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Is There Really a Shortage of Qualified People?

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The following commentary appears as a guest commentary on the Supply Chain Expert Community web site.

Many of our Community have read articles, heard talks and viewed blog commentary related to the ongoing challenge for prospective employers to locate and recruit qualified people. This has especially been noted as a challenge within broad areas of supply chain management and manufacturing. On the Supply Chain Matters blog, we have provided multiple commentaries related to this challenge being raised by executives.  Our latest commentary reflected on the takeaways from a recent MIT sponsored conference: The Future of Manufacturing in the U.S.  Again, many of the corporate conference speakers indicated challenges in filling existing job openings in manufacturing or supply chain related functions. Professional organizations such as the Supply Chain Council, APICS and CSCMP have raised similar alarms and concerns regarding both attracting younger graduates to our profession, as well as keeping experienced professionals qualified as needs for greater efficiency, productivity and advanced technology skills increasingly become a part of the discipline of manufacturing and supply chain management.

We came across a National Public Radio blog commentary that provides somewhat of a contrarian view: Employers Could Fill Jobs if the Trained More and Complained Less. It highlights an interview featuring Professor Peter Cappelli , Director for the Center of Human Resources of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Wharton argues that employers should stop blaming the educational system and start rethinking hiring practices. He also provides observations that many have perhaps been thinking, namely that employers actually seek the “perfect candidate”. The interview and commentary describe how today’s more prevalent automated human recruitment systems will eliminate candidates from consideration if there is lack of a defined match to listed skill needs.  Many readers who have recently gone through a recruitment and hiring process could also add the challenge of corporate HR recruitment or executive search firms who currently tend to exhibit a “check all of the boxes” approach in the recruitment screening process.

More importantly, and certainly more profound, is a challenge made from Professor Cappelli  to prospective employers, namely, stop blaming the applicants  and recognize: “You’re just not paying enough”.

That statement struck a chord with this author and perhaps you as well.  On the one hand, across many complex and ever changing supply chain environments, there are certainly skill gaps that need to be addressed in areas of procurement, planning, product management, manufacturing, logistics and service management.  On the other, how much are employers doing their part to support and provide training programs and opportunities.  This issue takes on even broader perspectives for smaller and medium-sized suppliers who require their supply chain talent to be more broad-based in skill levels, but do not necessarily have the training time and budgets of larger scale enterprises.

And what about the perception of paying enough?  Many Community contributors have often noted the increased recognition of the important contribution that supply chain management teams are making to bottom-line results. Is that translated to valuing supply chain skills at comparable levels with other functions such as sales, marketing or finance? It is no secret that that the wave of outsourcing activity to lower-cost manufacturing regions that began ten years ago had as its primary motivation, lower labor costs.  Since that time, companies have come to recognize other cost factors including a lack of skilled supply chain professionals and lower productivity levels.

The resolution no doubt lies in a balance of all of these forces. One thought however bears reinforcement.  It is time for all of us to stop citing a shortage of skills as an ongoing problem and instead cite programs and initiatives that address both proactive training and compensation for skills acquired.

I’m curious as to reader views.  How do you view the current skills shortages within supply chain management and manufacturing?  Are companies doing their part in addressing both increased training and fair compensation?

Bob Ferrari

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