Acing the Soft Skills

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Acing the Soft Skills

The aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic is going to have a greater emphasis on the most crucial key of the supply chain – TALENT. While companies across industries and across the globe had already started giving due attention to nurture future talent, the year 2020 only strengthened its dire need and importance to manage unforeseen crisis situations. The sudden lockdown not only tested companies’ ability to bounce back but it also tested their hiring and retaining skills when it came to attracting the right talent. Through this story, we reached out to academicians globally to bring to you the skillsets that are needed to prepare the supply chain talent to tide through the crisis and how do they foresee the future of talent to bring in a supply chain renaissance.

With the Covid 19 essentially changing the business landscape,what shift do you foresee in the future talent as far as supply chain is concerned?

Hedwik D Giesel

Hedwik D Giesel, Senior Performance and Control Analyst, Groupe Renault: 

The Covid-19 pandemic anticipated some changes that were latent in society, processes that would take 3 to 5 years occurred in an accelerated way in the last months, such as home office, telemedicine, and e-commerce. It is realized that one of the most required fields is the supply chain. This area has been under a lot of pressure, requiring fast responses and a high level of accuracy in a dynamic environment, and in some cases, with scarce resources. In other words, a lot of resilience and fast learning are required to understand the possible faults and correct them, and especially, to adapt to the new scenario. Obviously, disruptive technologies have been demonstrating their potential to assist and thus anticipate new possibilities in the operation that previously seemed distant. Therefore, my vision is that future Supply Chain talents are expected to have resilience, be adaptable to different scenarios and look for new technologies that provide the necessary support to provide the answers to the problems that have been presented.

Dr. Abhishek Behl

Dr. Abhishek Behl, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Business School:

The future of supply chain talent management will visualize changes at every level of experience and work degree. As the economy unlocks itself and bounces back to normalcy, sufficient work life balance forms the most critical aspect. Technology management and analytics would take center stage when supply chain experts draw future talent projections. The ongoing COVID 19 led to losses, which accounted for partial or complete payment for workers engaged in different roles. There is a pressing need for professionals to improve themselves on technical and non-technical skills. Firms will start investing in training their existing workforce using massive open online courses (MOOCs) to upskill the knowledge. It is also seen in changing colleges and universities' curricula, wherein professors have started to offer electives on risk management and risk mitigation. Human Resource Analytics will also play a pivotal role in understanding the demand and supply of the workforce.

Dr. KK Sharma

Dr. KK Sharma, Head of Centre for Surface & Air Transport, Adani Institute of Infrastructure: 

The post Covid economy will be more e-commerce savvy on the procurement as well marketing supply chain side. The companies are expected to hire less direct employees who are their brand ambassadors in the market as tele-marketing and e-commerce takes over most of the market search for procurement and sales jobs. The logistics of material/machinery receipts will be mostly shifting to the suppliers and the dispatch & delivery of finished goods would be delivered through the e-commerce set up. In both cases, the manpower supply agencies and the logistics companies would be in good demand.

The ecosystem would have small & large warehouses as hubs for aggregation & disaggregation and there would be an army of last mile delivery people. That essentially means the technology skills of material movement & warehouse management will be in demand. Movable vehicle owners will have more business and commercial vehicle industry will get a push.

The supply chain industry lives with a popular impression of being a seemingly dirty, demanding and unforgiving profession. Alongside, the work is becoming increasingly more complex and there aren’t enough people opting for a choice to work in this sector. Talent-wars are common as it is becoming more and more difficult to find the right people.

In the recent times, the logistics industry is redefining itself around e-commerce and digitally disruptive technologies are making a large impact. 3D printing, GPS, Robotics, advanced analytics and other emerging technologies and data processing capabilities are opening up new vistas or disrupting the earlier ways of working. Consequently, a lot more opportunities that require digital and analytical skills have opened. However, with an environment where distance working, work from home, digital e-commerce & tele-calling are becoming norm for future workplaces and routines, professionals in this sector would require a skillset that is heavy on inter-personal verbal & written communication & negotiation skills, team-working, self-motivation, drive to learn more, strategic thinking and an agile mind-set. The colleges & universities would start focusing on short courses in logistics skills and even more emphasis on developing communication skills.

Prof. Guilherme Frederico

Prof. Guilherme Frederico, Associate Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management, School of Management Federal University of Paraná – UFPR – Brazil: 

With the Covid-19 event, the needs for more resilient supply chains became paramount. Future professionals involved in supply chain management must be capable of managing supply chains based on the risk-based perspective. This involves not only abilities on the supply chain resilience design, but also, on conducting supply chain’s planning and control activities considering likely disruptions.

Professor Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy, Cranfield School of Management: 

In the new normal, if your supply chain is the same as the one that you had pre-coronavirus, you’re probably doing something wrong. From stalls in supply and transportation capabilities, to empty supermarket shelves – the Covid-19 outbreak has exposed vulnerabilities and weak spots in our supply chains, and highlighted the need to change and adapt in order to meet the requirements of an ever-changing ‘new normal’.

