The coronavirus crisis was an eye-opener for Supply Chain professionals. Yet many of the developments we are seeing today had been coming for some time. They put an end to the certainties of the late twentieth century, which formed the basis for globalized logistics networks. As we face the current uncertainties and risks, resilient Supply Chains can offer a solution. The emerging trends present not only major challenges but also compelling opportunities for many companies.
Let’s look at a number of important trends in the Supply Chain:
Artificial Intelligence and Automation; Increased Focus on Sustainability; Customization; The Internet of Things; Digitization; Strengthened Relationships; Risk Management and Resilience; Increased Visibility; Circular Supply Chain; Cloud-Based Solutions.
These are only 10 of the most emphasized developments, however there is little to very limited information on trends surrounding EMPLOYEE AND HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENTS. Hence, I would like to highlight and explain them again in this article.
The human factor is changing due to IOT and automation, technological and demographic changes, and an ever-changing economic landscape. In these changes, humans will have to keep up. Some of the most striking changes and sensible approaches by Supply Chain employers are:
Introduce supply chain career path early
Supply chain organizations need a robust strategy for hiring and retaining diverse talent. Partnerships with universities and other organizations will develop flexible programs to prepare current and future industry professionals to drive the supply chains of the future. Companies must do their part to influence the younger generation, women and minorities to pursue a supply chain career.
Migration to cities are creating new urban landscapes that have different supply chain and infrastructure challenges. Populations in the West face an ongoing talent shortage, as populations shrink while the workforce ages. As consumer and talents pools continue to evolve, supply chain leaders will need to be laser-focused on ways to optimize performance to be responsive while also managing sourcing and logistics costs.
Technology is a significant force in supply chain management, but so are the humans wielding it. There’s a lot of emphasis on beating your competitors in business, but everyone can enjoy more success by working together. You will need to focus on fortifying your relationships with your team members, vendors, and suppliers to increase collaboration and cooperation at each step in the supply chain.
Communication should be your priority
Communication is not only the first step to building any relationship, but it can also provide you with valuable data and information. You can use this additional insight to help improve your external and internal processes, helping everyone become more streamlined and efficient. Look for mutually beneficial ways to support both your and others’ goals. Share information, proactively solve problems to avoid creating more work, and address unexpected issues as they arise. The stronger your relationship becomes, the more you both stand to gain from it.
A robust strategy to attract and retain Supply Chain talent is becoming ever more necessary. Even more than today, companies will call on temporary flexible expertise (via operational consultants and contractors). In addition, partnerships with universities and other organizations will allow to develop flexible programs that are preparing current and future industry professionals for the Supply Chains of tomorrow. Young people, women, and minorities are also increasingly being encouraged to pursue a Supply Chain career.
Today you still have many companies that have a very pyramidal structure with directors, managers and then the operational team. Today these companies are automating so you will have more and more processes that will be automated and managed by machines and for that, you need Supply Chain “superheroes” who are both able to manage projects and who are able to analyze much more work data and different departments. They must also be able to understand business and technology. But these profiles are extremely difficult to find on the market today. I personally had a lot of trouble finding talent with this kind of profile and therefore I also try to motivate and train as many people as possible on these new skills through this site.
It is extremely difficult to retain your supply chain talents. Especially since the new generations do not have the same expectations as the old generations. If you don’t meet their needs and expectations, they will update their resume or LinkedIn and change companies or maybe go on a short trip. I am exaggerating a bit of course, but it’s really a challenge for every company so it’s a question you really need to ask yourself: how to identify and retain your talents in the long term to be able to transform your Supply Chain and implement all these innovations.
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion (DE&I)
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion (DE&I) is more than policies, programs, or headcounts. Equitable employers outpace their competitors by respecting the unique needs, perspectives and potential of all their team members. As a result, diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees.
The benefits are; directly tackling racism and prejudice, an increase in employee satisfaction, stronger, more consistent employee performance, greater diversification of skills and creativity, higher prospects for innovation, a wider, more global impact and an improved company reputation.
Not enough women
The latest trend, which may be surprising for some, but there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that there are not enough women in Supply Chain. It is true that I had difficulty finding women in Supply Chain, especially from a certain level of responsibility. It’s a pity because we lack talent and I think a large part of the answer will come from women because we don’t yet have enough women in these fields, on the one hand for educational reasons, we still go through engineering schools and also for image reasons I think, where we still associate too much Supply Chain with transport and storage in warehouses, which is still very masculine.
However, these professions are really evolving with much more analytics and project management. For this reason I think that these jobs are perhaps more interesting and more attractive to women, knowing that in the Supply Chain we also have the opportunity to meet a lot of people, to travel around the world and salaries that are more and more appealing if you are part of this generation that has been able to train and update itself on new technologies.
