5 Ways That Millennials Will Shape Tomorrow's Supply Chains

Nov. 17, 2017
Their mobile connectedness and advanced networking skills help to enable effective supply chain management.

Big demographic changes continue to shape the U.S. labor force as retiring Baby Boomers make way for Millennials, who are forecast to comprise 75% of all workers by 2025. This rising generation, currently aged 20-36, brings new talents, technologies, and attitudes that equip them well for supply chain work. One challenge is to convince them that logistics and procurement can offer as rewarding a career path as, say, finance or software development. Another is to cultivate their unique skill sets to meet the needs of supply chain operations.

Supply chain managers have their work cut out for them. Currently, around 270,000 supply chain vacancies need to be filled in the U.S. each year. Moreover, the number of available jobs is expected to grow by 25% through 2025, according to the Penn State Smeal College of Business 2016 Third-Party Logistics Study. Complicating matters further, the study notes, "supply chain operations have become complex over the years, requiring employees at all levels with better analytic capabilities."

Indeed, a 2015 survey of supply chain leaders by Deloitte found that available qualified talent for these increasingly high-skill positions is scarce. "Recruitment is a greater challenge than retention," the survey notes, with approximately three-quarters of executives saying it is difficult for their company’s supply chain to recruit senior leadership. "Already, some observers believe the demand for supply chain professionals might exceed supply by a ratio of six to one," say the study's authors.

In fact, Millennials have many of the traits required for the ever-evolving supply chain industry, including:

1. Tech Savviness
Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with the internet. As "digital natives," they have an appreciation for the types of technologies that are driving supply chain efficiencies, such as smartphones, apps, cloud computing, the internet of things, automation in transportation and warehouse management, and augmented and virtual reality.

Supply chain managers need to emphasize to prospective hires that these technologies are the exciting new tools of supply chain management. Millennials can be encouraged to use their technological savvy to develop new processes that spur cost savings, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. For their part, companies must be prepared to invest in and make available to such employees the latest devices and technologies required to do the job effectively.

2. Data Analysis
The digital technologies that Millennials grew up with have generated a familiarity with, and reliance upon, the data these tools produce. Whether from involvement with websites or social media, Millennials are accustomed to tracking traffic and crunching numbers with analytical tools to help them inform their approach so as to better engage their audiences.

"Data is a key ingredient in Millennials' decision-making process," according to How Millennials Are Reshaping B2B Marketing, a report by the IBM Institute for Business Value. "To help Millennials—and their older colleagues—make the best choices, organizations need to arm them with analytics tools and data insights," the report adds.

3. Social Consciousness
Governments, non-governmental organizations, investors, and consumers—many of the latter Millennials—increasingly are demanding that companies source their materials in an ethically responsible manner. Procurement operations are under greater scrutiny than ever to purchase materials and services from entities that do not engage in conflict minerals trade, child or slave labor, or environmentally unsound mining practices. Millennials already are largely on board with such thinking.

"Millennials want to contribute to the positive impact they believe business has on society, but in so doing, they wish to stay true to their personal values," according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey. The survey finds that 70% of Millennials believe their personal values are shared by the organizations they work for, and 56% have "ruled out ever working for a particular organization because of its values or standard of conduct."

4. Educational Commitment
As the complexity of supply chain operations grows, so too do the requirements for ongoing education, skills training, and cross-training. More so than preceding generations, Millennials welcome the opportunity for such on-the-job learning opportunities and actively seek out professional mentors.

Millennials are likely to emerge as the most highly educated generation in history, with 40% of those aged 25-29 in the workforce in 2016 possessing a college degree, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Among supply chain professionals surveyed by Source Today in 2017, over two-thirds of Millennials hold a bachelor's degree or higher—many with undergraduate or graduate degrees in supply chain management or logistics.

5. Connections and Networks
According to the Nielsen Company, 97% of all Millennials own a smartphone, the highest proportion of any demographic. A 2016 survey by customer acquisition platform Fluent further found that a majority of Millennials spend "most" or "nearly all" of their online time on their phones—and boast a higher daily usage across all social networks, except Facebook, than non-Millennials.

Millennials' mobile connectedness and advanced networking skills make them a natural fit to develop working relationships across countries, cultures, and time zones that enable effective supply chain management. And while Millennials' 24/7 connectivity can help speed efficiencies along the supply chain, attracting that talent and commitment to the industry will likely require concessions by employers with respect to work/life issues such as flex hours and bring-your-own-device policies.

About the Author

John Simpson

John Simpson is a Denver-based writer who has variously covered the energy, manufacturing, and finance industries.

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