I interviewed Shay Scott from the Global Supply Chain Institute of Tennessee who discussed SCM talent development and the management challenges involved.
Dustin: Well, thank you, Shay, for spending your time today to share your views into supply chain management and some of the talent issues. Can you start by providing a brief background of yourself?
Shay: Sure, Dustin. I appreciate you taking the opportunity to speak with me today about this important subject. Before we get into the discussion on supply chain talent and development, just briefly about myself, my name is Shay Scott. I’m the managing director of the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee in the U.S. We are one of the leading supply chain educational university providers around the world. Our faculty recently were ranked number one in the world in supply chain research, and we work regularly with about fifty companies in formal partnerships for supply chain research and education. My background, I spent quite a bit of time as a practitioner. I worked, for a brief stint, at AlliedSignal and then at Dell in supply chain for several years before coming to academia. Currently in this managing director position, I serve as an interface between our research faculty, our corporate partners, our students, and also our international university partners.
Dustin: Thank you. My first question is: What is supply chain management talent development?
Shay: That’s a great question. I think that, certainly, there’s still some deliberation on exactly what the answer is, depending on where you sit. I think everyone would agree that supply chain management as a field, as an area continues to develop, even in the United States, which was probably one of the earliest areas that modern supply chain management developed. We’re still only about twenty years or so into this age, and so, because of that, we have continually dealt with a talent shortage of individuals that understand supply chain management, best practices, and how to really put those into place in their company to get the value that is possible.
When one leaves the U.S., there are even bigger challenges, depending on the region of the world that you go to. Certainly in Europe, the gap is not very wide, although recent studies have shown that there’s still much more of a focus on logistics as a subset of supply chain management instead of the broader concept and definition. Moving into Asia, which we all would agree is probably the center of supply chain management for the world, from a university education standpoint, the availability and the sophistication of supply chain talent development programs there, whether they be degree programs or shorter course programs, is still lacking quite severely. When we speak with companies who are desperately looking for talent in the area, what we hear almost always is,...
“We wish we were able to work with a university or a provider to be able to get the talent that we could find in the U.S., although we need it in Asia.”
From a perspective of supply chain talent development, when I speak of it, the concept that I’m addressing is this idea that we have the developing field of supply chain management, and we have a bit of a lag with educational programs, whether they’re traditional university-based programs or whether they’re even in-house corporate programs.
Dustin: What are some of the management challenges with supply chain management talent development?
Shay: Well, first of all, I think—just going back to the last question momentarily—really understanding what it is, what do we mean by it, what type of talent does a particular organization need within their supply chain, because that’s certainly going to vary. It’s going to depend on the type of product, it’s going to depend on the market served, certainly the position and the level within an organization.
Really, I think what many leading-edge companies are doing now is sitting down and developing a supply chain management talent development plan. What this does is really identifying across varying levels, across varying regions of the organization what skill-sets do our employees need to have and where are those lacking?
Of course, along with that comes the need to have career-path planning within supply chain management. Supply chain is still not considered to be the typical career track in many companies, and where they’re very well-architected career paths around marketing and finance and other more traditional organizations within the company, typically, they’re not so in supply chain management. Often there will be career tracks within operations or within procurement or sourcing or even within logistics, but when we look at a supply chain management career track, the movement from one of those areas of supply chain back to another is not well-established.
So, as companies go through that process of evaluating: What do we need to our talent to be? At what level? In what region? Let’s develop this supply chain management talent development map, and let’s really manage it as we would other challenges in the business. In many ways, this constraint of supply chain talent is a supply chain itself. We’re trying to balance the demand and the supply, and, in many cases, our supply is a little less than the demand that we need. So, really getting a handle on that overall problem of where do we need our organization to be is probably the biggest management challenge.
Dustin: How can these challenges be addressed?
That’s a very interesting question in that I wouldn’t say there’s a best-practice answer that’s really emerged at this point. It can begin with things as simple as getting employees involved in supply chain management trade associations, in assigning them or allowing them to find a mentor within the organization if their particular talent developing need is better understanding what’s happening in supply chain at large. If there is a deficit of supply chain skills, and what we see often is this: Employees do very well at one particular area, so within warehousing, within distribution, within transportation or procurement. They do very well within their area, but understanding best-practice supply chain concepts that really optimize the overall supply chain instead of one particular area, many times we see employees with a deficit of knowledge and understanding for what really needs to happen in order for an organization to get to that level.
Here, again, there are a number of options. One that’s very popular are companies forming their own supply chain academies as a part of their corporate universities. I think at least seventy percent of the Fortune 500 companies have their own internal corporate university. So, taking advantage of knowledge that’s already inside the company and formally expanding that out to employees that need it is very much a viable way to meet the challenge if that knowledge exists within the company.
And then outside of that, of course there are a number of short courses, nondegree courses that are offered by trade associations and CSCMP, also by university providers such as my own, the University of Tennessee. Here employees are able to get knowledge that really kind of allows them to go back into the company and potentially be best practice, be super users, be kind of the leaders in a particular area within the company. Again, that requires it to be scoped down to what skill-sets are really missing.
One of our most popular offerings right now is in the area of sourcing. It’s called vest-out sourcing. In here, really, we’re taking some leading-edge research and talking in depth about how a company can think differently about their external partnerships. If that is one of those weaknesses within the supply chain talent of an organization, then it may make sense to use that type of course.
And then, finally, there are a number of degree programs, master’s degree programs, M.B.A.’s, executive M.B.A.’s that are focusing in on supply chain. We’re launching a new one next year, an executive M.B.A. that focuses forty percent of the curriculum on how supply chain leaders can be successful in taking their supply chains to the next level within their own companies.
On the other hand, I think that there are some general things that are gonna have to happen for us to really get a handle on this issue, and one is a much earlier awareness of what supply chain is for students coming through our educational system right now. I know here in the United States, the Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals has begun some partnerships with high schools to help students understand that supply chain is a career. I know often here in Tennessee, we explained that to our sophomores and juniors, and they didn’t really understand even that the opportunity existed before really into their third year of university.
I think that is very typical across the world, and, in many cases, actually—in Asia, particularly in Africa, in some parts of Eastern Europe—students get all the way through a university program and get into the workplace and then they begin to wrestle with these supply chain-type issues and they’ve not really had the education to prepare them well. So, I think at a general level, universities and companies working with them, as well as governments across the board are going to need to increasingly recognize how supply chain is becoming an important input to business strategy. I heard a statistic last week from Gartner Group. They said by 2015, which is only two years from now, 40% of incoming new CEOs will have supply chain management experience.
I think as supply chain becomes more firmly embedded in corporate strategies of companies, it will become more accepted earlier in our educational systems. Right now in the gap companies must be very proactive or they will competitors in other companies which have taken the talent which has the skills the company needs.
About Shay Scott
Global Supply Chain Institute
University of Tennessee