If the recruitment process for supply chain management professionals were conducted like the National Football League draft, then William Smith might be considered a first-round pick.
Smith, 22, will graduate in December from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with two degrees. One is in logistics with a concentration in international business. The other is in Spanish.
In theory, Smith sits in the young logistician's version of the "sweet spot." Not only does he enter a field growing in corporate and geographic relevance, but he also possesses the bilingual skills that will enable him to more easily assimilate into foreign markets and cultures than his unilingual peers.
So what will it take to hire Smith, who is just now starting to chart his career path and has yet to receive any job offers? More to the point, what will it take to retain him?
Recruiters may be interested to know that in Smith's case, it's not about the money. Rather, it's about having the freedom and the autonomy to change the game.
"I would like to have the authority to come up with unique solutions to problems and challenges I'm presented with," he says. "I'd like to know that my perspectives and contribution are making a difference for my company and its customers."
Asked where he puts financial compensation on the priority list, Smith replies, "This is my career. I want to have more fulfillment than just financial well-being."
It's not about the money
Meet the "newbies" of the supply chain, a paradox in progress. They possess the tech savvy and global orientation you'd expect of today's young professionals. They are no-nonsense, results-oriented types who will demand the flexibility—largely enabled by mobile office technology—to do it their way.
At the same time, they seek jobs that offer the promise of stability and continuity, a trait that runs counter to the conventional wisdom about the newest generation of workers. Many take for granted that they will be able to advance within their chosen organization. And they expect to make an impact that goes beyond their bank accounts.
Money is just a small slice of the pie, according to those interviewed for this story. "At this age, you really don't need to make that much of it," says Dian Cui, a 2009 industrial engineering graduate of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and today a supply chain analyst for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. in Halifax.
Kevin Remillard, a 2010 Georgia Southern University graduate recently hired by third-party logistics giant C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., says that "money wasn't my main concern" in accepting Robinson's offer over three others. The key factor, he says, was that Robinson was a "company I could see being with one, five, or 10 years out."
Ironically, two Robinson executives say that while they tout the company's stability and longevity—Robinson was founded in 1905—in interviews and at job fairs, the message seems to be lost on many young people. "It kind of just flies by them. I don't think it's looked at too closely," says Eric Mesenburg, the company's director of recruiting.
Laura Gillund, Robinson's vice president of human resources, says she hears more discussion about workforce stability from the parents of college graduates than from the graduates themselves. The subject also comes up more frequently with job seekers in their late 20s and early 30s with a decade of experience under their belts, she adds.
Cui believes job seekers in their early 20s are less likely to be concerned about their long-term prospects with an employer than their older counterparts are. He says that many companies with relatively small supply chain operations expect newly minted hires to stay two or three years, gain experience while delivering productivity, and then move on to a larger organization. Cui says he's happy with his employer and his current position but adds he would eventually like to return to his native China and apply his skills there.
Charlie Crawford, who is enrolled in the graduate program in industrial engineering at Virginia Tech, says the craving for stability may be more a reflection of uncertain economic conditions than any altruistic urges. "It's a sign of the times," he says.
For his part, Crawford says he would prefer a stable career path, but with his own imprimatur. "Many companies tout rotational programs, but that doesn't interest me," he says. "I want to know what the company has for me now, and what the options are for me one or two years from now. I want to know what I am going to be doing."
Crawford, who did stints at two companies during his college years and was part of a team that won a distribution center design award in 2008 from the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), says he will not join a company that doesn't have defined career paths for its employees. "If a company doesn't have a vision for where this person is going, then [the individual] will probably not get there," he says.
Room at the top?
In a tough job market, employers can be selective. For example, Starbucks Coffee Co., which has launched a global effort to build a high-level personnel pipeline to support its supply chain for the next 15 to 20 years, will only consider the top 10 percent of the graduating class of the schools it plans to work with, according to Shawn Simmons, Starbucks' vice president, partner resources for supply chain operations.
The ideal candidates—Starbucks plans to hire and groom eight to 12 people per year for the foreseeable future—will have exposure to Fortune 500 organizations either through prior work experience or internships, must have demonstrated leadership in previous roles, and be open to accepting international as well as domestic positions, Simmons says.
Whether it be at Starbucks or other companies its size, today's college graduates or graduates-in-waiting may have to bide their time before assuming high-ranking leadership roles. A 2009 survey by Ohio State University found that the average age range for directors and vice presidents was 45 to 49. Although that was down a bit from the 50- to 55-year range reported in prior studies, there were more over-55 executives holding senior management titles than in years past, the survey found.
For those worried about a lack of young blood to replace today's upper echelon, Crawford has some encouraging news. In addition to the students who are pursuing formal studies in logistics, he says, there will be plenty of others who are open to careers in the profession. Many of his peers have developed an interest in logistics and supply chain management not because of an affinity for the discipline itself, but for its effect on so-called vertical fields like health care and automotive.
"The supply chain is expanding into many different areas of operation," he says. "We will see people taking standard concepts and applying them in different ways. Someone who is interested in health care but not in supply chain management now finds [the supply chain] stimulating because of the impact it has on that person's chosen field."