Millennials in Supply Chain Discuss Their Own Strengths (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 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. Part 1 will discuss millennials’ strong suits. Check back later this week for Part 2, covering millennials’ weaknesses.

When I wrote to several of the 2014 winners of ISM/ThomasNet’s “30 Under 30” competition recognizing young talent working in supply chain, I asked them how they think their generation will change the procurement and supply chain profession. I also asked them how they would describe their generation’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges as pertaining to supply chain.

All of them are at the older end of the “millennial” generation, roughly defined as those between the ages of 15 and 35 today. Most, but not all, are based in the United States. And as you might assume from their “30 Under 30” titles, they’re ambitious, serious and dedicated to their supply chain careers. Ten, 20 years from now, they could be CPOs. (You heard it here first.)

As I read through their responses (my sincere thanks to all who participated!), common themes emerged. Collaboration was a big one. Technology was another. Many of them viewed technological prowess as both a strength of millennials in the workplace and the means by which they will transform the supply chain profession.

What Can Millennials Contribute?

With the supply chain sector facing roughly 270,000 new jobs to fill each year, there is a definite need for new supply chain talent, much of which will come from the millennial generation as they enter the workforce.

“Millennials do bring special skills and benefits to the workplace, just as other generations, groups and individuals bring their own abilities, talents and mindsets to the table,” explains Christina Gill, manager of global supply markets at Halliburton.

And their professors seem to agree. “The biggest strengths of millennials for the supply chain profession is their ability to think outside of the box, be entrepreneurial, and be passionate,” says Tobias Schoenherr, associate professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University. “For instance, the number of students that have already had entrepreneurial experience of sometimes even running their own business while in college has increased significantly, just based on my observations from the students I teach.”

Millennial supply chain professionals themselves say that their strengths lie in their openness to new ideas, collaboration and technological expertise.

Millennials Are Innovative

“I think that procurement as a profession will only be helped as millennials come to the fore,” says David C. Wyld, professor of management at Southeastern Louisiana University. “They see themselves as more solutions-oriented, more socially aware and certainly more comfortable than prior generations in working not just with new technologies, but [also] with new people and in new situations.” By simply being “different,” millennials might be able to bring new perspectives to supply chain. It also doesn't hurt that millennials tend to value diversity and inclusiveness.

“I would consider to be the biggest strength [to be] constantly seeking improvement. That’s so important in supply chain because our purpose is to provide the best quality of product and service to our customers, external and internal, for the lowest cost.” — Alejandra Huhn, vendor master specialist at NuStar Energy

“Millennials’ biggest strength is the ability to look at the profession and challenge the status quo. To stand still in business is to go backwards, and it is important we strive for continuous improvement within supply chain management. This can be achieved by harnessing qualities within millennials such as taking risks, adopting new ideas, thinking out of the box, process improvement, or implementing technological advances.” — Christina Gill

“Millennials are causing disruption in the workplace and in some cases have received a bad reputation for this, but I believe this generation has much to offer. We have grown up with constantly changing and updating technologies and because of this I believe we more easily adapt to change, and strive to create efficiencies.” — Aubrey Edwards, sourcing analyst at CBRE

Millennials Are Tech-Savvy

It is no surprise that the generation often referred to as “digital native” can claim technological ability as one of their major strengths. According to a report released last month from the Conference Board, Development Dimensions International and RW2 Enterprises titled “Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders,” millennials are rapidly becoming the majority in tech-related industries and management consulting firms.

“Millennials tend to be technologically savvy and expect user-friendly, customer-oriented software. As this group moves into decision-making functions, I expect it will drive enterprise software companies to revamp their tools to meet customer expectations. This will benefit firms and their customers as information becomes more accessible and more of the supply chain processes are visible and interactive.” — Paul Boyer, head of procurement at Genentech Hillsboro Technical Operation

“The most obvious skills that millennials bring are being tech-savvy and quick learners and adapters. I also feel we are always looking for the best way to do something.” — Alejandra Huhn

Millennials Are Collaborative

Growing up alongside the rise of the Internet and social media has allowed millennials to build friend networks across geographies and cultures. According to the same report cited above, while millennials do embrace technology as a way to do their work more quickly, they prefer face-to-face conversations with their colleagues and especially with their managers.

“Millennials are accustomed to having information at our fingertips. I believe this makes us resourceful and able to ramp up quickly and solve problems. This is further aided by our desire to collaborate and innovate.” — Laura Dearborn Stearns, supplier commodity manager at Cisco

“Millennials have been raised in a connected, global world. We believe that the world has more in common with us than different, and that should lead to an embrace of global trade and its economic benefits. In the supply chain professions, this will minimize any hesitation about exploring opportunities and vetting them on their merits.” — Paul Boyer

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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First Voice

  1. Digby Barker:

    I just wonder how the authors of the research can be sure that it makes sense to talk about “the supply chain sector” and, more generally, how they define “supply chain work”. Furthermore, dosn’t it make more sense to talk about Supply Networks as the term Supply Chain implies that its members are part of only one commercial relationship when any one company at Tier x is likely to be supporting/contributing to many ultimate end clients…..

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