The outbreak has brought into sharp relief the impact that overdependence on one location or a lack of visibility over the entire supply chain can have – for example the discovery early into the pandemic that key active ingredients for important pharmaceutical products were manufactured in China, where factories were under lockdown – as well as the impact that customer trust, and therefore customer behavior, can have on demand and ability to maintain a steady supply of goods.

Every single part of the supply chain is potentially vulnerable to disruption – whether that’s social distancing regulations impacting manufacturing capability, border closures altering the amount of time it takes to transport goods, or sudden and unprecedented spikes in demand from consumers which create a bullwhip effect.

Each element of the supply chain is all part of a whole and if one falters the whole thing can be impacted. What this crisis has made clear is that going forward supply chains must have an increased level of resilience built in, so that businesses can ensure they are robust and responsive in the face of challenges. We are moving from an era marked by an emphasis on procurement for cost, to an era marked by an emphasis on procurement for resilience, and while this may lead to an increase in costs for businesses – many will decide it’s worthwhile to have the peace of mind that they can continue to be operational and provide for their customers in the face of future challenges.

Going forward, businesses can expect increased pressures (both regulatory and on a society-wide level) to ensure they are more resilient to disruption and that stocks of critical products are maintained. Alongside stitching resilience into the fabric of their supply chains, building trust with their customers through transparency may also play a key role in avoiding further panic-buying behavior that fuels volatility – further helping to stabilize supply chains. Previously, organizations focused their resiliency planning around securing first-tier suppliers. Now, they might extend their resiliency planning further upstream to second and third-tier suppliers when making decisions around sourcing, inventory buffers and transportation routes. There is a strategic element to resilience, that shouldn’t be overlooked while hiring and retaining supply chain talent and that’s what will see all the organizations through the unforeseen eventualities and make organizations better prepared to sustain & survive such sudden business shocks.

What are the skillsets that they need to imbibe to successfully navigate unforeseen challenges and grow up the ladder?

Hedwik D Giesel: During such volatile times, skills such as dynamism to know how to overcome routines and meet urgent needs, creativity to find innovative solutions, knowledge of new technologies to solve challenges and automate processes to focus on the most important decisions strategies that allow significant results to be achieved top the chart. Likewise, and perhaps most importantly, emotional intelligence to make decisions more assertive and resilience to learn from mistakes and overcome them are some of the most important skillsets for the new talent in supply chain.

Dr. Abhishek Behl: COVID 19 has disrupted not only the supply chain operations but also the people who manage the operations. The future of people who would manage the revived supply chain operations should work on a triple-A framework: Agility, Adaptability, and Alignment. Workforce agility, although driven by the organization under normal circumstances, needs to be intrinsically governed during uncertain circumstances. It's the attitude that will make the workforce survive, not their talent alone. Referring to Charles Darwin's theory, "Survival of the fittest," the supply chain professionals would also have to adapt to situations. Another trend that would disrupt the existing talent management systems is the upsurge in the gig workforce. Both white collared and blue collared gig workers bring both talent and upgraded skills that might replace the redundant existing workforce. Thus, adaptability is the key. Being the third pivot helps in understanding the changing need of times and adjusting to the requirements.

Dr. KK Sharma: This question has two facets to it: One is specific to Companies and other is for Supply Chain Professionals. Companies will need to have their recruitment and training policies oriented towards testing the soft skills & attitude elements like self motivation, drive, and agile mindset. There are enough tools available around to be able to use workforce analytics, performance monitoring and competency-based assessment to do better in talent acquisition, talent assessment and talent retention. On the other hand, supply chain professionals will need to learn more around materials management, warehouse management, marketing, e-commerce, etc. The need for having exceptionally good communication & proper attitude is even more now. Their self-drive will be proven by the efforts they make to acquire these skills without which they would get stuck in low paying logistics work. As they grow in their careers, knowledge about national and international logistics, multi-modal transport mediums, procedures at logistic hubs, exportimport will add more and more value to grow further.

Prof. Guilherme Frederico: Supply chain professionals must meet a set of skills with the aim to well predict unexpected situations and prepare supply chains against those threats. Supply chains professionals must have abilities in global supply chains designs seeking alternatives and contingency plans for sudden events. This involves for instance, new collaborations with supply chain members in terms of set up joint contingency plans (e.g., with suppliers and retailers). Also, with the advent of disruptive technologies of Supply Chain 4.0, these future professionals must be able to implement and operate those new technologies bringing benefits for the supply chain processes in terms of getting more responsive.

Professor Richard Wilding OBE: In the old world of supply chains, where change was slow, when products and patterns in demand were predictable and stable, it was simple. The traditional command and control mode of leadership was clear and effective. In the VUCA context of global markets in general (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), and with the effects of digitization on supply chains, it’s just no longer the right approach for supply chain managers and most importantly the leaders – at least not by itself. Managers need to be looking at equipping themselves to have a toolkit and look beyond the pervasive and monolithic example of the ‘good leader’.

