2021 and the war on supply chain talent: How tech can create a win-win

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Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Richard Lebovitz, President and CEO of LeanDNA, an analytics platform for factory inventory management.

Last year’s coronavirus disruption was quite a time for the supply chain. As if 2020’s supplier shortages, factory shutdowns, demand changes and excess inventory weren’t enough, new challenges affecting the workforce are emerging due to furloughs, remote work and more. The result is low productivity and morale, as well as high turnover. Couple this with an already aging workforce, and the industry has a problem in terms of talent.

Despite looming economic uncertainty, 41% of supply chain professionals are unlikely to stay with their current employer over the next few months in pursuit of better opportunities for career progression, according to a report by the recruitment agency DSJ Global.

Facing a potential talent exodus, industry leaders can leverage technology to boost productivity when operating with a smaller workforce. Empowering the team with tools that make their day-to-day easier and open them up to be more strategic also positively impacts morale, retention and employee happiness.

What tomorrow’s leaders are seeking

Rising procurement and supply chain professionals are looking for impactful work, energized cultures and a place to build up their industry expertise and skill sets. Those three priorities are hard for any employer to deliver when staff is buried in reporting and the more tactical elements of the job. Because of this, it’s not surprising that 34% of supply chain professionals cite a “lack of needed resources or technology systems” as the most challenging, frustrating, disappointing or unfulfilling aspect of their job, according to an APICS report.

Let’s consider inventory management — a function in which 64% of millennial supply chain professionals are currently employed, the APICS report said. Given the current Covid-19 climate and regular supply and demand fluctuations that come with it, the pressure is on for leaders to adjust inventory levels at a moment’s notice, speed up production, avoid shortages and late deliveries, eliminate excess and obsolete inventory to free up cash, and more — all while monitoring supplier performance.

Using Excel as the solution creates a huge risk of error, is manual and time-consuming, and doesn’t provide context, actionability or accountability around decisions. Professionals aren’t eager to work with outdated methods for handling extremely complex problems. They want technology that optimizes and prioritizes their daily work, reduces stress and guess work, and improves their job performance.

Technology as a lever for talent retention and business value

To attract and retain skilled procurement and supply chain professionals, it’s imperative that businesses invest in technology that enables their teams to get more done, collaborate effectively and open employees up to tackle the rewarding, strategic work they’re craving. With analytics and automation, for example, employees in procurement roles typically consumed by daily phone calls, emails and creating manual reports can now train and transition into more strategic roles, increasing their satisfaction as well as the number of parts and suppliers they can manage on a daily basis. This boosts morale and engagement, which has a direct impact on the organization’s success. In fact, Oxford research shows that happy employees are 13% more productive.

The capacity gains, actionability and visibility enabled by technology benefits employers as much as it does employees. With the team operating more efficiently, companies are better-positioned to act on business-critical priorities, such as confidently attacking the biggest and most urgent inventory problems, and driving tangible, revenue-generating outcomes for the organization.

Remote work could be here to stay

Eighty percent of professionals prefer to continue working from home after the pandemic at least three days out of the week, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

While creating flexible work cultures will be important for employee engagement and retention moving forward, it poses significant operational challenges for procurement and supply chain teams that haven’t invested in the right technology to set them up for success.

To collaborate effectively from afar, every team member needs to be looking at the same, most up-to-date data to understand how processes are performing, which actions need to be tackled first, and be held accountable for their tasks. This is forcing companies to quickly establish best practices for critical business areas and leverage technology as a way to ensure that these processes are followed.

Aligning the organization around a set of standardized dashboard views and workflows enables teams to stay on top of priority actions and keeps activities moving forward, especially when not working together in person. Managers can also keep a pulse on which team members need additional support or mentoring, where buyer workloads could be rebalanced, and track key wins and risks.

A new way forward with technology

The procurement and supply chain job market is only getting more competitive. Technology can create a win-win, attracting the best workers with the rewarding projects and company culture they’re looking for, while helping employers drive efficiencies in some of the most complex areas of the supply chain and deliver on business-critical priorities.

Agility is only going to become more important for procurement and supply chain teams as the industry navigates the ongoing health and economic crisis. The companies that invest in technology and empower the workforce to take on new challenges will be the ones that retain talent and thrive amid the uncertainty.

Read more of Spend Matters' coverage of issues that help procurement practitioners, like interviews with Bayer's CPO and other procurement leaders.

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