Future of work: four supply chain careers for 2025
100 years ago, nearly 40 percent of all US jobs were in agriculture. Today, the figure is 2 percent. The same dynamic happened in manufacturing, which in the 1950s dominated work, but since then has receded as a mass employer. Technology made it happen then, and technology shows no evidence of slowing down now.
What lies ahead for work, and how will supply chain careers evolve in the next decade? Digitisation is having disruptive effects on managerial, logistics and other supply chain functions. Automation in plants, fulfilment centres, and areas like procurement, production planning and maintenance is eliminating jobs. And yet overall hiring continues to rise and senior leaders say that finding and hiring the right talent is harder than ever.
Is this a paradox?
Technology work paradox: the ATM story
The work paradox in supply chain is much like a phenomenon described in a brilliant TED talk by MIT professor David Autor on automation and employment. Autor retells how in the 1970s before banking ATMs were introduced, there were about 250,000 bank tellers in America. Today, there are 500,000.
The reason that jobs expanded rather than disappeared was that ATM-enabled cost savings in branch operations allowed banks to open more branches, creating a net increase in new positions. The work itself changed from rote, low-value tasks to a relationship-intensive sales and problem-solving role. Banks saw business benefit from these newly empowered tellers and hired more. Automation changed the work, and probably enhanced careers.
In supply chain, two potentially impactful digital technologies are now asserting themselves across industries. Advanced robotics and machine learning are clearly able to automate rote, low-value work in supply chain functions today by doing everything from packing cartons to approving orders. In fact, growth in acceptance of these technologies as important to supply chain strategy is impressive everywhere.
Four careers for 2025
Early adoption of these technologies along with other key digitisation enablers like internet of things (IoT), 3D printing and big data analytics are already redefining supply chain work at companies like BASF, Mondelēz, Cisco, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, BMW and many others.
Here are four supply chain career paths that could evolve and thrive in the wake of this digital revolution:
1. Demand planner becomes commercial troubleshooter: Equipped with cloud-based planning systems, real-time drill down to transactions and learning algorithms the demand planner of the future becomes a business creator. Empowered to prioritise, analyse and solve supply-demand balancing problems at the transaction level, this career will reward those able to figure out who gets expedited and who gets shorted while there’s still time. Excellence will be defined by commercial impact, not just forecast accuracy or perfect order.
2. Production planner becomes customisation master: Working with collaborative robots that can be reprogrammed in minutes, sequencing simulations that digitally test thousands of work paths in seconds and IoT-equipped machinery to assure precision, the production planner of the future becomes a master craftsman. Freed from the need to manufacture long runs for low unit costs, this job becomes one that allows business to profitably promise batches of one. Infinite SKUs mean more chances to please the customer, and make money.
3. Logistics manager becomes customer satisfaction director: Analytics and automation in fulfilment centres will deepen the range of options available to build a load, plan a route, and confirm the customer’s readiness to receive shipment. Extended backwards with late-stage custom packaging and forwards with omnichannel delivery options like Uberisation and drones, logistics could become the sexiest job in supply chain. Customer contact at point of delivery may be your best chance to make a great impression and renew the business.
4. Sustainability leader becomes resource Czar: Sustainability in supply chain has been around for a while, but precision in operations, coupled with machine learning on optimal resource consumption, could create a career that has more financial impact even than sourcing. Resource utilisation could define a career of the highest prestige by 2025.
Supply chain is relatively new as a business career choice. The cement is still wet and technology is opening a lot of doors. Now is a great time to imagine the job you want and find the tools to do it.
By Kevin O’Marah, CCO, SCM World
Follow @SupplyChainD on Twitter.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”