Training the next generation of supply chain specialists

Supply chain disruptions have impacted manufacturing for the past few years and show no sign of slowing down. In this context, supply chain managers are the heroes of the day, tasked with sourcing materials and parts where no one else can. Supply chain visibility platforms and tracking technologies are proving crucial to keep up, meaning that the next generation of supply chain managers will need to be well versed in these technologies. So, what does this mean for the future of training?

Professionals in supply chain management are on the rise — according to Jan Godsell, professor of operations and supply chain strategy at the University of Warwick, two decades ago only about 10 per cent of companies had a supply chain director, now, almost 50 per cent of businesses have one. This trend is reflected in education, with universities worldwide offering an ever-increasing range of programmes in supply chain management.

New global challenges have in fact revolutionised procurement and logistics, meaning that professionals in the sector — or hoping to enter it — will require a range of digital skills that were seldom needed before. While formal education is preparing the next generation of digital-savvy supply chain managers, companies must revise their training, upskilling and retention strategy.

Friend or foe?

Technological know-how is no longer optional and digital tools to improve the visibility and management of extended supply chains will have to become a manager’s best friend. However, without a solid technical background, supply chain managers might get lost in a maze of disconnected, decentralised digital solutions that don’t add value.

The pace of digitalisation is so fast that it is impossible for supply chain teams to stay up to date on the latest developments at all times, but to succeed at the job, supply chain professionals should be eager to learn and experiment with new digital tools. 

For example, a thorough knowledge of warehouse management systems (WMS) and their benefits might help employees control and optimise warehouse operations, ensuring that goods transit through warehouses in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. This type of software automates functions such as inventory tracking, picking and receiving, and provides full visibility of an company’s inventory 24/7, whether in the warehouse or in transit. 

Similarly, a transportation management system (TMS) will help logistics companies keep track of orders and will facilitate collaboration across different nodes of the supply chain, such as warehouses, distribution centres and carriers. TMSs automate route planning, load optimisation, track and trace, freight payments and more. This software offers increased flexibility to make last-minute changes and adapt to a variety of unexpected scenarios, yet only about 35 per cent of shippers use one. Having personnel that is familiar with this technology allows logistics companies to gain a competitive edge and fulfil orders even in the most unpredictable conditions.

Let go of gut feelings

Mastery of digital tools can give supply chain managers the information they need to optimise processes. However, this information is useless without the ability to interpret data and take the best course of actions. Data-driven decision making is therefore a core skill that allows supply chain managers to deviate from the standard path, explore new routes and test innovative concepts based on hard facts, rather than gut feelings. 

Digital platforms will allow supply chain teams to waste less time on mundane tasks that are better delegated to artificial intelligence, while people can focus on a strategy to increase the flexibility and resilience of operations. By mastering digital technologies and learning to interpret data to develop a winning strategy, companies can nurture the next generation of supply chain specialists.