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Global supply chains are changing rapidly and many businesses are recognizing that adopting new technology will help them navigate the changes, streamline their operations, and save time and money. With the pressure to apply technological solutions to get ahead of the game, businesses of all sizes are also facing a widening supply chain talent gap.

Investment in supply chain digitization is accelerating rapidly. Better demand planning, product traceability, real-time product visibility, and anomaly detection are some examples of using data in new ways – and while it can be a game changer, it comes at a cost.

At the same time, research shows that while there is a growing understanding of the need to digitally transform their supply chains, many organizations struggle to implement them.

Transforming supply chains with technology

The process to re-engineer, streamline and apply technology to transform supply chains is complex. “Lags with supply chain transformation has a lot to do with hurdles that arise with any large-scale change” – challenges with budget, lack of organizational urgency, and implementation of new technology into legacy systems, according to an industry whitepaper report by Avetta.

Investing in the right technology and the resources to implement is further complicated by the rate of change in the supply chain environment, as well as increasing supply chain disruptions and risks.

Avetta’s whitepaper adds that “changing workplace safety and labour laws, constantly shifting geopolitical dynamics, and unpredictability in prices continue to impact risk and vendor management…. inconsistent vendor on-boarding, delayed shipments, and inefficient inventory management are common bottlenecks.”

Digitizing the supply chain seems to be the key to increasing transparency and visibility while controlling replenishment, maintenance, production, transportation, delivery and customer satisfaction, as well as driving efficiencies and mitigating risk. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technology is unlocking real-time decision making and forecasts. Big data and predictive analytics can provide new levels of transparency and increased cost savings.

With each advancement in technology, the way companies do business internally, and with each other is changing and it’s profoundly changing the supply chain management labour market.

The supply chain talent gap

Labour shortages in the supply chain industry are well documented. According to a report by Datex; “Growing complexity of the supply chain is also negatively impacting the available labor pool. Customer needs and requirements are increasing in areas such as order fulfillment, VAS and omni-channel retailing. This increase in complexity means workers must have more technical skills to fulfill minimum requirements… 60% of supply chain jobs require skills that a mere 20% of the labor pool possesses.”

The projections indicate that it’s a situation that is not going to get resolved any time soon. “For every graduate with supply chain skills there are six holes to be filled, and it could be as high as nine to one in the future,” warns Jake Barr, CEO of BlueWorld Supply Chain Consulting.

The labor shortage in the supply chain workforce is affecting businesses worldwide. Companies have a lot at stake when hiring someone to handle these large and ever-changing supply chains, as Denise Montrose points out. Beyond recruitment, what’s the best strategy for empowering your employees who are dealing with the complexity and the challenges on the day-to-day? “How fast can you change direction with a new system, software, or tool and expect the team to keep up?”

Leading companies are actively working on the shortage problem. The solution begins with developing their workforce through clear career-pathing, education, talent development partnerships and other means.

Cisco Systems’ SVP of Supply Chain Operations, John Kern, recently said “The supply chain industry is undergoing one of the most massive talent shifts we have ever seen.”

Train for the new supply chain landscape

If you are looking to have a future in SCM, then you need to be smart, fast, flexible, engaged, intuitive, and above all else analytical. It’s a highly technical landscape requiring a new suite of skills. Preparing for the brave new world of supply chain management will require real life hands-on training, Denise Montrose explains.

“When considering a university program, think about how well prepared you will be at graduation. Academic education can only get you so far. Hands-on training, internships, field trips, and real world experience…will provide you the best start to a promising career.

Students need to dive in and get their hands dirty. They must have the ability to multitask, change direction with flexibility, and they must possess the discipline to ask questions until they find the right answers. They need to think for themselves under great pressure and analyze solutions.

For those already engaged in the industry, a key piece of advice is to develop your knowledge and skills with the technology being used within your organization, as well as in the industry. Beyond staying current with technology, Denise Montrose points out that “certifications are a great way to ensure that you are still learning about industry trends.”

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