Technology, governance and recruitment: could 2019 be the tipping point for procurement?

By Joel Stevenson
We’re more connected than ever and over the last decade, organisations have had to adapt to survive. Businesses have had to become more global, more c...

We’re more connected than ever and over the last decade, organisations have had to adapt to survive. Businesses have had to become more global, more customer-centric, faster and more responsive than ever before.

This is great for those working within the supply chain sector. This shift has helped contribute to a positive widespread shift of how supply chain is collectively viewed; traditionally cost-centres, now value-creators and sales-enablers typified by the continued emergence of CPFR and top-level supply chain roles.

With automation, Brexit and new technology set to shape the sector in the coming months, Joel Stevenson, Procurement and Supply Chain Recruitment Specialist at Distinct Recruitment discusses his predictions for recruitment within the industry in 2019.

We’re at a tipping point with two key issues affecting the future of supply chain professionals in the UK; technology and Brexit. Both present particular but entwined challenges when it comes to attracting talent.

Arguably, some of the biggest technological advances in supply chain are set to happen over the next ten years and it will be interesting to see how these impact the skill sets and requirements for certain roles. These include: blockchain for traceability; further automation of warehousing and materials handling; driverless vehicles and drones for last-mile delivery; machine-learning algorithms for demand; forecast accuracy and so on.

As with many technological advances, repetitive and labour intensive roles are unfortunately the first to feel the pressure and companies will have to make tough decisions about how the employ these in 2019. AI, sensors, and robotics are already reducing the need for administrative stock management roles, with warehouse robotics reducing the need for operational staff. Predictability and rule-based work can and will be automated - with data being billed as the future of currency.

Whilst this might sound like doom and gloom, the human element of supply chain management can’t be replaced and we’ve already seen a shift towards more relationship-led supply chain management through increased collaborative forecasting, and increased utilisation of 3PL expertise. This increasing use of tech will only intensify this as time is freed up from manual activities to focus on maximising and leveraging relationships

There’s the judgment factor too. When it comes to exception-based decision making, human intervention will always trump. Ultimately, short term tasks such as manual operations and reporting will be automated, with mid-long term tasks and objectives such as collaboration and strategy supported by and augmented with tech.

This builds a landscape for the “supply chain professional 4.0” - individuals who understand the complexities of ever-increasing global supply chains and are adept at keeping in touch with tech innovation and the impact on operations. These individuals will also know how to utilise big data for a competitive advantage.

However, the main challenge we face is upskilling our current supply chain workforce while ensuring enough people are entering the profession at an entry level.

A quick search on the UCAS website returns 79 UK-based higher learning courses that major in supply chain from 24 learning providers. It’s a step in the right direction; in 2015 this stood at just 27 from 20. However, compared to finance (1143 from 155), and marketing (1286 from 178), supply chain still lags behind as a chosen study route though, contributing to a skills shortage and there’s a real threat that Brexit will only compound this.

From a practical point of view, it’s remarkable we’re still unsure as to what a supply chain could look like when we wake up on 30th March and what is even more concerning is that we can’t yet anticipate what this means for attracting and retaining supply chain professionals.


With a clear skills shortage across the UK for supply chain professionals already apparent pre-Brexit, there needs to be a healthy balance of UK-based individuals entering the profession, as well as international skills entering the UK economy. However with more than half of UK business leaders suggesting they would be put off employing someone from the EU post-Brexit, I anticipate a compounded talent shortage of supply chain professionals.


The supply chain professional of the future needs to strike the balance between the tech knowledge to keep up to speed with innovation, the human-factor soft skills to enable collaboration, and the deep-rooted supply chain knowledge for strategy. Finding a ready-made individual with all three will be difficult.


Coupled with a short-medium term talent shortage, what’s the solution? To use a recruitment cliché, hiring round pegs for round holes will be a luxury. Hiring for supply chain will need to reflect the future of the supply chain itself, embodying agility, adaptability, and responsiveness.


A balanced approach of behavioural, cultural, and aptitude-based recruitment needs to be at the forefront of supply chain focused recruitment, and organisations must be prepared to flex and train key areas such as technical skills and emotional intelligence.


We also need to be looking at our colleagues in areas such as in finance and marketing teams who possess the transferable skills, selling how exciting supply chain is. Much like Brexit preparations, it’s better to be doing it now, rather than on or after Brexit D-Day.


For more information about Distinct Recruitment, visit


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