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Research Reveals New Insights About Supply Chain Labour Shortages

The world’s supply chains are undergoing massive transformation at an unprecedented pace, driven by an increasingly volatile geopolitical situation, an explosion in new technologies and an increased focus on ethical and sustainable practices.

Recent research undertaken by Deakin University’s Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics and Wayfinder: Supply Chain Careers for Women, an industry sponsored initiative which aims to create a diverse talent pipeline for the sector, explored the issue from the perspective of company executives and senior government officials.

Dr Hermione Parsons, Director CSCL and Dr Roberto Perez-Franco Senior Research Fellow, interviewed 21 senior executives from Australia’s industry and government about ongoing challenges and the impact of recent events on the ability to recruit and retain the workforce required for today’s supply chain sector.

“Add the disruption to global supply chains because of the COVID 19 pandemic and you have the perfect storm,” said Dr Parsons. “An increase in e-commerce and closed borders may have exacerbated it, but the problem was already there. Furthermore, supply chain shortages are not just for products or freight transport, but also for people, and the problem is far more complex than a shortage of truck drivers.”

Michael Byrne, Chair of Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics Industry Advisory Board and Australia’s International Freight Controller General said; “This is important research, the biggest risk areas for most companies in maintaining their business competitiveness are not decisions about whether to automate or what digital systems to use, but how to attract and retain the workforce they need.”

The researchers identified four challenges to recruiting in supply chain: poor industry image, education gaps in the candidates they interviewed, poaching of staff between industries and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest skills gaps were in truck driving, robotics, and data analytics.

“Perceptions may be shifting, but traditionally supply chain has been a ‘Cinderella sector’ and often invisible”, said lead researcher and co-chair of Wayfinder, Dr Hermione Parsons. “If graduates are aware of the sector at all, they see it in terms of dirty warehouses and hi-vis vests, and most ‘fall into it’ rather than actively pursue a career in supply chain.”

“Many of our participants identified a shortage of talent in data analytics,” said fellow researcher Dr Perez-Franco. “The issue they identified is more complex than the mere challenge of attracting graduates with data analytics qualifications.

“The ability to understand and trust data can be just as important as the decisions about what to do with it. The greatest capacity gap is in the combination of operational supply chain knowledge and data analytics.”

The research highlighted the degree to which the modern supply chain workforce must learn new skills and constantly adapt to new ways of doing things.  There is an expectation they will be tech-savvy and comfortable operating in a more automated, digitally-enabled environment and it’s a challenge that not all are prepared for.

“It will be critical to sell the next generation of supply chain workers on challenges and opportunities of a supply chain career,” said Dr Parsons. “As well as the salary, millennials are looking for career paths that are both rewarding and flexible. Although flexibility will always be difficult in a sector that operates 24/7, it is increasingly possible in technology-driven areas where there is a capacity shortage. One of the most significant workforce trends during the pandemic has been the move to remote work, and while people will return to their offices, attitudes to working from home have changed.”

“A number of those we spoke to, acknowledged there were difficulties in attracting women to the sector, but they also acknowledged there were shifts in the right direction. The need to employ more women in operational roles was seen as key to improving levels of diversity,” said Dr Parsons.

The full report is available to download via the Wayfinder website.

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