I interviewed Thomas Tanel who discussed Logistics/Supply Chain Talent Challenge: Generational Challenges and Turnover.







What do you think about the impact of Millennials on the supply chain as jobs to fill will increase by 25%?


According to a recent Materials Handling Institute report, the logistics business will be looking to fill about 1.4 million jobs, or roughly 270,000 per year, by 2018.  The supply chain and logistics sector faces a major human resources challenge in the coming years.  The industry needs highly skilled individuals, trained and qualified, to address the demands of increasingly sophisticated supply chains.  With 80 million Millennials or Generation Y vs. 79 million Boomers in the U.S., the supply chain world needs to figure it out.


A recent ThomasNet.com Industry Marketing Barometer® (IMB) survey, said seventy-eight percent of respondents describe themselves as 45 – 65 years of age and of these more than a third are 55 – 65.  Baby boomers are aging out.  Moreover, it’s not just management that’s going gray. The people who execute those logistics functions: processing a PO, working the warehouse floor, driving those trucks, and conducting inventories---who have been working there for 30 years are aging out, too.  With Generation Y expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, and older employees exiting in droves, we face a logistics and supply chain ”brain drain”. As experienced workforce retires, key supply chain competencies will most likely depart along with them.


As companies have shifted their focus from survival in the New Normal to being more proactive, they have inadvertently overlooked the supply chain talent crisis that looms ahead.  Namely, how do you recruit, train, develop, and retain your supply chain talent, when faced with the challenge of a shrinking supply chain workforce that will reach retirement by 2015.  And worse the marketplace for talent in the field of supply chain and logistics management is very competitive with not enough replacements to fill the need.


If 25% of a shrinking workforce will reach retirement by 2015, how can we overcome this rapid turnover of talent and experience?


I would focus on Tribal knowledge.  It is loosely defined as unwritten know-how that is required to do your job. It is often referred to as knowledge “known” yet undocumented, such as information that has been verbally handed down from one generation to another generation.  In a perfect world, all supply chain processes would be fully documented and any new Millennial hire could read a system manual, or policy and procedure manual, to learn everything about their job.


As Baby Boomers retire a lot of tribal knowledge in logistics and the supply chain will leave with them. In many supply chain functions, a good deal of the knowledge is not written down – it exists only in the logisticians' heads.  The major objective for Millennial supply chain talent should be to download the Baby Boomers’ brains and get their knowledge documented before they walk out the door.


The good news is that tribal knowledge also forces your experienced Baby Boomers to tutor and coach Millennial hires---for it to pass from one generation to the other.  Storytelling can be used to guide values and priorities, promote desired behaviors, and share learning.  Using one’s life experiences can be a sure-shot success strategy for training Millennial replacements. The stories used by Baby Boomer “tribal knowledge holders” can then be used to elaborate on their experiences and skills.  The influence this could have on Millennial’s thinking or their approach to work and the value it can provide should make a difference to the supply chain organization.


As a Baby Boomer, I feel that our recollections of what we’ve done before usually help us to grasp the unique pattern of a current logistics or supply chain situation.  This is our pragmatic ability to absorb a vast flow of information, and to distinguish the essential current of events - the things that go together and the things that will never go together.  As experienced logistics professionals we possess a vast repertoire of supply chain events, through situational involvement, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t; and we, in turn, are less likely to be taken by surprise.

Having both experience and knowledge leads to wisdom. Knowing what you can and cannot do, helps to make the right choice.  Thus the lack of experience gained through trial-and-error, which Millennials will gain over time, is that “baptism by fire” experience which Baby Boomers have already accumulated.


How do Millennials expectations match current supply chain resource constraints?


Millennials can add immediate value because supply chain technology is a resource issue.  I believe firmly that technology is a force multiplier.  It can enable efficiencies that require less people. And technology is what can satisfy the millennial’s appetite for effective and “cool” ways to work. Ultimately, supply chain technology and technology enablers are what will enable the supply chain to succeed in the future.


Three ways to overcome these struggles for Millennials in your supply chain environment are to have a:

  • Sense of culture and community, a
  • Flatter, less-hierarchical organization, and a more
  • Social and collaborative environment


Therefore, a possible enrichment process would be to give these Millennials the opportunity to work creatively in your supply chain by promoting cross-functional logistics projects. Ever since the New Normal happened as a result of the great recession in 2008, we have been prompted to set up multidisciplinary teams so we can identify new methods, techniques and ways to control costs, gain visibility, and increase efficiency to raise the bar. So the Baby Boomers have to learn how to work with these novices and these Millennials need to figure out how to work with us graybeards---both generations can mutually add value as a team!


As described in the book Generations Inc. the Linkster generation is the one just entering the workforce now.  Like any other generation, it brings its own mindset into the workforce.


Who are Linksters?  They are called Linksters because no other generation has ever been so linked to each other and to the world through technology.  Their struggles in the work environment are attributed to their youth and inexperience.  So how can we help?  Orient them to the obvious.  Be specific about expectations that may seem obvious to you but may not be to them. Therefore, we should provide them with clear direction about what you expect from them.



About Thomas Tanel


Thomas Tanel


CATTAN Services Group

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