Addressing the skills gap in the supply chain function. By Adrian Preston 

Globalization, digitalization, and technology are reshaping the foundations of supply chain operations. As customer demands and market trends undergo constant change, organizations must also swiftly recalibrate their strategies to remain competitive. Businesses now depend on digital transformation to streamline their supply chain process, but they face a significant hurdle – a dearth of core skills creating a digital chasm for organizations to cross and successfully make this transition.

In the race to Industry 4.0, new research by digital training provider, Skill Dynamics, found that almost all professionals surveyed (99 percent) are investing in new technologies – from artificial intelligence (AI) to big data analytics – to drive efficiencies and boost business growth. However, despite these resources, a quarter of those surveyed said they had not noticed any improvements in the speed (25 percent) or accuracy (21 percent) of their team’s work.

Adrian Preston

In the current era of interconnectivity, where systems, sensors, and data reign supreme, relying solely on state-of-the-art digital technologies is no longer sufficient for success in supply chain management. Still, many teams plan to increase their digital technology investments in the next five years by seven percent in supply chain visibility and tracking and eight percent in measuring environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. For teams to truly excel in their role, we need more than technology – we need to be upskilled in the core competencies that drive innovation.

Failing to adapt will lead to the ultimate demise
Across industries, a clear dichotomy exists between experienced, senior supply chain professionals and digital-savvy juniors. The seasoned veterans possess a deep understanding of foundational supply chain principles, such as forecasting, inventory management, and supply planning. However, they often lack the digital skill set necessary to leverage the vast amounts of data and technology available. On the other hand, junior professionals have a broad view of the art of the possible and intuitively grasp the digital landscape but lack vertical expertise within supply chain operations.

For instance, when determining safety stock levels, many companies tend to focus solely on demand fluctuations. However, it is crucial to consider supply variations as well. Even with access to data and the Internet of Things (IoT), individuals lacking this core understanding often rely solely on the ups and downs of the forecast without factoring in the supply aspect of the equation, so will often make incorrect decisions.

Digitalization is about more than just data and visuals. It streamlines long supply chains, making them smaller and shorter with the aim of reducing complexity. Yet, as we embrace this digital revolution, we cannot forget the vital role of humans. Critical thinking, strategic decision-making, and proactive supply chain management are all essential skills to succeed in the digital landscape. Bridging the digital vs. core skills gap requires a transformative approach that combines training for both senior and junior professionals, enabling the transfer of skills across the field.

Failure to do so can be disastrous, leaving them vulnerable to being outpaced by competitors. Nokia’s downfall serves as a cautionary tale- once a leading communications company, unable to adapt to the digital market, they were left behind by the overwhelming success of tech giants like Apple and Samsung.

By embracing this dual-layered approach – vertical competence intertwined with digital prowess – we can foster a new era of supply chain professionals with the holistic knowledge needed to excel in this digital world.

Getting training right
Traditionally, training programs involved physically attending courses that stretched up to four days, where trainees had to endure lengthy agendas all day long without any guarantee of learning something new. Though digital resources like YouTube now offer information, they often lack crucial ‘how-to’ guidance. For instance, does utilizing big data, involve hiring an army of data scientist graduates, or spending a fortune on some kind of technology? Pin-pointing the ‘how’ can be the difference between success and failure for individuals, teams, or whole organizations and often lack in traditional training.

Developing and delivering training tailored into small, manageable chunks is so important. Over half of those surveyed (52 percent) believe personalized e-learning programs are crucial if leaders want to upskill their teams and make the most of innovative technologies, now and in the future. Humans sit at the heart of effective digital transformation and striking a balance between IT literacy and core skills continues to be an indispensable factor ensuring triumph in the digital landscape.
Adrian Preston is Head of Supply Chain Content at Skill Dynamics, a leading provider of digital procurement and supply chain training that offers high-impact continuous learning that’s personalized by role and skill level and is delivered at scale. Its industry beating content, innovative technology and cognitive science gives procurement and supply chain teams the real-world skills they need to excel, helping to accelerate performance and ensure their business is fit for the future.