Talent Diversity And The Skills Gap In The Supply Chain

Talent continues to be a top priority for companies in a variety of industries and of all sizes as they work to recruit top talent into new, evolving roles and ensure existing employees have the skills they need to succeed.

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Kelly MarcheseKelly Marchese

Talent continues to be a top priority for companies in a variety of industries and of all sizes as they work to recruit top talent into new, evolving roles and ensure existing employees have the skills they need to succeed.

For the supply chain and manufacturing fields, many companies are struggling to fill roles with diverse talent who often see the profession as historically not welcoming or appealing, requiring those companies to embrace non-traditional ways of recruiting and training to fill the jobs of the future.

Recent data paints a picture of just how far supply chain has to go in terms of diverse hiring, inclusion among existing workers, and making the most of new talent pipelines. Women totaled about 47 percent of the labor force in 2016, but only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce, according to research by Deloitte in collaboration with The Manufacturing Institute and APICS entitled “Women in Manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters.” How can we change the narrative here?   

As another round of graduates enters the workforce and others gear up to start school in the fall, education initiatives can be key in promoting a more diverse workforce. Progress is already being made; in just the past two years, the percentage of surveyed women who believe the school system “encourages” female students to pursue manufacturing careers has more than doubled, from 12 to 29 percent. According to the survey, more than half of women have observed marked or positive changes in the manufacturing industry’s attitude towards female employees. But 29 percent leaves a lot of room for improvement.  

Increasing diversity in the supply chain talent pipeline isn’t just the right thing to do; it can help businesses reap huge benefits from cohesive, creative teams, stronger leadership, new skills and a more positive company culture. That’s especially important as supply chain, manufacturing, and other business leaders emphasize the importance of skills like collaboration, relationship-building and problem-solving to make the most of future technologies.

According to a recent Deloitte survey “Exponential Technologies in Manufacturing,” authored in conjunction with Singularity University and the Council on Competitiveness, global manufacturing CEOs named talent as the top driver of manufacturing competitiveness. Still, the perceived attractiveness of manufacturing is relatively low, and many prospective hires are reluctant to pursue careers in the field.

Further compounding the problem is the troubling state of “readiness” among manufacturing organizations. Many leaders, according to the report, have seen both a “high exodus of potential tech-savvy employees” and the lack of “presence of mind to ask and address difficult questions” as slowing their ability to adopt exponential technologies.

This crystalizes the complex nature of the problem: Existing talent and leadership is often unprepared for — and possibly unconcerned with — looming disruption, and new talent is too scarce to fill the gap. Even when the news is good, it falls on deaf ears: For example, according to the advanced manufacturing report, the manufacturing sector has performed more than 75 percent of all private sector research and development, yet is not seen as innovative or as creative as other technology sectors. Organizations should turn to diverse talent pipelines and make concrete, hands-on efforts to make manufacturing a more diverse and compelling place to work.

That is especially true for women and minorities who might bring a much-needed, diverse point of view to the table. The Deloitte and APICS survey found that 84 percent of respondents believed having women on leadership teams can help manufacturers deliver innovative and creative solutions. Yet they may still see manufacturing careers as male-dominated, rote, or aggressive.

Changing that perception of manufacturing and supply chain is an essential key to success. How do manufacturing organizations, educational partners, and companies begin to reshape the narrative and position manufacturing as a creative, engaging, and technologically advanced field?

To start, education, skills development, and interest-building must begin early by exposing diverse talent to STEM, exciting technologies and other innovations at a young age. At the collegiate level, programs like DUET (Deloitte and Universities Enabling Together), work to increase the representation of women in the supply chain. University programs are also starting to add degrees specifically in supply chain, including Pennsylvania State University, University of Tennessee, and Michigan State University, which offer master’s degrees in supply chain. By providing exposure earlier, though, perhaps even in middle school, companies and programs can dispel the myth that manufacturing and supply chain attract a narrow, homogenous talent pool and make those fields a more compelling career path.

Similarly, while many companies recognize the importance of creative and collaborative skills, there is still further to go; given the pace and complexity of manufacturing and supply chain today, these fields require people who can innovate and work together with a diverse pool of talent. Many newly created jobs will require essential human traits such as empathy, creativity, collaboration, and other “nontraditional” skills that are essential in the future of new, rapidly-changing technologies, where many of the tasks the machines won’t do effectively will require exactly those skills.

Once candidates reach organizations, sponsorship and mentoring initiatives can help them break into leadership roles. In the women in manufacturing study, for example, women ranked mentoring programs, flexible work and visibility of key leaders as the top three most impactful programs. Even beforehand, these programs can send a clear message: All talent types (not just traditional ones) are welcome in manufacturing and supply chain, all are needed, and all can and should work in harmony to build the future of the profession.

As women enter supply chain roles and companies continue to need new, creative talent, it’s time to double down on these efforts.

Kelly Marchese is a Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

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