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What Will Industry 4.0 Require of Supply Chain Leaders?

Traditional recruiting and training processes for supply chain professionals are flawed, according to Ken Jones, CPS, CPM, LSSMBB and Optimize Life Skills Coach. The disconnect begins at the school level, with a gap between the way students have been taught over the past 50 years and effectively transferring value to the workplace.

“You can make a really strong case that there’s a significant gap between what is needed for a flourishing supply chain professional and what is typically delivered and received through our recruitment and retention efforts and internal learning development systems,” Jones said. “We’re running into precarious times, where what companies say they need and what they are prioritizing are not aligned with the learning and educational delivery systems.”

Companies are prioritizing Industry 4.0 and its automated and data exchange manufacturing processes. This shift will require professionals to employ deep work and social and emotional learning.

Jones is developing and teaching an advanced global sourcing and procurement class for Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business MBA program this spring. He is incorporating the Vested concept, championed by author, educator, business consultant and University of Tennessee faculty member Kate Vitasek, who is no stranger to the pages of BONEZONE. Vested is a business model, methodology, mindset and movement focused on creating highly collaborative business relationships in which both parties are equally committed to each other’s success.

Vitasek’s team at University of Tennessee is developing learning and delivery systems that are more aligned with recent advancements in the concept of neuroscience, studying how the mind works and how behaviors follow the mind in a business environment.

Jones argues that many organizations looking to recruit and retain supply chain talent don’t realize that university education runs counter to modern neuroscience, and therefore, recruits may need training to be effective team members.

How do we close the divide? Jones is speaking at OMTEC® 2020, giving detailed, research-backed information on just how to do that. We got a preview of what the future of supply chain leadership looks like in terms of talent acquisition, development and retention.

“We don’t need more contract negotiation training,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to focus on a broader spectrum of developing people that’s not necessarily supply chain-specific. We have to teach them how to do deep work, because it’s only from deep work that you get effective critical thinking and effective problem solving. …The issues that will present to supply chain professionals are going to manifest more in relationships and partnerships, risk identification, risk mitigation and problem solving.”


What skills should the next generation of supply chain leaders possess?

They need to be able to solve major problems, to contribute toward innovation and creativity, to have exemplary supplier management and supplier relationship skills. They need to be able to build partnerships. Companies need to have an anti-fragile supply chain that can repel any risk that hits it.

Segregating the tactical supply chain work from the strategic supply chain work isn’t enough. Even the people who are the best strategic thinkers probably don’t quite have their workday and workflows constructed for proper efficiency. We’re going to have to out-think, out-problem solve and out-create our competition—it’s not just about effective supply chain execution.

Look for people with skills that can be categorized into deep work skills, social work skills and functional competencies. Critical thinking, complex decision making and judgment form the basis of deep work skills. Social work skills include communication, relationship building, self-management, team management and stakeholder management. Functional competency is the specific knowledge or skill needed to be successful in an area of work.

What opportunities exist for talent development and retention?

Every company has its own culture and leadership style. To build an effective development and retention system, it’s important to establish a baseline for your company with questions like, “What’s our process for recruitment? What’s our process for retention? What’s our development system look like?” My guess is that they are rooted in traditional methods.

Look at your organization and ask, “Do I have the people in place who are truly exemplary?” They’re probably technically good at certain aspects like procurement, but do they really have some of the extra pieces: What behaviors do they exhibit? How do they do their work? How do they coach and lead others?

Do an inventory of your current processes, then design and develop a protocol for talent development and retention that is effective by using best practice cognitive and behavioral tools that speak to your specific company.

Best practice cognitive and behavioral tools that you can implement immediately include:

  • Micro-chunking work to avoid procrastination
  • Practicing deep work without interruption rather than distracted ”multitasking”
  • Ongoing learning and training models instead of crash courses
  • Practicing new skills and gaining feedback from a knowledgeable coach

How can emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, etc. shape the future of supply chain?

Robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and other tools may reduce the amount of purely transactional tasks that employees perform. They can also serve as advanced warning systems that recognize issues that humans may not be able to catch on their own.

These technologies will help simplify complex processes, which paves the way for employees to be able to do more critical thinking and problem solving.

AI and blockchain are not replacing the human brain, but they’re definitely providing insight, wisdom, data, and all the things you would need to start processing as a human being. You can simplify the complex and eliminate the mundane tasks to leave room for people to focus on deep work and strategic, creative thinking.

Jones argues that it is vital to rethink how knowledge is transferred from the education level to the professional level, as well as to focus on all types of skills rather than just functional competencies in hiring processes. The next generation of supply chain leaders will need to be able to navigate not only the industry and tactical requirements of a job, but also the social, creative and critical thinking skills that will propel an organization past its competition.

Heather Tunstall is an ORTHOWORLD Contributing Editor.