Daily Archives: September 18, 2012

To Solve the Talent Crisis, Think Different!

We have a talent crisis across the board in Supply Management and Supply Chain. We shouldn’t have a talent crisis, but because of continual short-sightedness in industry and government, we do.

And at this point I should probably end the post because by now the average person who stumbles upon this post is probably screaming that it’s not our fault, because we value talent, we have great education systems, and we’re trying hard to fix it, etc. etc., but it is our fault. Why?

Every year we rank talent in the top 3 issues. And every year, as our hopes and dreams that strong growth and stability will return get slashed by reality, the first thing we do is cut the training budget. And then, when we realize that there’s too much to do with too little people, we cut professional development time and ask people to work overtime on tactical tasks that add nothing to their skill set. And the cycle continues. So, in the corporate world, we cause our own chaos.

And then, when we have millions of people out of work, with thousands willing to retrain for better jobs, we limit unemployment benefits and make it almost impossible to get money for professional and degree programs. And I’m not just talking scholarships or sponsored training, I’m talking loans that many of these people would be willing to take, and carry for years, just for the opportunity to acquire a skill set that will see them working again. So the government is doing nothing to actually fix the situation. Governments have to guarantee loans for education and they have to subsidize living costs for workers who need retraining if their future earning benefits will limit the ability to repay very high loans. But that’s another issue for another post.

The point that needs to be harped on is that, as an industry, we’ve created our own mess, and we perpetuate it every day. As the job of Supply Manager gets more and more demanding, the response I’m seeing is “We need a talented, educated, skilled individual with a Masters Degree in Supply Management, who speaks three languages, has experience with MRP, ERP, and best-of-breed technologies, has sourcing expertise in three categories across five verticals, has managed 100 Million dollar projects, is trained in negotiation, etc. etc. etc.”. And, in the end, we have a set of requirements that maybe 6 people in the world can fill because ( a) it’s way too much for one person and ( b) the company has never bothered to train anyone internally with even half the skills it wants.

If a company instead took care to appropriately define a set of reasonable job descriptions that would cover all the necessary skills, and then identified internal candidates and trained them for those positions, they would have half the battle solved. Then, if instead of looking for someone for the role who had all of the skills, looked for someone who has the education and experience to quickly learn all of the skills with the mentorship of the people trained internally and a few focussed professional development courses, I’m convinced half of our talent crunch issues would magically disappear over night. (The logistics half would still be an issue because we have the image problem associated with warehouse and trucking jobs in this economy. Because we don’t view those jobs as highly important and an honour to hold, as the Mexicans do [which is why I’m okay with giving them our trucking jobs], convincing people to even consider those jobs will continue to be difficult.)

And then, as this recent article over on the HBR network on how workers with disabilities solved Gitanjali Gems’ talent problem, we never take the time to realize that someone else’s island of misfit toys might actually be filled with the resources we need to do the job. Now, I agree with Charles’ that Supply Management has traditionally been the island of misfit toys in an organization, and that is a big problem, but the reality is that if someone is skilled in X when organization Z needs Y, that person will be a misfit toy in organization Z. The best candidates for a Supply Management job are often people in engineering, high tech, medicine, (bio) chemistry, etc. who know the details of the category that need to be sourced, and the challenges that are involved, but who are not necessarily the best people to be building the projects or doing research. Just like some of the best sales and marketing people in high tech are people with CS degrees who learned to code, figured out that they weren’t very good at it and/or didn’t like it very much, but that they understand inherently what could and could not be done and the relative amounts of effort different commitments to a customer would carry. In IT, many R&D misfits became marketing marvels.

In the case of Gitanjali Gems’, they needed cutters. This is a skill that takes training and time to acquire, and a big money commitment from an employer. So they need to find people with interest, aptitude, and loyalty, as they’d lose big financially if they lost people to the competition as soon as they reached their productive potential. So they looked to people with real disabilities, and found that the attrition rate was 10 times lower, the productivity was 30% higher, and the overall working atmosphere became one where people “felt good” when they went to work, making them want to work even more. In my book, this far outshadows the additional benefits they received from the government (which ends up paying about 15% of the salaries), and the good press they get for the initiative. Because the company found people who wanted to work, and gave those people the training and tools they needed to be successful, the people enjoyed working for the company, worked 30% more productively, and stayed around a lot longer. Which shows that the talent crunch is solvable, if you just get up and actually do something about it.