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The coming year will be another challenging one for supply chain executives, according to the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM).

Among their most critical and urgent priorities is the need to recruit, train and retain talent that can handle the requirements of the digital age.

“Industries across the globe continue to battle the ‘great supply chain disruption’,” wrote Adam James, VP of North American surface transport at CH Robinson and chair of the sensing sub-committee of ASCM’s research, innovation and sensing committee, in his introduction to an ASCM blog.

The blog lists ten supply chain trends to watch in the coming year, including familiar themes like cybersecurity, advanced analytics and customer centricity, but one of its chief priorities is something that companies usually tend to pay lip service to in footnotes – supply chain talent.

On the ASCM blog this ranks second only to analytics and automation as the top trend for the coming year.

“Talent was a serious situation prior to the pandemic. It has become a crisis since,” said ASCM CEO Abe Eshkenazi, who pointed out that in logistics there is currently one qualified person for every six vacancies.

“The pandemic exposed the shortage at every level from the warehouse to the top,” he said. “We need greater focus. Organisations need to invest in their talent.”

Labour shortages have been a serious headache across many sectors, including logistics, but much of the hand-wringing in this industry has been about numbers – not enough truck drivers, warehouse personnel or, to a lesser degree, qualified logistics professionals.

While this is acute, it is in danger of missing a vital point – the emergence of new skills requirements as the industry automates and digitises more processes. The rise of advanced analytics and the incipient advance of machine learning in the industry cannot be managed adequately with the skill sets of yesterday.

“There is no lack of data, there is a lack of people who understand data,” said Mr Eshkenazi.

Tackling this challenge will require investment. Companies will have to pay employees more, and they have to funnel more money into training. Mr Eshkenazi said many companies talked about people being their number-one asset and priority, but in a crisis, investment in training and professional development are among the first things to be cut.

And staff retention and training is not the only area where Mr Eshkenazi sees a discrepancy between rhetoric and action. This also applies to sustainability, which has slipped in the order of priorities, he noted, adding that while companies routinely talked about sustainability, less than 5% have measurable indicators of their efforts.

He sees a greater need for collaborative and co-ordinated efforts, not only in sustainability but also in dealing with supply chain disruption.

“Collectively, we need to understand it’s a global, not a regional issue,” he said. Instead of a co-ordinated response, actions have been fragmented, though, driven by considerations for what is good for a particular region.

For that matter, efforts at national level also should be more synchronised, he added. Moves to fix particular problems, such as increasing port capacity by shifting to 24/7 operations, do not address issues downstream, and just move the problem down the line, he said.

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