There is no question that talent management and a shortage of critical needed skills is a fundamental challenge for manufacturing, supply chain, product management and procurement disciplines. Industry environments are changing constantly and change brings new and different needs. This challenge is consistently identified or amplified in industry forums, industry analyst quantitative surveys or roundtables. 

However, by our view, what seems to be missing from the ongoing dialogue is some straight talk regarding how to best address this challenge, especially in the light of an economy that has ample numbers of people seeking challenging and rewarding careers.

Reading the Wall Street Journal this morning, this author read the article: Just Whose Job Is It to Train Workers? (Paid subscription required or free metered view) By far, it was one of the more insightful articles that traditional business media has produced thus far concerning some root causes of current worker shortages.  This is the takeaway quote within the article: “Companies complain that they can’t find skilled hires, but they aren’t doing much to impart those skills, economists and workforce experts say. That is straight talk.

The article cites sources that indicate that today’s hiring processes take the form of a transaction matching exercise where employers expect highly skilled people to walk through the door. They are unwilling to evaluate candidates based on skill potential or invest in on-the-job training efforts.  Instead, there is a high reliance on colleges and universities, trade schools and government programs to be able to train people for desired skills. To add further credence, the WSJ cites studies including one from MIT labor economist Paul Osterman which concluded that manufacturer’s spending on training has essentially been flat for the last five years. A Deloitte research study is further cited as indicating that from 2006 to 2013, the percentage of staffers dedicated to training and development has fallen by about a half.

While Supply Chain Matters acknowledges that there are leading-edge organizations that are willing to truly invest in development of people for unique skill requirements, they are being outnumbered by those that are not so inclined. The WSJ profiles dental instruments provider Hu-Friedly which is investing in skills development. Small and mid-sized firms may not necessarily have the complete financial resources to develop people but that is where industry and government subsidized training programs can pay benefits. In April, Supply Chain Matters highlighted summary conclusions from the landmark MIT Study on Manufacturing Competitiveness that also concluded that skill shortages have more to do with training and development.

The prevailing attitude seems to be that of inventory fulfillment- there are lots of people seeking employment and we should be able to snag someone. That is not a formula for building and sustaining world-class supply chain teams. Global competitiveness not only hinges on product and service innovation, but on the collective skills and problem-solving abilities of the workforce.

The purpose of this rant is to motivate more straight talk concerning skills development. Invest in the potential of people able to perform required responsibilities. Evaluate candidates on both hard and soft skills, stop filtering on age or other criteria, and compensate people for the skills that they demonstrate as opposed to managing a cost center expense.

The time is way overdue for straight talk on skills shortages and the notion of investing in talent.  Let us all commit to stop looking at hiring statistics and more to meaningful talent development planning.

Bob Ferrari