Developing Outstanding Supply Chain Talent and Leadership

By collaborating with universities and colleges, companies can help develop a new stream of supply chain talent that’s ready to take on the present and the future.

Supply Chain Workforce Talent

Blurring the lines between academia and industry has always been the “Holy Grail” for universities that would love nothing more than to have real-time insights into exactly what companies want and need from their supply chain program graduates. This level of collaboration isn’t always easy to attain, but when it does happen the results can be downright magical.

“We can teach students how to innovate and learn, but we also need to know that the projects they’re working on are relevant to the industry,” says Aleks Gollu, a University of California Berkeley lecturer and founder of both PINC and 11sight.  With this in mind, the university’s Sutardja Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) aligns with various organizations that help it develop relevant, timely instructional content for the next generation of supply chain professionals

“Students need to be aware of the industry challenges and opportunities, corporate cultures, technology, and everything else that goes into running a successful supply chain,” says Gollu, who adds that the recent spate of pandemic-related supply chain challenges has heightened awareness of its importance in the grander scheme of things. This, in turn, is prompting more companies to think about collaborating with academia to help cultivate new talent.

PINC CEO Matt Yearling sees true value in good alignment between industry and academia. “This is an essential industry, and I think that’s really highlighted the fact that this pandemic has emphasized that we’re in a place now where we’re an essential part of keeping this country afloat,” says Yearling. “However, this also means we need talent to address and add value to the solutions. We have a lot of talented workers in this industry and the focus on supply chain, in general, is just going to increase as time goes on.”

Stoking Innovation and Solving Problems

A sector where automation continues to play a bigger role in getting products from the point of raw material to the end-user, supply chain also leans on academia to prepare students to manage the analytical, communication, and storytelling tools needed to keep supply chains optimized and running smoothly. In absence of this education, supply chain professionals are literally left to “fly by the seat of their pants” and figure it all out themselves. As the pandemic taught us, this hit-or-miss approach to supply chain management literally sets companies up for failure.

“Academia obviously plays a big role not just in the education of our future supply chain leaders,” says Bart De Muynck, Research Vice President—Transportation for Gartner, “but we’ve also never seen so much evolution coming from academia around subjects like advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. Companies are using these innovations—much of which comes from academia—in their day-to-day operations.”

Gollu says SCET offers various programs, including an engineering leadership program where companies can send their employees for an intensive 6- or 12-week course, which is currently being offered online. SCET also works closely with individual companies, developing problem-solving projects for its students to work on. Last semester, for instance, one GSMA-sponsored course found students imagining a future where 5G was rolled out, bandwidth was higher, and latency was lower.

“We asked them what they would be able to do in that environment, and those conversations produced a lot of great ideas—including the use of augmented reality (AR) goggles in your own living room to view a curated museum,” Gollu recalls. “Another student proposed the remote inspection of power lines using drones, which would help solve an acute problem that western states are dealing with right now.”

Tackling the Next Big Challenge

To companies that want to either start a new collaboration with academia or improve upon an existing relationship, the first step is to simply reach out and ask how you might be able to partner up, what types of projects they’re working on, and how you can get involved with them. Most schools will open these types of collaborations with open arms, knowing that it can only benefit their graduates and the supply chain industry as a whole.

Gollu tells companies to be prepared to explain the value of working in supply chain and the critical role it plays for all product-oriented companies. Understand that while supply chain, logistics, and transportation may not be the “sexiest” career choices on a student’s menu, they do provide great entry-level opportunities, the chance to move up through an organization, and a career where no two days are ever going to be the same.

To work well, Gollu says these alliances should be focused on a similar goal: solving the world’s supply chain problems. “In the U.S., companies spend $1.6 trillion a year on supply chain management, but there are still a lot of real problems where the rubber meets the road, both figuratively and literally,” says Gollu, who sees the pandemic as a great opportunity to reset and reassess supply chains and the people who run them. “By collaborating with academia, companies gain assurances that the new guard of the supply chain will be well prepared to tackle what’s coming next.”