Supply Chain Industry Look to Vets to Plug Gaps and Sustain Industry Growth

The following is excerpted from an interview with Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of APICS. As supply chain management's premier professional association, APICS is responsible for research, education, and certification programs to elevate excellence in the field.

Set up your business for readers who may not be familiar with supply chain management.

Organizations have to be lean, efficient, and effective, which means that the supply line becomes a strategic imperative as well as a competitive advantage. As companies move in this direction, there is a need for individuals who can manage across time zones, cultures, and functions at a high level of sophistication. The best supply chain managers must be skilled in advanced management and technical aspects that go further than distribution from vendors to customers.

How does supply chain impact corporate performance?

Look at Tim Cook at Apple and Mary Barra at GM. They've used their supply chain backgrounds to drive success in global business. But even as they and other supply chain executives are moving into senior leadership, I would argue that there are just not enough of them.

Here's why we need more Tim Cooks and Mary Barras. The Supply Chain Operations Reference model dictates four elements of success: plan, source, make, deliver. Supply chain executives need to understand every one of those. But they also need to be able to step back and evaluate design, product services, customers, and cost. It's a high-demand environment that requires full implementation understanding. As global e-commerce comes to the forefront, we anticipate more supply chain leaders moving into senior leadership roles.

Where is the evolution from supply chain leader to senior management?

More organizations are appointing a new C-suite role of chief supply chain officer, we need to prepare today's supply chain managers to sit at the table and be strategic leaders. If you think about it, the two functions that need to know everything that occurs in an organization are finance and supply chain. Nothing can occur without those two elements; every aspect needs to be prepared and understood. And there is currently a significant imbalance between supply and demand in the field - a lot of demand, far fewer headcount to meet this need.

Is that why you are looking at veterans to fill a needs gap in supply chain management?

Veterans represent a significant market segment with a tremendous amount of talent and skill from their military and academic training. They have qualities that we look for in our employees, from their understanding of broader concepts and strategies to being able to drill down on tactical issues and actual details. A successful supply chain professional must be able to balance both sides.

Further, we can't talk about vets without talking about their dedication and passion, which aligns with those most successful in our line of business. Our people's dedication is a dramatic and significant part of their capabilities and personas. And there is no higher level of commitment than that of the man or woman who volunteers to serve our country. I would dare say that most organizations would welcome this kind of talent.

As head of the organization serving supply chain operatives, what is your charge to the profession?

There is real potential in a supply chain career. We anticipate significant growth and don't see any diminishing returns. If vets are looking for careers that have a future, this is one area where they'll find a very positive outlook. As we look to fill hiring needs, I am charging our affiliated companies to take the following four actions:

  1. Invest in your people. Look at your current employees and provide professional development. As an industry, our number-one priority needs to be investment in our people, irrespective of economic conditions.
  2. Expand your recruitment targets. We'll never meet the growth requirements standing still. Recruit across a much wider variety of demographics including military and diverse populations. It's especially true with women, who are not progressing at the same level as men. There needs to be parity and opportunity for women.
  3. Get in on the ground floor. Connect with schools and identify opportunities for the incoming workforce on anything from internships to mentoring programs. It will enable you to have a ready workforce with real life skills upon graduation.
  4. Think beyond the traditional. There's a significant and experienced market segment out there that have the ability to fill the current hiring gaps - veterans. They need to know that these opportunities exist for them. Work with our partner organizations such as Easter Seals Dixon Center to identify areas of confluence.

Why do this now?

APICS is about people. It's our responsibility, as citizens and as organizations contributing to the global economy, to enable these individuals to have rewarding careers after their commitment and sacrifice. It's a necessary and critical part of our organization.

Author's note: If you are a veteran, visit Easterseals Jobs to review almost 51,000 supply chain industry jobs.