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Written by Howard Price

Build skills and retain employees in supply chain and procurement

Stress was a state of mind for supply chain and procurement professionals during the pandemic. Being responsible for keeping shelves filled and channels open at a time when the world was putting up barriers and closing borders was an unprecedented logistical challenge.

Although digitized processes played a role in the success of keeping everything running, what really helped efficient functioning was collaboration with suppliers and internal teams, quick thinking, responsiveness and sheer hard work.

But as the pandemic subsides and the rest of us fall back into more familiar patterns or hybrid working practices, what is their reward? A whole lot more stress, apparently. And it’s coming at them on multiple fronts, driving a vicious cycle of pressure and employee churn.

An astounding 98% of the 200 senior supply chain and procurement professionals who took part in our recent study identified significant issues facing their function. These ranged from maintaining supply resilience and continuity in the face of ongoing disruption (57%) to attempting to make continual cost savings despite inflation and changes in commodity prices (46%).

Work overload

In parallel, 50% said employee retention has decreased in their function over the last three years, while 49% said high employee churn is a problem. And the main reason for such a high churn rate, according to 60% of our professionals, is increased workload.

The fact is, professionals are dealing with a BANI external environment: it’s brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible. When they don’t have the skills or resources to deal with these challenges, they leave. Remaining team members then carry on under increased pressure until they buckle too.

We’re not the only ones to have spotted this trend. And it isn’t just a consequence of the ongoing fallout from the pandemic. Other global and national stresses on the supply chain are also having an impact.

Data from LinkedIn, reported by Bloomberg, shows that in the year 2020-21, supply chain managers quit their jobs at the highest rate since records began in 2016. The average separation rate increased by 28%. Meanwhile, the number of openings for supply chain managers on ZipRecruiter Inc.’s website more than doubled between January 2020 and March 2022.

Train to retain

I don’t believe this timing is a coincidence. Supply chain and procurement people have faced some of the toughest times in their careers, often while working from home and dealing with all the associated challenges. The stress has been huge and has probably made many of them question their position and make different choices. In some cases, professionals are leaving their profession without attaining the necessary skills and with a successful track record, they can easily jump ship for a higher salary.

This creates a double bind. If remuneration rather than career development is driving the churn, even senior professionals could risk falling behind in the skills demanded by today’s high-stress supply chain and procurement environment. This in turn, could lead to organizations filling senior roles with people who don’t necessarily have the skills to thrive – a real threat to the long-term health of supply chain and procurement functions.

The only way to break this cycle is for organizations to equip their people to deal with such a turbulent landscape – by investing in building supply chain and procurement skills from within, rather than shopping around in a thin market.

This will create two benefits. First, they’ll develop more sustainable access to the skills they need in-house – self-sufficiency is a great buffer against a shortage of industry talent. Second, they’re more likely to retain these skills if they continue to invest in developing them – a powerful antidote to churn.

Three-quarters of the professionals we spoke to said they’d be more likely to stay in their current position if they were offered more structured training, relevant to their role. That, more than anything, is surely reason enough for any organization to bust this vicious cycle of stress.

Howard Price Head of Procurement Academy Skill Dynamics