The COVID-19 pandemic is latest in a series of unexpected disruptions to strain supply chains. In response, companies are looking to automation and digital capabilities to build resiliency and agility. However, as futurists have said: Technology will make things possible; talent will make them happen. To fully unleash the power of digital investments, companies must re-evaluate their organization structures to organize themselves in a way that enables speed to innovation. Employee skill sets across the workforce need to be evaluated with plans to develop in-house mastery and drive adoption of new enabling technologies.
The challenge ahead
Amid the shift toward increased automation, companies are facing both a misalignment and shortage of skills needed to operate in a more automated, digitally enabled environment. In a recent EY survey “Reinventing the supply chain for an autonomous future,” only 44% of respondents said their employees were prepared for digital innovation in the supply chain. For a supply chain to operate optimally and continuously improve, technologies such as IoT, robotic process automation and machine learning must be guided and constantly managed by skilled professionals.
Analytics are the core to optimizing business processes. Your workforce should be able to synthesize data, identify outcomes and offer recommendations, requiring a fluency and comfort with information and processes that traditional-minded talent might find unfamiliar.
Meanwhile, talent within manufacturing, logistics and warehousing is aging, and the younger generation of tech-focused workers typically do not want to work in a plant, warehouse or factory. Not to mention, those with in-demand, specialized skill sets are proving difficult to recruit: one EY client spent 20 months looking for an affordable data modeler with experience in their industry, for example.
While it is hard to keep up with the latest tools and technologies, it is doubly difficult to train your people in-house to be ahead of the curve. However, in upskilling roles, they become more appealing to college graduates. The path forward to address this shift in skill sets likely relies on a mix of recruiting, upskilling, retooling and continuous improvement of your organization.
Solving the supply chain talent gap
Operating model changes, reorganization, managed services and in-house certification programs to develop mastery are big levers to resolve supply chain talent issues. Many organizations are taking a close look at what can be consolidated in regional/global hubs vs. what should stay close to markets and manufacturing sites. Ultimately, enterprises must consider tradeoffs between speed-to-innovation and scale for hiring/training vs. local agility. There is also an increasing use of supply chain technical centers of excellence (COE) to drive digital capabilities and advanced analytics within an organization.
Looking across various functions, supply chain leaders should create capability maps with the intent of assessing and improving current workforce skills, identifying core capabilities that can be centralized and leveraged across the organization, and other capabilities that can be outsourced or procured as a managed service. For instance, in demand planning, sophisticated statistical models and artificial intelligence-/machine learning-based forecasting engines can be managed and fine tuned by a centralized organization with the right skills to drive forecast improvement. This way companies don’t need to invest in hiring and training large demand planning teams that are spread throughout the organization and therefore siloed.