectiveness. Tomorrow’s ideal supply chain professional will be well-versed in emerging technology (e.g., AI, 3D printing, robotics, predictive analytics) that can integrate and automate supply chain operations. This distinguishing feature is particularly important for new talent. However, experienced professionals should not be discouraged. The SCMI’s research reveals that willingness to learn is the third-most-important attribute in a supply chain candidate.
The Education Factor
So, what did SCMI’s survey reveal about education in the field? While these soft skills are universally important and transferrable to any employer, candidates should be cognizant of education-related variables like internships and depth of knowledge. For undergraduate supply chain talent, internships are particularly important. Specifically, hiring managers want to see that entry-level talent has served in internship opportunities that allowed them to solve problems and interface with leadership. They’re looking for an “executive drive” exemplified by a willingness to take risks and go the extra mile (or many miles in international companies). Internships are less important than experience for candidates with graduate degrees. While undergraduate talent should possess a breadth of knowledge, graduate-level talent should have depth or a concentration in their field.
Implications for Universities
This insight is not only valuable for aspiring and established supply chain professionals, it is equally important for universities who develop talent. A university is similar to a manufacturing company in that, to survive and prosper; it must produce a product that is in demand. University programs have an opportunity and a responsibility to work closely with industry to understand these changing requirements and develop realistic curricula to match these needs. Universities not willing to do so may soon discover their programs becoming less attractive to those individuals and firms interested hiring talent in this evolving field.
The SCMI’s research will benefit supply chain talent and the universities who train them, as well as supply chain managers looking to bring more structure to the hiring process. While many skills can be trained on the job, triple-threat talent exhibits characteristics that can be transferred from role to role, organization to organization. These skills set the stage for a fulfilling and prosperous career.
Joel Sutherland, Managing Director of the University of San Diego School of Business’ Supply Chain Management Institute and Professor in USD’s Master’s of Science in Supply Chain Management. He leads the benchmark survey for supply chain talent to properly equip the next generation to succeed. He has more than 40 years of experience as a logistics/supply chain professional working for manufacturers, wholesale distributors and third-party service providers in various industries, including automotive, paper, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods.
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