Written by: Adam Leffert
If you’re just starting a career in supply chain, how do you determine where to direct your focus? Which skills will be most in demand as we enter 2023?
One way to break down this seemingly vast question is to identify the challenges that supply chain will face, then align your specific learning goals and the skills you’re developing with these challenges.
Major challenges that supply will face in the coming year include:
- labor and talent shortage
- material shortage
- energy shortages or price increases
- geopolitical constraints
- freight capacity
As we work our way through this discussion, I promise to relate specific skill recommendations to the challenges listed above. That said, going from this long list of external challenges to an even longer list of skills would not be helpful. Our goal here is to reduce stress by making it easier to think about and plan your career development.
How do we do this? First, by grouping skills into natural categories. By “natural” we mean categories that closely follow how you already think about yourself.
Some people call this activity “chunking.” It’s the process of grouping items into an appropriate number of groups, to make the individual items easier to handle.
For example, when I wrote the list above, I chose eight categories. I could have grouped “inflation” and “recession” into “finance”, but they are different and require different responses.
The idea here is not that my chunking or my categories are perfect. What’s important is that they’re my best guess as to how to be helpful to you at this moment.
To make this problem (“Which skills do I need?”) even easier to think about, we’re going to consider the order in which you’ll use these skills.
To see why an order is important, consider what happens when you bake and frost a cake. Think of all the ingredients and the steps involved. Now keep all the same ingredients, prep, and baking techniques, but change up the order. You get a very different cake.
What is the order of how you’ll use these skills in supply chain in 2023 and beyond?
STRATEGIC PLANNING -> COMMUNICATION -> ACTION -> RESULTS
Your goal in business is to improve the operation and future success of the business. The actions you take are what determine those results. Anything else is either an external factor you don’t control, or if you believe in them, good or bad luck.
For now, we’re focused on skills, so as we look at the four items above, we see that we only need to discuss the first two: strategic planning and communication. Your actions are determined by your skills. Results are what happens after you take action.
We’ve broken down the broad topic of career skills for supply chain into two categories: strategic planning (figuring out what to do) and communication. Of these two, the place to start is with communication skills.
All Other Skills Depend on Effective Communication
No matter what role is in the business, effective communication is an essential component of your success.
Video calls. Audio calls. Texts. Emails. Reports. In-person meetings.
If you craft the perfect strategic plan and you communicate it badly, you won’t get the intended results.
Effective communication is a wide and deep topic that deserves continued study and practice. Since we have so much to cover here, let’s focus on the top-level, core ideas of effective communication, in order of importance.
- Empathy. Consider the goals, concerns and perspective of the person you’re speaking with. What will your message sound like when it reaches them? Are you making their experience at work better or worse? Craft your message in a way that meets your colleague there they are in that moment before you lead them somewhere new.
- Clarity and conciseness.
- Be open to feedback and disagreement. Truly listen. Maybe you started a conversation expecting to deliver a message but end up learning something that will be helpful to you.
- Conflict Resolution.
Learn ways to disagree without being disagreeable.
Moving From Soft Skills to Hard Skills
How are we going to analyze and break down this list of eight major challenges to supply chain in a way that’s clear and concise?
By relating each challenge to the negative events that it causes, and then to the skills you’ll need to prevent (if possible) or reduce the negative effects of these events.
|Challenge||Negative Events||Skills Needed|
|Labor and talent shortage||Delays in production, decreased efficiency, increased costs, quality issues, and decreased customer satisfaction.||Identifying the right talent, Training and development, and retention.|
|Material shortage||Decreased inventory, increased lead times, loss of market share, disruption of supplier relationships, and loss of revenue.||Procurement, inventory management, forecasting, sales and operations planning (S&OP).|
|Inflation||Increased costs, decreased profit margins, decreased demand, and difficulty in forecasting.||Cost management, pricing, budgeting.|
|Recession||Decreased demand, decreased revenue, decreased profit margins, increased competition, decreased credit availability.||Financial management, cost-cutting, marketing.|
|Energy shortages or price increases||Increased costs, decreased competitiveness, decreased profit margins, decreased demand, and difficulty in forecasting.||Energy management, sustainability, resource conservation.|
|Geopolitical constraints||Trade restrictions, increased transportation costs, and difficulty in sourcing materials.||Risk management, negotiation|
|Freight capacity||Delays in delivery, increased transportation costs, and loss of business.||Transportation and logistics management, supply chain planning, network design.|
|COVID-19||Increased costs, delays in production and delivery, and disruption of supplier relationships.||Crisis management, risk assessment, contingency planning.|
About the Author:
Adam Leffert is a technologist and author based in Boston, Massachusetts. He has over 40 years of experience in multiple industries, including education, insurance, finance, aviation, and manufacturing. In the tech world, he focuses on cloud architecture and web software development. As an author, he’s most interested in making difficult concepts useful to people from all different backgrounds.