How to Hire the Right Supply Chain Talent for Your Small Business

By: on April 10, 2018

Dave Malenfant, director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Texas Christian University, had this to say about obtaining a degree from a supply chain management program:

“[A] graduate degree in supply chain […] makes you really understand the interconnectivity of the different functions within the business.”

Dave Malenfant, director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Texas Christian University

“[A] graduate degree in supply chain […] makes you really understand the interconnectivity of the different functions within the business.”

He’s absolutely right, of course, but competition for hiring in the supply chain market is fierce:

  • According to Gartner, an average 76 percent of graduates from supply chain programs in North America have a job by graduation, and 93 percent find jobs within three months of graduating.
  • And according to a 2017 study authored by Lisa Harrington and commissioned by DHL, it was found that supply chain job openings outnumber applicants by at least six to one.

So what does that mean for smaller supply chain organizations looking to hire talented people during this supply chain talent shortage?

If big supply chain business are struggling mightily with hiring, smaller organizations stand no chance. That’s why SMBs in need of supply chain talent should be looking at recent graduates from programs that are similar to SCM—with exposure to supply chain course work—to groom into SCM professionals.

To do that, though, hiring teams first need to know a lot more about supply chain programs and their curricula.

We interviewed an expert on what to look for in supply chain candidates, then put together a checklist for grading applicants’ resumes—find those both below.

Key Takeaways for Small Supply Chain Businesses

Supply chain management has only existed as a major course of study for a few decades, and universities have been working constantly to ensure their programs keep up with the ever-changing (and ever-improving) technology being created.

In an article for The Atlantic, economist James Bessen discussed the impact technology has had and will continue to have on manufacturing. He explained that, despite fears of machines replacing human workers in factories, managers are seeing the opposite problem:

“In surveys, they report that they can’t hire enough workers, at least not enough workers who have the necessary skills to deal with new technology.”

But beyond a fluency in related technology, what should your team look for when facing the supply chain talent shortage? To help us answer that question, I spoke with Dana Stiffler, a Research Vice President at Gartner who covers supply chain talent strategies.

You can read her interview in full below, but here are a few highlights for SMBs to keep in mind:

Check Expectations Before Assessing Applications—New Grads Are Inexperienced

New graduates have never done this before, so they’re obvioulsy not going to have the years of experience you would get from someone who has been in the business world forever.

While it’s fine—and important, even—to be specific about what kind of experience you’re looking for, make sure you’re not eliminating applicants solely because their resume doesn’t say they’ve been working in the industry for X number of years.

Distinguish Between Program and Applicant When Going After Graduates

If you choose to consider graduates from top supply chain programs, make a distinction between the program and the applicant. It’s great to have standards for the program you’re looking to recruit from, but don’t make the mistake of dismissing candidates solely for not being products of those programs.

It’s vital to consider the person in front of you as well as their educational background—otherwise, you run the risk of missing out on great people for relatively unimportant reasons.

Stay Local—Recruit Candidates From Schools Where You’re a Known Entity

If you can establish relationships with business schools and universities in your region by attending job fairs, offering internships and networking, you’ll have a much easier time marketing your company to graduates.

You also might have a shot at influencing that curriculum so students who graduate from those schools are better prepared to do the work you need them to do. It’s a win-win-win: for the school, you and your new hire.

New Hires Want Growth—Establish and Communicate a Plan

Considering the massive supply chain talent shortage going on at the moment, it’s crucial to realize that, as difficult as it is for big supply chain companies to find qualified candidates, it’s going to be even harder for smaller organizations.

With that in mind, you’ve got to focus on beefing up your benefits to draw applicants. SMBs within the supply chain realm are not known for offering incredible growth opportunities, so it’s imperative that you establish clear plans for career growth ahead of time to prove to applicants they will see those opportunities down the line.

What your progression plan looks like will depend entirely on your business. But you’ll want to start by picturing where this new hire will be in a year, five years, ten years etc. Then, come up with clear steps for getting from one place to the next—including skills the candidate must master, benchmarks for monitoring performance and growth within the roles etc.

Advice from a Professional: An Interview with Dana Stiffler

When it comes to supply chain management, Dana Stiffler knows what’s what. Currently a Vice President in Gartner Research covering supply chain talent and leadership roles, the years she has spent working with top supply chain organizations makes her uniquely qualified to discuss hiring strategies for all supply chain-related businesses.

In this interview, we focused on her work with Gartner’s Top 25 Supply Chain Program ranking. Here’s what she had to say.

Dana Stiffler

Vice President in Gartner Research

Dana Stiffler is a Vice President in Gartner Research covering supply chain talent. She’s spent years working with top supply chain organizations, making her uniquely qualified to discuss supply chain hiring strategies.

Tell me about Gartner’s Top 25 Supply Chain Programs ranking.

“The ranking has been going on in one form or another for ten years.

The reason that we started doing it was that our clients, who are supply chain leaders at these big companies—big manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers—were telling us that the graduates and the contents of these programs were lacking what they needed in reality.

So they said: Maybe we could all work together—Gartner and these supply chain organizations—to try to influence the agenda of the universities.”

What are the biggest benefits provided by these rankings to supply chain organizations?

“There are a couple of key outcomes.