What would be the requirements that the post Covid era would bring with itself in employing supply chain managers in the corporate sector?

Hedwik D Giesel: Looking back on organizations' last decades, people have never been more in demand than in the current pandemic. Having a special look at people, understanding their limitations, and assisting the team to the potential of each employee to meet the organization's objectives, is one of the great attributes for post Covid managers, mainly, with the new perspectives to home office where the most “human” and close contact with the team will be limited or non-existent. Likewise, in-depth knowledge of the operation associated with a more holistic view of the organization and the market is essential for efficient solutions focused on customer satisfaction.

Dr. Abhishek Behl: The post-COVID era would bring great opportunities for supply chain managers. As the world economy reopens,  firms have progressed to digitize their business. The digital ecosystem would need managers that understand the nuances of supply chain management and technology management. With businesses going online, there also lies an issue of reverse logistics. The next-generation workforce would have to find solutions to minimize losses in product returns and dissatisfied customers. The core competency lies in not being competitive but being adaptive and innovative at the same time. Companies' new roles would also demand-supply chain managers to take leadership roles and manage crises both at the work and workforce front.

Dr. KK Sharma: The supply chain managers of tomorrow should understand while the sector will grow, only those with good digital skills, self-motivation & drive, continuously up-skilling, and good marketing communication skills will fare better in the longer run. Growth industries are unstable in large parts as entries and exits would be a norm. There will be anxiety and uncertainty galore. Good leaders would help themselves by developing an agile mindset and resilience.

Prof. Guilherme Frederico: Companies must value those professionals who are able to think supply chains strategically and make decisions with appropriate trade-offs between efficiency x resilience. This implicates in having professionals with a broad view of supply chains, from upstream up to downstream supply chain’s processes. Also, professionals must be capable of understanding particularities of supply chains in the regional aspects, as well as, global opportunities, to better guide their decision-making on supply chain elements (e.g., sourcing, transportation, manufacturing, facilities). Digital supply chain skills (e.g., artificial intelligence, big data analytics) are also required, taking into consideration that those new technologies strongly contribute to more efficient and responsive supply chains.

What is the best way to enhance the industry-academia tie-up, more so in times like these?

Hedwik D Giesel: Specific works and projects managed in conjunction with teams composed of employees of the organizations, students and teachers are a good solution to foster this much needed movement. Some universities share their equipment and space to local organizations that can put a project into practice, carry out tests and prototypes. Also, there are organizations that provide structures with the Fab Lab concept, moreover, bring challenges and marathons like hackathon that move the academic community and originate innovative solutions.

Dr. Abhishek Behl: Industry and academia have always been supplementing each other. COVID 19 further helped them to bridge their gaps between each other by integrating theory to practice. Industries are a vast source of data and experience that often lies unstructured and underutilized.

Academia, on the other hand, is profound in their research skills and putting scientific thoughts behind actions. It is vital to promote dialogic communication between both stakeholders. More often, industry tie-up with academic institutions that is need-based consultancy or upskilling their workforce. Instead, there should be a conducive environment where standard knowledge repositories should be made to benefit society. Some of the possible output that is timely needed are case studies, simulation-based studies, and theoretical testing frameworks that are situation based.

Lastly, the industry should consult academic leaders to manage their operations and management efficiently, generate the right kind of data, and brainstorm with experts before making decisions.

Dr. KK Sharma: That is a difficult take. Even when the interaction was face to face and people used to work from official workplaces, conduct of internships in large parts left a lot to be desired. Inadequate attention, poor monitoring & thence evaluation left most internships conducted in an impersonal manner. With the Corona Virus playing havoc with even this arrangement, industry-academia ties have taken a strong hit. For what are the ways out, we must look at from both perspectives. From Industry perspective, a lot of them are going through tough business times and uncertainty.

Most employees are working from home and they are dealing with the challenge of redefining work contribution and measurement through digital mediums. There is uncertainty everywhere. Due to poor business & cash flow, their inability to pay is well understood. From the academia perspective, the need to forge stronger and continuing ties with industry has become even greater now. They could set up consulting wings at colleges/institutions who help industries with small projects pro-bono or on cost wherever the industry agrees. That would help the graduating students with live projects to apply their minds on. Another way they could help students get experience is through encouraging them to start-up. In the longer run, dedicating additional semesters for work-based training/internships would help students get a longer stint at companies to make a worthwhile impact and prove their credentials. That would help the industry too.

Prof. Guilherme Frederico: I think this is an unprecedented opportunity for both academy and industry to get more joint engagement with the aim to propose novel and relevant solutions in terms of supply chain knowledge for the post-pandemic era. Academy may provide novel solutions from research that provide real impact to the industries’ needs. But for this achievement, academia also needs strong industry support not only in terms of funds support but also to open their doors to supply chain researchers to conduct their works. For this aim, the establishment of joint initiatives which aligns industries and universities’ strategies are required. Also, the academy plays an important role in developing relevant skills through supply chain knowledge dissemination on undergraduate and graduate courses at the universities.

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