Digital training solutions
Though the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about disruptions in supply chains, the associated e-commerce created unprecedented new demands. For example, Amazon hired 175,000 temporary workers at the beginning of the pandemic and has hired 2,800 new workers every day since July 2020 .
To cope, Amazon embraced digital training methods to handle the major onboarding challenges this 2020 hiring spree posed. The e-commerce giant employs 1,000 technology professionals who create digital tools to automate the recruiting, hiring, and training processes. As more millennials enter the workforce, they bring their technological habits along with them. Modern warehouse workers are used to the interactivity and ease-of-use they associate with their cell phones and other devices, and respond well to digital training. Digital training can be an excellent companion to a modern blue-collar workplace.
Gamification is the application of game thinking and game techniques in non-game environments. In gamification, you use game elements to motivate users and enrich their experience. The principle of gamification is not new, we have been playing games for centuries.
In 2021, engaging your workforce through interactive and motivating productivity boosters like gamification is a great way to enhance warehouse worker training and boost productivity (MacPherson, 2020). Gamification offers employees stimulating skills practice with real-time feedback that inspires and guides them towards improved performance (Bjorkqvist, 2020). It makes the work into a kind of video game or digital challenge that the workers can interact with to understand and build up their skill level. Additionally, gamification can be integrated into real warehouse processes and digital tools to track employees’ speed, accuracy, and progress over time.
Constant real-time evaluation of skills, knowledge, and productivity ensures workers and management have easy access to hard data tracking the worker’s performance. This means there are fewer surprises during employee review periods and leaders can intervene early and often to ensure employees have the training they need to succeed (MacPherson, 2020).
Along with environmental sustainability, social sustainability will be a key topic for warehousing trends in 2021. High employee turnover rates coupled with a competitive labor market have forced warehouses and third-party logistics companies to focus on the warehouse workers at the core of their operations. Social sustainability is about how effectively leaders empower workers and give them the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their jobs so the workers are less likely to quit or be fired. Constantly hiring and training new workers is costly, social sustainability is an incredible tool for reducing labor costs and boosting productivity in 2021. This is an especially important topic when looking at 3PL industry trends. 3PL companies often rely heavily on temp workers to ensure they can increase and decrease their capacity on-demand to meet manufacturers’ or partner warehouses’ output needs.
In recent years, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and increased automation have called into question what the future of work will look like, particularly when it comes to supply chain management. The supply chain as we know it today is a convergence of various processes that must come together to complete a task. The fact of the matter is that technology is disrupting the supply chain and disintermediating it, just as it has disintermediated other industries. Essentially, mundane, repetitive tasks are now being automated.
The supply chain is evolving. While there’s no question that the current supply chain is being disrupted, it’s clear supply chain management is not dead or dying. It’s evolving, just as it has since its inception. But the fact that we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution means we are experiencing this disruption on a larger scale and at a faster pace. As a result, there are natural fears that coincide with this disruption. Namely, people are worried they will be displaced and out of work due to these changes.
To calm this fear, I encourage people to think back to when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line. People who manually built these automobiles were threatened by the thought of being replaced by large assembly lines. However, what happened was the people were able to perform functions on the assembly line that previously were not being done. Employees were able to perform a higher level of quality testing, because the automation moved parts at a faster rate. Employees were given the opportunity to develop new skills.
Similarly, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution automates mundane, repetitive or dangerous tasks, there is good news for both employer and employee. From a company perspective, automation will mean tighter delivery schedule commitments, faster fulfillment, better efficiency and higher profits. From an employee perspective, it will mean the opportunity to learn and develop new, critical skills.
What does this mean for people?
At the beginning of this article, the bigger question posed was, “Will I be replaced by machines?” I believe the answer is this: While some tasks will be replaced, people will not.
Let’s revisit an example of an employee taking inventory at a steel beam factory. In a fully automated warehouse, while they may no longer be taking inventory, they could still perform vital tasks in managing and interpreting the data that is gathered (e.g., valuation, condition, etc.).
While there is a lot of concern around the loss of jobs due to technology, it’s important to remember that the No. 1 issue many employers face is shortage of talent. If employers are struggling to find workers, automation can be a blessing. Smart employers will look to reskill their employees who are already familiar with the business, and employees will be given the opportunity to learn and develop new skills. People who are seeking higher-wage work can take advantage of automation to open new doors of employment.
At the end of the day, innovation has always created new markets and new opportunities, and it has allowed companies to grow. The people who most benefit in the evolution of supply chain management will be those who embrace this change and use it to their advantage. But people aren’t going anywhere.
While some of these trends have been around for years, other trends have grown stronger due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 2021 2022 will be an interesting year for supply chains, with trends such as e-commerce and sustainability in the spotlight.
By learning from the impacts that events of last year had on supply chains, as well as embracing innovation and creating more resilient, sustainable supply chains, businesses and people will be more ready and able to face the challenges that may be ahead in 2022.