Wayne Brophy

Nov 02, 2020

Procurement Skill Sets To Challenge An Uncertain Climate


Those in the supply chain, often seen as business' nervous system, have been tested to their limits recently. And they've proven their value - companies have been able to stay one step ahead in these unprecedented times. To weather this storm, it's become necessary to ensure the right mix of procurement skill sets and talent are at hand John Bewicke, a supply chain leader, explores here how constantly reviewing staff capabilities is crucial to meeting an uncertain business climate head-on. He also outlines the critical skills to look out for...

The pandemic skill set

Let me begin with some insight from Jim Collins, author of the academic masterpiece ‘Good to Great’. He talks about how great and enduring companies make sure they have the right people in the right position. If you don’t, then you can seriously damage performance and morale. As supply chain demands are now so dynamic, it begs the question whether we should be reconsidering our supply chain talent pool. Transformation Advisor and author of the 2018 book 'Transition Point: From Steam to the Singularity', Sean Culey, suggests that demand will differ during and post-COVID-19:

Companies need to be able to think outside of their historical paradigms because the present doesn't look like the past right now. Short term, they need the talent required to help them to move from the old pre-COVID-19 one, which might mean temporarily acquiring more staff to support their eCommerce operations, or to help manage and motivate remote teams, etc. The skills needed right now are a combination of a wise and patient head on innovative and adaptive shoulders.

The generation skills gap

So perhaps supply chain managers need specific support to survive unpredictable periods. This could be an opportunity for younger people to enter the supply chain market and learn from seasoned professionals. However, acquiring this talent is not easy due to coronavirus disruption. Ian Nichol, Head of Logistics at Career Ready, identifies an urgent need for effective communication with young people in education:

Supply chain companies need to be agile and look for opportunities to deliver their recruitment messages online, such as virtual careers fairs. We need to enthuse young people about careers in the supply chain as many young people's futures will have been blighted because of COVID-19 do they may be looking at alternative careers.

Nichol sees both challenges and opportunities ahead:

Sadly, there will be an increasing number of young people who become unemployed and thus will be looking for a 'second career'. Why can't that be a second career in the supply chain? The profile of the supply chain has been heightened during COVID-19. It is an essential service with key workers. We can use that as a platform to change the narrative with young people. Supply chain is not just trucks and sheds with only two career options! Companies can offer to better connect with schools to improve careers advice and guidance.

On the other side of the coin, older workers may be idle due to the pandemic impact. Yet they represent a pool of skilled, experienced workers. Whilst the post-COVID-19 skill set may be changing, these supply chain professionals could be successfully retrained.

The new procurement skill set

Culey’s vision of the post-COVID-19 landscape requires us to rethink some of the core supply chain skill sets:

Post-COVID-19, what organisations need to acquire is potentially a radically different supply chain team to the ones they had before COVID-19. Rather than focusing on the basics such as demand planning, forecasting, distribution planning, MRP, S&OP, lean, etc., the skills needed are more creative in nature, requiring the ability to interrogate data, rather than record it. To allow the tools to do the heavy lifting and allow people to focus on adding value. They need to ensure that their team is able to image a supply chain that is not weighed down with the cultural, IT and process baggage of the past.

Essential skills, then, could become those classed as 'soft'. They'll need to be reflected through our education system to ensure we have the right calibre of young people in the talent pipeline. These critical, softer skills include:

Strategic understanding

People in procurement should be able to successfully carry out a strategy, not just create one. They need to ask the right questions where necessary, as well as understand risk and how to lessen its impact.

Data analysis

There's an ever-increasing shift to technologies such as automation and AI. With this comes the greater requirement for data analysis and successful problem-solving using data. Team members should have these capabilities, along with an ability to make informed decisions quickly and accurately.

Team building

Collaboration is key here. Staff need to be able to build better relationships that ensure a team can work together effectively, even if remotely. This team-building and collaboration extends to others in the supply chain area too - it should be remembered that you all ultimately want the same outcome

Agile thinking

The vast majority of businesses have had to adapt in some way to the pandemic. Those that are thriving are the ones who did it sooner. So, if you have team members who can act in an agile manner, then you have gold dust at your fingertips. When there's a chance of change - which there always is - agility is non-negotiable.

The possibility of supply chain education

Sean Culey thinks that supply chain could become part of the national curriculum:

At GCSE level, it should be a module - perhaps within business studies, for example. At A-level, it should be its own topic. If you can study 'media' in the digital age, you sure as hell should be able to study 'supply chain'.

Nichol disagrees, believing it to be too narrow to fit within the Department for Education's guidelines. Perhaps here there is a call to arms for the government to act? The recent announcements about the 'Lifetime Skills Guarantee' sets out plans to transform the training and skills system, making it fit for the present economy. I hope that the supply chain will have a greater focus on education, retraining, and career direction. Coordinated and progressive programmes are essential to meet the new and different procurement challenges ahead. We need to refresh the supply chain talent pool. Otherwise, businesses will not be able to have the right people in the right position and become great and enduring.  

If you’d like to know more about John Bewicke, he was recently put in the Cast UK hot seat – read his interview here.

To discover further information about Cast UK and how we can help you find the right procurement skills your business needs now, speak to us today. Call 0333 121 3345 or email us on hello@castuk.com.


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