Canada's Primary Supply Chain Issue is Labour Issue
In a world where automation of processes is happening at a pace we have never seen before, one common hurdle for Supply Chain continues to be reliable access to skilled labor.
Perhaps more than ever and in a post-pandemic world, the value of a supply chain in any business is its ability to consistently deliver products – and until all our jobs are automated that reliability is synonymous with proper staffing, training, and appreciation of the hundreds of thousands of employees that make it happen every single day.
Certainly, automation will alleviate process mistakes and provide for faster, 24/7 service. However, until a business is able to automate – even more challenging now with lead times for advanced robotics and electric components getting longer every month – businesses need to have strong people engagement practices.
It starts with attracting the right candidates and educating our youth about opportunities.
For many of us who have ended up in supply chain roles, it wasn’t a predetermined path we chose in early years of school – or even later years. I can honestly reflect that no one ever told me about the exciting careers in logistics, procurement, manufacturing, or transportation. In order to secure future generations of employees who want to grow careers in supply chain we have to do a better job as an industry educating young minds about the possibilities and importance of a health supply chain nation-wide. Outreach programs in high schools, partnerships with post-secondary institutions and public advertising about the career opportunities in Canada’s supply chain need to be better.
Once we have a candidate’s attention, I think we need to do a better job of highlighting the broad range of career opportunities and advancement within supply chain. We have all heard stories of someone starting in a distribution center picking orders and working their way into a senior leadership role. However, are we doing enough as an industry to promote those opportunities? Do we have clearly defined and interconnected career maps that aren’t just linear but provide opportunity to cross over into different aspects of Supply Chain? For example, a raw material purchaser can cross into production planning on their way to a distribution center leader and then into transportation roles. In my opinion, for too long we have closed these opportunities in favor of traditional career paths in linear functional structures. Organizations that have not ignored the cross-functional opportunities and building of transferrable skills that develop well rounded supply chain leaders of the future are thriving today.
Once you have attracted the talent – the challenge is keeping it!
”Outreach Programs In High Schools, Partnerships With Post-Secondary Institutions And Public Advertising About The Career Opportunities In Canada’s Supply Chain Need To Be Better”
The only thing harder than waiting months for the right candidate is to watch them leave after a few weeks. Harder still, is the reality that you probably could have done more to keep them. As someone blessed with a diverse background of experience, including human resources, I can tell you that the most engaging leaders are ones who dispose of the notion that employee engagement is an HR function. This is especially true in supply chain where the pace of work, the urgency with which we operate, is an environment that is not naturally conducive to long and frequent development and engagement conversations between leaders and employees. However, what I always say to my team, is that it is much harder to live with a vacancy than to find time to check in on your team.
The major fallacy I see time and again with engagement or retention programs is a belief that we can build a one size fits all model. The truth is that retention and engagement have to be personalized. Each member of your team has a different reason for staying and a different reason for leaving. If, as a leader, you don’t care enough to find out what those are, don’t expect low turnover numbers. Giving everyone a branded water bottle, t-shirt and key chain when they are hired, and expecting them to stay forever, is just as bad a generalization as believing all millennials eat avocado-toast every morning. Therefore, that branded t-shirt is a good start and a nice way to welcome your new team member, but it needs to be followed up with meaningful 1-1 discussions about career aspirations, schedule preferences, task and project preferences etc. That’s not to say that you can afford the luxury of customizing the work to every individual, and for the most part, employees don’t need every hour of the day to be about them. However, if an employee doesn’t see a genuine effort towards their needs and wants, and more importantly their career development – they will find it elsewhere, and in today’s job market, they will find it quickly.
In summary, in a race towards automation– we often forget that there are still people in our supply chain that need to be engaged. Teams that prioritize their people are typically safer, produce better quality and better results, including ways to justify automation and continued growth of their business.