November 15th, 2016

Millennials Blazing Trails in the Supply Chain Industry

How to tap into the varied career opportunities in the global supply chain management sector

Once the domain of warehouse/distribution professionals who helped shepherd goods from the raw material stage right through to the end user, supply chain is a particularly attractive industry for the under-37 millennial generation right now.

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“The supply chain industry is an avenue full of career opportunities that can make a global impact,” writes APICS’ Laura Denham in Millennials Blazing Trails in the Supply Chain Industry. “From supply chain to distribution and logistics, many young professionals are unaware of the career paths available in the industry.”

On the other side of the coin, supply chain industry leaders are lamenting a growing talent gap. Fronetics’ Jennifer Hart Yim feels that tapping the millennial generation may be key to filling that gap. In How Millennials are Poised to Change the Supply Chain Industry, she outlines a number of areas where millennials are poised to change the industry, including:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): Born and raised during the digital revolution, millennials are accustomed to products and processes that are highly integrated and interconnected.
  • Marketing and Sales Approaches: Millennials have been desensitized to overt branding messages. Instead, they respond to more organic marketing and sales approaches – strategies that can be expected to carry over into their work.
  • Global Partnerships: Unencumbered access to digital resources, coupled with a tendency to favor collaborative decision-making in their work, creates opportunities for global workspaces and more complex industry partnerships.
  • Big Data: Millennials’ digital confidence and understanding of the types of information and data being collected and analyzed by companies will lead to gains in supply chain operational efficiency.

Millennials looking to parlay these strengths into successful careers in supply chain should keep a few key points in mind as they move down that path. Denham suggests the following strategies:

  • Be part of a community: Whether you participate in a student organization, professional association, student competition or an academic committee, involvement shows your dedication to the industry and to your employers.
  • Network: Learning from peers with similar (and sometimes different) interests can open your eyes to a whole new world of opportunities.
  • Attend conferences: Conferences provide young professionals the opportunity to connect with peers from across the globe, learn best practices and gain insight into industry trends.
  • Develop cross-functional skills: Many individuals spend a significant amount of time developing technical skills to excel in their industry.

“As supply chain management professionals continue to expand and grow into C-suite executives,” Denham writes, “the development of soft skills is incredibly important.”(Read Denham’s complete list of recommendations here.)

A Message to Employers—Get Up to Speed Now

In Kinaxis’ 3 Supply Chain Career Requirements for Millennials, Kirsten Watson notes that while the supply chain management workforce is comprised mostly of baby boomers at the moment, these professionals are either at or on the verge of retirement.

“Compounding the looming departure of thousands of professionals from the industry is the fact that a shortage of supply chain talent already exists,” she writes, pointing to a study conducted by Supply Chain Insights that found that demand for supply chain talent outpaces supply—despite the rise of supply chain-focused university programs over the last two decades. “That study noted 46% of respondents stated ‘Talent: knowledge and availability’ was their most significant business pain.”

To employers looking to fill more supply chain positions with millennial workers, Watson points to two key areas that companies should be paying attention to. They are:

  • Millennials want technology-empowered processes. Millennials’ tolerance for inadequate workplace technology is low. “Excel spreadsheets, both beloved and bemoaned by innumerable supply chain practitioners, may never completely disappear from our daily work lives,” Watson writes. “But they’re woefully insufficient when it comes to meeting the technology expectations of today’s young professionals.”
  • Millennials expect collaborative work environments. While the Internet has given us all virtually unlimited access to information, networks and—ultimately—other people, millennials have lived in that environment for more than half of their lives. “[Millennials] have not only come to expect collaborative environments,” Watson points out, “they rely on the power of group dynamics to make the most informed decisions.”

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