Why Aren’t Supply Chains Sexy Enough to Attract People to the Industry?

Why Aren’t Supply Chains Sexy Enough to Attract People to the Industry?

By David Rogers

Supply chains are the very thing that allow nearly everyone in the world to do the things they love. They make it so people can put gas in their car, get coffee in the morning, buy a sandwich at lunch, watch television, and sleep in a bed. Without supply chains – no matter how large and complex or small and simple – no one would ever be able to connect with their favorite products.

So why aren’t many people attracted to the industry? Before we can answer this question, we first have to determine the type of people the supply chains need in order to function.

Who Works in a Supply Chain?

Supply chains involve many different industries. There are first the companies that source raw materials. Then, there are manufacturers. From there, the supply chain members could vary from product to product, but generally there is air and sea freight, cargo handling, road freight, warehousing, picking and sorting, in-store, dispatching, packaging, last-mile delivery, and then the customer’s doorstep.

Clearly, the supply chain market is gigantic. In Australia alone, the Transport and Logistics sector (mainly road transport, warehousing, logistics, and stevedoring) employs over half a million people and has an estimated annual revenue of $102.87 billion (source).

People who work in the supply chain industry have various competencies that are seen in other industries that are perceived as “sexy,” such as accounting, engineering, communications, and politics.

Communication and Teamwork Competencies That Supply Chain Professionals Possess

  • Ability to work effectively with individuals and groups/teams – cross culturally, intra and inter organisationally
  • Ability to manage relationships in diverse contexts – cross culturally, intra and inter organizationally
  • Communicate effectively through different media and styles Technology skills
  • Ability to make use of numerical techniques for decision making (e.g., forecasting and scheduling)
  • Project management skills and ability to lead major projects
  • Ability to apply continuous improvement and customer focus concepts
  • Ability to apply supply chain technologies and application software
  • Ability to solve complex and novel SCM problems (e.g., issues of tracking and tracing, product authentication)
  • Understanding of the interconnection of SCM with other disciplines (e.g., information systems, industrial engineering and human resources)

Initiative and Enterprise Skills That Supply Chain Professionals Possess

  • Ability to manage risks in supply chain and their associated issues
  • Ability to manage change within the local context/li>
  • Ability to develop and implement long term business strategies
  • Understand the importance and value of sustainable business practices (e.g., triple bottom line)
  • Understanding of basic accounting and budgeting
  • Ability to manage change within the global context
  • Advancing supply chain management knowledge through professional engagement
  • Compliance and legal knowledge
  • Awareness of ethical issues at the national and international level/li>
  • Respect for diversity, social justice principles, the environment and corporate governance
  • Understanding of contractual and legal / regulatory aspects of the business

It’s clear that supply chains help businesses all around the world of all size function, and that the professionals who are involved in supply chain management have diverse and broad skillsets. So, why isn’t the industry seen as alluring to those on the outside?

Why Aren’t Supply Chains Sexy?

Supply chains effectively make the world go ‘round. However, when you take a closer look into each of the moving parts, it doesn’t look as exciting. For the most part, each part of the supply chain involves manual labor. This is changing to some extent with technology, but people still have to fix the machines that create products, transport materials from warehouses to trucks, deliver packages, stock shelves, and more.

According to Gartner Research (quoted here), the largest function in supply chains is trucking. In 2018, the global logistics market was valued at $9.6 trillion, and trucking accounted for 43% of that. Trucking, as an industry and career, might not be considered all that “sexy” by itself. After all, a person who drives a freight truck for a living has a pretty solitary existence.

You could also take a look at the warehousing aspect of the supply chain and say something similar. Warehouse employees are in a large building all day long, putting themselves at risk of injury (if something falls or there is a heavy machinery accident), and often work long hours – some employees may even have to work the overnight shift, if the warehouse operates 24/7.

Supply chains are also unpredictable. All it takes is a natural disaster or global pandemic to completely wipe out one piece of the puzzle and put hundreds to thousands of people out of work.

On the bright side, supply chain disruption could also create the demand for more jobs. After all, the coronavirus pandemic prompted Amazon to hire 500,000 more employees and they opened 33 new warehouses in 2020 in the United States, alone. When the demand for products rose, Amazon needed the resources to keep up. Thousands of people were placed into new jobs and millions of people around the world were happy with their Amazon packages arriving safely on their doorsteps, even if it took longer than the usual 2-days at times.

How Can We Make Supply Chains Sexy?

The best way to make supply chains appear sexy and attractive to people in the industry is to look at them from a new perspective. Supply chains aren’t just about manual labor, blue-collar workers who transport goods from one place to the next. They are vital components to a bigger picture that makes life as we know it possible.

Supply chains help small business owners live their dreams, they put money in the pockets of millions of workers around the world, they are the reason we can get food at the grocery store and wear the clothing that expresses our personalities. Supply chains produce things that are classically sexy, too, like lingerie, high heels, a sharp suit, a form-fitting dress.

Supply chains allow us to be ourselves and live life the way we want to. And what’s sexier than that?

By shifting our perspective on supply chains from what they do on a small scale to how they transform the world on a larger scale, we just might be able to make supply chains sexy again and begin to attract more people to the industry.

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