Zero100: Race for AI Talent in Supply Chain is Hotting up

Walmart is among those ramping up hiring and upskilling for AI and machine learning skills. Picture: Walmart
Zero100 says the dash for AI talent is forcing major firms like Walmart, IBM, Amazon and Unilever to invest in external education and internal upskilling

The race to recruit AI talent into businesses responsible for running the world’s biggest supply chains is hotting up. 

That’s according to the latest research from Zero100, which shows companies are scrambling to take advantage of the ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity presented by artificial intelligence.

The intelligence company for supply chain leaders found businesses are responding to the talent crunch by getting creative, using tactics from gamification to fast-tracked promotions to convert existing employees into AI enthusiasts. 

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Incentives become the norm in AI race

In producing the AI ROI Report, researchers from Zero100 surveyed more than 300 supply chain leaders based across the globe, almost a third of whom were C-suite executives

They discovered almost half (48%) of the companies leading the AI race offer rewards to staff who learn to love the machine, with one in five introducing financial bonuses, gamification or other incentives to encourage existing colleagues to play a key role in their digital transformation. 

One-in-seven companies (14%) are even willing to consider fast tracking promotions in return for early adoption and spreading the word among colleagues.

Zero100 also notes that AI literacy is fast becoming one of the most highly sought-after skills for businesses across all sectors. This talent dash is forcing major corporations like Walmart, IBM, Amazon, Unilever and Estée Lauder Companies to take matters into their own hands by investing in external education and internal upskilling programmes – giving employees the chance to become early AI adopters. 

Andrea Albright, EVP Sourcing at Walmart and Operating Partner for South African subsidiary Massmart

“AI will be a huge enabler for the future of supply chain and operations and a massive accelerant to the pace of innovation,” comments Andrea Albright, EVP Sourcing at Walmart and Operating Partner for South African subsidiary Massmart.

“But, when it comes to guaranteeing genuine returns, leaders can’t afford to make short-sighted, hype-driven investments – you need a thoughtful strategy to deliver the best value for customers and shareholders. 

“In all the excitement about the technology, we can’t lose sight of the fact that investment in AI is an investment in your workforce – you need those human elements to really activate that technology in a meaningful way. That’s why, at Walmart, we’re ramping up hiring and upskilling for AI and machine learning skills. That knowledge is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s business critical.”

Companies ready to double down on AI

Zero100’s report reveals the vast majority (90%) of large businesses have experimented with AI across their supply chains, with almost a third (29%) earmarking it for heavy investment over the next three years.

What’s more, these firms know exactly where they want to double down on AI. More than two thirds (68%) of supply chain leaders believe AI will reduce inventory waste, 36% say it will reduce materials costs from suppliers and 30% say it will reduce last-mile transportation costs.

Proctor & Gamble's headquarters in Cincinnati, US. P&G is among those on the hunt for AI/ML skills. Picture: P&G

Previous Zero100 analysis showed the volume of supply chain job posts mentioning AI/ML skills increased by 116% in 2023, with P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, Nike and Tesla leading the charge.

Acquiring AI skills can also be lucrative for job seekers, with research from the Oxford Internet Institute finding workers with AI skills command salaries up to 40% higher than their less tech-savvy peers.

“No one wants to risk being left behind in the rush to embrace AI,” adds Kevin O’Marah, Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer at Zero100.

“Companies running the world’s biggest supply chains are wasting no time in upskilling their workforce to capitalise on the AI opportunity. 

“The global supply chains of tomorrow will be AI-empowered and fully digitised from end to end – a complete convergence of supply chain and IT that will fundamentally change the nature of supply chain work.

“Supply chain leaders are alive to this once-in-a-generation opportunity and investing heavily in experimentation. With demand for AI skills outstripping supply, we’re seeing companies throwing everything they’ve got at upskilling their workforce to set them on the path for a prosperous future.”

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