First, the curriculum in these programs much more closely reflects what companies need in a supply chain professional, which is an integrated view in supply chain, rather than just focusing on […] little pieces of an integrated supply chain operation. So now the programs reflect exposure to that broader definition […] of supply chain.

And second, because we emphasized real-world experience so much in our ranking methodology, […] when you recruit out of these programs, you’re going to be recruiting a graduate who has real-world experience.

So to net it out, the two biggest benefits of doing these rankings over the years are:

  • The content of the programs and the profile of the graduate more accurately reflect what’s required by the companies.
      • The students have more applied experience.”

      How do you quantify “real-world experience” when evaluating curricula in these programs?

      “For real-world experience, we reward the most points on a 1-5 scale to programs that have a requirement that you have an internship before you graduate. And then we have a sliding scale […] for how we give credit for that component of the methodology.

      So generally, to get points on that, you need to have 50% or more of your student body being exposed to an outside internship or co-op.”

      And what about evaluating the rest of the curricula?

      “We look at the required curriculum for supply chain majors and degrees and we compare it to our Gartner Supply Chain Talent Attribute Model, then we check boxes, essentially.

      And the more boxes that [a program] can check against our framework, which is determined by what our clients tell us is important to them, the better [it does].”

      How much of an emphasis are you seeing placed on technology and software in these supply chain programs?

      “You’re starting to see more of that find its way into the top supply chain programs, but the mainstream exposure is still SAP, Excel and some other Microsoft tools. And that’s completely sufficient for where most companies are.”

      Tell me a little bit about the methodology for deciding which supply chain programs to evaluate for this ranking.

      “No one pays anything, it’s just a matter of awareness—us knowing about them and them knowing about us.

      Then there are two things that happen.

      First, we get a point person for their program and send them an extensive RFI with a lot of questions in it about their curriculum, about the number of students they have, the number of professors they have, whether they require internships or not, what their average starting salary is and more.

      Second, there’s what we call a “popularity contest” piece, which is a component of one of the criteria in the methodology where we send out a survey to industry leaders and ask them two questions:

      1. Who are the top five university programs for supply chain?
      2. Who are the top five programs you recruit out of?”

      And those aren’t usually the same five?

      “Not always.

      I’ve got a client, for example, who recruits from schools in the south and southeast, but his top 5 programs might not be in the same area. His circumstances and strategy for talent might mean that his time isn’t well-spent recruiting out of only the Stanfords of supply chain, because he’s not going to get love and attention at those programs.

      He’s better-off focusing on second or third-tier schools to have more influence and get the profiles of students who will come be happy working for them.”

      Speaking of strategies for hiring talent, what advice do you have for small companies looking to hire for their supply chain?

      “Well, this is where it’s difficult for smaller companies.

      They really need to think about what the initial experience of that new hire will be. And they should be very clear about:

      • What this job is and what the expectations are around it
      • What kind of development opportunities will be available for the role
      • What kind of career path can be expected at that small company

      That’s where SMBs particularly are challenged. […] They’re not even going to have a supply chain department, right? So they might want to think about their company-wide opportunities for a new candidate.

      If you’re going to make a good offer to a recent grad, you need to show them visibility into what the real job is and what the subsequent set of experiences would be for them.

      If they can’t see that, if they can’t get an experience where their role isn’t changing every eighteen months to two years, you’ll have an attrition problem. That’s what the data is showing about millennials with regard to staying in a current role.”

      What are, say, the three most important things for smaller businesses to look for when considering applicants?

      “You would look for:

      1. Integrated supply chain understanding
      2. A strong financial and quantitative background
      3. A bias for action—that’s what people keep telling us is the hardest thing to find

      You can see only one of those has anything to do with supply chain, so I think small businesses might end up looking elsewhere. They might not look at a top supply chain program. Instead, they might want to look at more general grads who have a business degree and some of the traits that we’ve discussed.

      My advice would be to get creative and look off the grid a little bit—beyond the Top 25—for qualified graduates.

      We had 59 undergraduate programs participate in 2016, and fewer than half of those ended up in the top 25. So there are a lot of good programs where small companies can look for talent.”

      Next Step: Create a Checklist for Evaluating Applicant Resumes

      After taking everything Dana said into consideration, I recommend creating your own set of criteria to score applicants against. This forces you to think critically about what makes an ideal candidate for the job. You can define:

      • The skills required to fit into your team
      • The experience a new hire must have in order to perform the job
      • The certifications needed to qualify for the role
      • Anything else you believe to be imperative for a new member of your team.

      Once you’ve thought through all of this, an ideal way to organize your criteria is in a checklist. This way, you can attach a copy of your list to each application or resume and fill it out as you learn more about the individual. This is also a great way to reduce unconscious hiring bias by making your assessment as clinical and fact-based as possible.

      To help get you started, here’s a general checklist that can be applied to applicants who have just graduated from a business or supply chain program. Feel free to add your own specific criteria to it or use it as a template for creating your own checklist.

      SCM hiring checklist for small and medium businesses

      Remember, the more you customize your checklist, the better you’ll be able to evaluate candidates. Once you define the broad categories you’re looking for, go a step further and consider exactly what boxes your ideal new hire will be able to check.

      You may also like:

      3 Supply Chain Certifications That Will Help You Land a Job

      What Small Businesses Need to Know About AI in the Supply Chain

      FYI on KPIs: 3 Steps to Better Supply Chain Metrics for Your Small Business

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