For an industry that is about moving inanimate objects (freight) with the help of inanimate objects (technology), logistics has a real and growing people problem.
That point was driven home by the findings of the 19th Annual Third-Party Logistics Study produced by Capgemini Consulting, Penn State University, third-party logistics firm Penske Logistics, and recruiter Korn/Ferry International and released last month at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' (CSCMP's) annual global meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The study's findings, culled from a survey of 100 executives of global companies across 11 specified industries, found that nearly half of the respondents were having trouble finding and retaining qualified employees to meet the demands of a growing field. Unless the trends change, within the next few years there will be six available supply chain jobs for every one person qualified to fill it, according to the study.
One of the reasons for the talent imbalance is the rapid and significant change in the role of the typical supply chain professional. The study forecast that three out of four current supply chain jobs will not exist in their current form by the end of 2015. Shanton J. Wilcox, vice president, North America, and lead for logistics and fulfillment at Capgemini and one of the study's primary authors, said many so-called tactical jobs will be replaced by positions requiring more interpersonal and relationship management skills. Technology and data flow management positions, many of them not yet created, will absorb more of the overall employment pie, Wilcox said. Finally, a broadening of the supply chain professional's role to encompass more parts of the overall organization will render many current "siloed" positions irrelevant, Wilcox said. Most of the talent gap is found in the middle and senior management ranks, according to the report.
Of the 100 respondents, 44 were from third-party logistics providers (3PLs) or fourth-party logistics providers (firms that generally manage the IT operations of a group of 3PLs), 40 were shippers, and 16 were classified as "other." About 54 percent of shippers and 34 percent of providers reported annual revenues of $1 billion or more.
The practice of "strategic workforce management"—defined as the development of systems and processes to ensure that companies have the right talent in the right place and time—has moved front-and-center among supply chain companies as well as manufacturers relying on those companies to move their products. According to the study, companies that effectively practice strategic workforce management have 40 percent lower voluntary turnover among their high performing employees and generate 26 percent greater revenue per employee compared to their peers.
However, the lack of available talent is making it difficult for companies to execute on this strategy. A survey released earlier this month by ProLogistix, a warehouse and distribution center staffing company, said labor shortages in distribution facilities are more acute today than at any time since 2007, a scenario that could cause problems for holiday fulfillment activities and could extend well into next year. Although technology can be substituted for labor in some instances, there's no way that automation can offset the impact of what is projected to be a severe labor crunch, said Brian Devine, ProLogistix's president.
The talent shortage ripples beyond the traditional warehouse worker position. For example, a 2013 survey of 625 companies by the National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education found that the industry will need to add about 61,000 more technicians by the end of 2015 to install, service, and maintain systems and equipment in automated warehouse environments. There were approximately 203,000 technicians working on warehouse systems and equipment at the time that the survey was conducted, according to the center.
Many new supply chain entrants will confront a world profoundly transformed by the explosive growth of e-commerce and the different fulfillment methods needed to support the business. The most notable is the practice of omnichannel distribution, where goods can be pulled from any one of multiple origins—such as the distribution center or retail store—to fulfill orders. Yet a portion of companies canvassed by the 3PL survey don't seem to be ready to take on the e-fulfillment challenge just yet; nearly one-third of the respondents said they are not prepared to handle omnichannel retailing, and only 2 percent rated themselves as "high-performing" in the segment. About half said they were not currently testing any new fulfillment strategies, the study found.