Millennials in Supply Chain Discuss Their Weaknesses and Challenges (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 in a two-part series on millennials and their perceptions on their own strengths, weaknesses and challenges as pertaining to procurement and supply chain work.

In case you missed Part 1, which covered millennials’ self-described strengths, the insights in these posts came from Q&As with a number of the 2014 ISM/ThomasNet “30 Under 30” winners, who are at the older end of the “millennial” generation that usually includes 15- to 35-year-olds.

As far as weaknesses go, these millennial professionals agreed with some of the oft-repeated beliefs — that millennials are lazy, entitled, inexperienced, etc. — and picked fault with others.

Interestingly, when I posed the same question regarding weaknesses to David C. Wyld, professor of management at Southeastern Louisiana University; Tobias Schoenherr, associate professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University; and Eddie Davila, senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Supply Chain Management at Arizona State University, they were overall positive about their millennial students. (Granted, this is quite a small sample size, considering all the supply chain programs that have emerged in higher education in recent years.)

“I thought about the question a long time, in terms of challenges and weaknesses of millennials, but was not able to come up with any aspects,” said Schoenherr, who cited millennials’ tendency to change jobs more frequently as a challenge — but more for the companies.

Wyld, too, focused more on challenges that millennials pose to companies, rather than to themselves. “I would worry that the perceived dullness of many supply chain functions may make it hard for companies in the sector to be a bee to compete for talent with firms that are doing work in areas that millennials would see as being sexier — or even just more meaningful — areas of the economy.”

Davila thought that millennials' worst characteristics can also be their best. "Millennials are impatient, entitled and dependent on technology," he said. "They demand a better world and they demand it now. This is exactly what every company desires in their supply chain — urgency, continuous improvement and a shift toward technological solutions."

Millennials Are Impatient

Let ambition be the positive flipside of this one. Millennials get a bad rap for wanting or expecting to be promoted ahead of their time. As Davila said, "Many millennials understand that they don’t know everything. They are looking for leadership, but often they are met with discouraging attitudes and what they read as mixed messages."

While this may be attributed to trophy culture, I suspect it’s more a combination of naturally arrogant youth and pop culture’s lionizing of hoodie-wearing Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. After all, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard University — and then dropped out.

“If Mark could do it, why can’t I?” said some millennial at some point, I’d wager.

But millennials’ tendency to overestimate their own abilities can certainly hinder their learning and growth on the job — not to mention irritate everyone else around them.

“Excelling in an area of expertise, developing meaningful relationships and ultimately being in a position to lead impactful projects takes time, which some, if not most, millennials are not willing to put forth. In my opinion, that is perhaps the generation’s biggest weakness.” — Amy Alpren, director of strategic sourcing at CBS Corporation

“It’s important to remember that even though we are smart, we don’t know it all. [Our] biggest weakness is probably getting frustrated when others aren’t so quick to adapt or accept improvement ideas. It’s just a matter of hearing out their concerns and learning from that as well.” — Alejandra Huhn, vendor master specialist at NuStar Energy

“I wish I knew to have the patience to really determine the root cause of a problem before jumping to a solution. I used to feel like a hero for fixing something quickly, but now I realize those quick fixes are actually just Band-Aids. The real solution comes when you invest time in determining the underlying cause for the problem and addressing it. This sounds easy, but it take a great deal of self-control.” — Jennifer Wolff, senior manager of material planning at Masco Cabinetry

Millennials Lack Experience

This one goes hand in hand with the point above, regarding millennials’ impatience. While this point might call to mind the irony of entry-level job postings that require one to two years of work experience, studies have shown that millennials lack hard and soft skills that their bosses think are crucial for work success.

According to a PayScale report last year, 44% of surveyed hiring managers said that millennials lack writing proficiency. Other skill gaps include public speaking (39%), data analysis (36%) and industry-specific software such as QuickBooks or Salesforce (34%). As for soft skills, an alarming 60% said that millennials are deficient in critical thinking and problem solving ability. Attention to detail (56%) and communication (46%) are also high on the list.

(This writer, being neither a parent nor an education expert, feels qualified anyway to suggest that part of the blame may lie in non-millennial inventions like standardized testing, excessive extracurricular activities and helicopter parenting.)

“It is important for millennials to pursue internships and seek mentors to advance their careers and widen their experience. For [millennials’ positive] qualities to be successful, they must be applied alongside experience — something millennials may be less sufficient in.” — Christina Gill, manager of global supply markets at Halliburton

“We have known a relatively stable world, where countries that once were considered enemies of the U.S. or suspicious actors have largely been viewed as steadfast trading partners. If the balance of power shifts, or latent societal forces move backwards instead of forward, it could impair millennials' ability to make decisions that take into account the actual situation versus a normative state informed by their worldview.” — Paul Boyer, head of procurement at Genentech Hillsboro Technical Operations

Millennials Are Possibly Lazy?

Surely you didn’t think we would be so bold as to publish an article on millennials and not mention laziness. But could laziness be a force for good?

“While millennials are surrounded by a stigma of laziness and narcissism, I think it is merely a partial view and perception. [Millennials’] intolerance for inefficiency is reflected through an ambition for change. Bill Gates once said, ‘I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because he will find an easy way to do it.’” — Laura Dearborn Stearns, supplier commodity manager at Cisco

Are you a millennial working in procurement or supply chain? Or are you the manager of one? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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