by Thomas Wailgum

Supply Chain Talent: In Demand and Out of Stock?

Nov 15, 2010
CareersEnterprise ApplicationsERP Systems

Companies are bemoaning a supply chain talent shortage--but is it real? One guru says these companies are lazy, even unwilling to train up current staff.

One critical shortage in the supply chain right now has nothing to do with Apple iPhones, Nintendo Wiis or Zhu Zhu Pets being out of stock for the holidays: It’s the people who manage companies’ supply chains.

That’s the contention of one study from MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, and the viewpoint of Kevin O’Marah, group VP of AMR’s global supply chain practice (owned by Gartner).

This talent shortage is certainly not linked to the number of prospective employees in the labor pool. First, U.S. unemployment rages on, at close to 10 percent. Second, as O’Marah points out in a recent “First Thing Monday” opinion piece, some 40 colleges and universities (notably Stanford’s and MIT’s supply chain programs) stock the pipeline every year with fresh talent.

“The stack of resumes flowing into our offices may be anecdotal evidence,” O’Marah observes, “but I’m certainly impressed by both the quantity and quality of people out there looking for work.”

Rather, supply chain leaders have told O’Marah that there’s a surplus of candidates with narrow technical skillsets (such as an ability to cut costs) and a shortage of those who possess broader business skills (such as the ability to manage growth globally).

The MIT study (“Are You Prepared for the Supply Chain Talent Crisis?”) sums up the situation ominously: Today’s “supply chain faces a severe shortage of talent at a time when the demands on the profession have never been greater.”

Those demands include: globalization, market uncertainty, shifting demographic patterns, and the emergence of supply chain as a strategic function, according to the study.

In addition, notes Supply Chain Quarterly‘s analysis of the MIT study: “Practitioners also need both ‘hard’ analytical skills and ‘soft’ leadership skills. Today’s supply chain manager must be adept at managing ambiguity in these uncertain times and appreciating the big picture, and they must be able to communicate effectively both vertically within the organization and horizontally across supply chain participants.”

While O’Marah doesn’t diminish the criticality of the shortage, he does not absolve those companies complaining the loudest from their share of blame:

“Companies tell us they’re starving for talent. They proclaim demand, but I’m starting to wonder whether we’re all being a little too picky and maybe even a bit lazy. Whatever happened to the traditional model where great companies bring in new people and train them the way IBM, GE or Procter & Gamble always have?”

In other words: Supply chain leaders should stop complaining and develop the talent that is available to them right now.

[ Read about Apple’s Supply-Chain Strife in China and The Trouble with Supply-Chain Best Practices ]

Think about it: If there ever was a time when fresh ideas, creative solutions and new tactics—which might happen to originate from outside typical supply chain thinking—could help transform and redefine supply chain practices, now is that time.

“Broad business process expertise as well as organizational savvy comes from integrating knowledge of things like finance and marketing into supply chain strategy,” O’Marah writes. “Unfortunately, this type of career path seems all too rare.”

As to how companies are managing their supply chain talent today, O’Marah sums it up this way: It’s the “worst supply chain in the world.”

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at