A whole new world

From the October 2019 print edition

Supply chain professionals face myriad challenges in the contemporary employment field. The evolving world of business means they must learn new skills while altering and improving their job-hunting techniques. At the same time, organizations looking to hire must ensure they are doing what’s needed to attract and retain the right talent.

To look at these and other supply chain employment trends, as well as to discuss the results of Supply Professional’s 2019 Annual Survey of the Canadian Supply Chain Professional, we spoke with several procurement and supply chain experts. They weighed in on the survey results, employment trends and more.

The increase in the average supply chain salary this year to $97,183 from last year’s $89,334 was a good sign for the industry, says Sean Naidu, business manager—procurement/purchasing at Hays Recruiting Experts Worldwide. Overall, the job market is busy with plenty of opportunities across the board in services and manufacturing, especially in Ontario. At the same time, many organizations are looking to reduce their number of employees while increasing efficiency with the staff they have, Naidu says.

Vacant positions are often at the buyer or senior buyer level, with candidates more able to jump from one industry to another for novel experience and exposure. “Gaining more exposure and confidence in working in different industries is something that a lot of people want to try to do versus just being in that one industry for say, 10 years,” he says.

The importance of soft skills is also rising, Naidu notes, with the traits of communication and confidence increasingly important to hiring managers. The ability to influence, collaborate and work closely with stakeholders as well as think strategically are all important. While companies still need those with technical skills, strategic ability is increasingly a factor when making hiring decisions. “It’s almost a balance of finding someone that has the transactional and the strategic ability,” Naidu says.

The services area, and indirect procurement services specifically, are seeing more hiring, Naidu adds. Manufacturing and the public sector are also hot right now. Whatever the field, Naidu advises researching the company before applying and be targeted in your approach. As well, companies don’t want candidates who apply to multiple business units in one organization.

“Know what you want to achieve in your career—what’s the path you really want to get into,” Naidu says. “If you get the call from the employer, are you able to sell your skill set as it applies to the job?”

Gender pay gap
Looking at this year’s salary survey, Neil Drew, director at Winchesters, a recruitment firm, highlighted the gap between salaries earned by men and women. Men reported earning $100,605 while women reported earning $91,429—a gap of 9 per cent. While that’s a smaller difference than 2018, it shouldn’t exist at all. “It has closed, but it’s still a 9 per cent difference, and it shouldn’t be,” Drew says. “I’ve said it every year and I think we need to continue to say it every year. Why?”

A larger emphasis on supporting the new generation of female procurement and supply chain professionals may help to maintain the gains women have made in the field, he suggests.
The survey results show salaries increasing overall, and Drew notes he has seen the same trend. Small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are paying more and catching up to larger organizations, likely driven by competition for the best candidates. In fact, the market is more candidate driven than it has been since the financial crisis in 2008.

Some employers are starting to invest in trying to hire the best talent, Drew says, which has pushed salaries up this year. Companies that have tried to hire staff at lower salary levels haven’t seen the quality of candidates they want, especially in the hyper-competitive market in Toronto and its surrounding municipalities. As well, more investment in procurement and supply chain transformation has meant a booming job market, and therefore, competition for top talent, Drew adds.

“The first thing to do in a transformation is hire,” Drew says. “We’ve always said that in procurement and supply chain, we’ve been a little behind some countries in Europe and the US. We seem to be really attacking it now. So, there seems to be in the couple of years a big influx of hiring and that leaves gaps elsewhere. Which means salaries have gone up to compete.”

Regarding important skills in the field, Drew stressed the advisory, consultative role of procurement and supply chain to stakeholders, vendors and clients—strong communications skills will be necessary going forward.

“Systems are getting better, so administrative, operational functions will decrease,” Drew says. “Technology and process implementation is big now, but once that’s done, I think what will be left is an advisory approach and giving stakeholders a service to walk them through the process, versus just ordering some stuff and letting them know when it comes in.”

Rising salaries
It’s heartening to see salaries rise in the survey over the previous year, says Sam Manna, specialty recruiting partner in supply chain and logistics, direct and indirect procurement, operations and planning at Horizon Recruitment. Practically every region and province saw an increase in the average salary, with the $9,682 jump in Alberta perhaps due to recovery in the oil and gas sector. Also encouraging were increases in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, Manna says.

He agreed with others in the field that the supply chain job market holds plenty of opportunity for candidates. Growth across most sectors makes it a candidates’ market, with organizations fighting to attract top talent. The jump in average salaries for strategic positions (consultants’ salaries jumped 22 per cent, for example) indicated the value placed on such positions and the importance of innovation.
Adapting to the times, thinking outside the box and embracing new technologies and ideas are characteristics supply chain professionals should hone to be successful, Manna says. “Those that are able to adapt are seeing it reflected in their salary and in the demand for candidates like themselves,” he says.

One trend Manna sees is the rise of the cannabis industry and supply chain candidates looking for employment there. It’s not so much the product that attracts them, Manna notes, but the opportunity to start on the ground floor of a new industry.

“It’s also the challenges that go along with that as well, from building a supply chain from the bottom up, to putting in the contracts with the manufacturers, the producers, and then getting that out to market,” Manna notes. “It’s a challenge in so many different ways, from market penetration and from the industry, from the regulations and dealing with the different provincial guidelines as well.”

Big bang to supernova
Tim Moore, owner and president of Tim Moore Associates, notes that it’s important for companies to consider the attitudes and behaviours of different generations when searching for candidates, whether it’s the Traditionalists (born before 1946), Boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1976), Millennials (1977 to 1997), or Generation Z (1995 to 2005).

While members of demographic groups spanning 20-plus years won’t all share the same behaviours and attitudes, Moore encourages companies to think openly and generationally to evolve and accommodate all age groups. Doing so helps employees of all generations grow, motivates them to stay while allowing employers to benefit from their unique skills and perspectives.

Through new technology and innovation, Moore sees the supply chain field expanding so much and so rapidly that there is a looming shortage of qualified candidates with the right academic credentials. With disruptive trends like AI, the Internet of Things, digital twins, blockchain and other innovations, the field will see a “big bang” of potential employment opportunities rather than technology wiping out jobs in the field.

“In reality it’s gone supernova with expanded scope, far faster and further than we ever thought,” Moore says.

With an aging workforce, supply chain managers are retiring faster than they’re being replaced and there’s not enough new supply chain talent to fill the gap, Moore notes. By some estimates, there are six roles to fill for every new graduate with supply chain skills. Now, he notes, supply chain practitioners need skills that include geopolitical savvy, corporate social responsibility, deep understanding of logistics and disruptive technologies and so-called soft skills like leadership, creativity, communication and collaboration. Meanwhile, business schools aren’t keeping up with the demand for qualified teaching staff in the supply chain field.

“The qualifications are expanding as well,” Moore notes. “You’re getting fewer people and the ones we have must expand their qualifications for the job they’re doing now.”

With so many disruptive forces affecting supply chain, it’s more important than ever that practitioners hone their skills and stay abreast of technology developments. However, it also affords opportunities to grow professionally, advance in the field and potentially earn more. It’s a rewarding, if challenging, time for the field.