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The Benefits of a Robust Supply Chain Talent Pipeline

  • January 25, 2022

Despite being in a period of record-high employment, around 15% of all supply chains jobs remain open at any given time.  

The growth of the supply chain is driven by e-commerce: consumers want newer products at a faster rate, and businesses must keep up with consumer demand, or risk losing custom to competitors.  

But there is a problem which is threatening supply chain organisations both here in the UK and globally: a lack of talent for crucial middle-skill and management roles to take emerging international supply chain businesses forward. 

The increase in demand for products and the complexity of roles has left supply chain employees with little time to consider the future. This has created a gap in the centre of the supply chain hierarchy – the middle-skill and management roles. If this gap continues to widen, it has the potential to disrupt supply chain organisations in a big way. 


Supply Chain Issues 

Even functioning supply chains are a delicate thing. Adverse weather, machinery breakdowns and poor forecasting can cause severe problems for businesses.  

However, the biggest threat to supply chain organisations, and one which can be prevented, is the lack of talent in critical roles such as supply chain and planning positions. 

The UK is already suffering from employee shortages across the board in supply chain areas such as logistics. Truck driver and warehouse operative shortages are already causing problems which the CEO of the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) stated ₁ he was ‘very, very concerned’ about; but the problem goes higher up too. 

Currently, 25% of supply chain workers globally are past retirement age and 45% report being unable to fill vacancies – what has caused the shortage? There are several factors at play. 

The rapid expansion of new technologies in supply chain roles has been identified as one factor. Amazon predicts that fully automated warehouses are less than a decade away ₂ and as more retailers offer next, and even same-day delivery, A.I, automation and blockchain are being adopted at an ever-increasing rate, often before employees have training in using them efficiently.  

Another cause is simple demographics. Between 1962 and the mid-1990s when higher education was free, there was an upsurge in the number of people choosing a degree over an apprenticeship or opting to go straight into work. 

This trend has continued through to the millennial generation, who are also eschewing manual work in favour of white-collar jobs, with web design, software developing, marketing and analyst jobs the most popular choice ₃ for the post-boomer generation.  

Consequently, a decreasing number of people moving into supply chain roles now means that there is a lack of talent with the right skills and experience in middle management positions today. 


International Supply Chain Issues 

While UK companies struggle to fill gaps in supply chain employment,  it is even harder in emerging markets such as China and India.  

As these emerging markets have boomed, foreign investment and development have created incredibly complex supply chain systems, where supply chain expertise is required in addition to an understanding of international trade and customs. Currently, there are too few people who possess all the skills to succeed in such roles. 

A 2016 JPMorgan Chase report ₄ on the Chinese supply chain skills gap highlighted concerning gaps in supply and demand for highly skilled labour, and regional differences in the type of skills required.  

The report also predicted that the growth of the travel, shopping and service industry is going to put even more pressure on the supply chain in the coming years. 

The CIPS states that the key to succeeding in emerging markets is mature demand planning and supply strategies – careful planning and management are required. 

It is naïve to think that success in your supply chain role in one country will mean automatic success in another. Supply chain organisations globally are calling out for expatriate talent, but it takes time and effort to adjust to working in a new country and culture, and many aren’t equipped for the challenge. 


How to Build a Robust Supply Chain Talent Pipeline  

Building a talent pipeline is the answer to the supply chain skills shortage, yet many companies have failed to do this successfully – a DHL survey ₅ found that more than a third of companies have not taken any steps to develop their workforce or create a pipeline for the future.  

Supply chain organisations can learn from the approach of a few select global organisations who are taking their talent pipelines seriously. 

For example, Unilever's’ ‘Our Future Leaders Programme’ recognised the skills gap and enabled the company to turn their graduates into managers in just three years, by equipping them with the specialist skills to make a difference in the supply chain. The programme is now available in over 50 countries, and any degree is considered for entry. 

Similarly, Kuehne & Nagel offer a speedy two-year graduate programme which aims to progress graduates quickly up to warehouse and operational management roles. 

The benefits of substantiating your supply chain talent pipeline will become evident in a short period of time, allowing your business to fill instrumental positions in years to come.   


Successful Supply Chain Talent Pipeline Models 

Other successful talent pipeline strategies include –  

Eli Lilly & Co. 

Lilly employees have mandatory group development reviews (GDR) where around 500 employees who have been earmarked as having executive potential are given periodic in-depth reviews where their next steps are discussed to help drive talent forwards. 


Have a selection programme where their most promising lower-level employees are invited into plant manager positions. These roles are considered pivotal as it is the first time the employee will be able to demonstrate the capacity to manage multiple functions. Success in this area leads to promotion further down the line. 

Dow Chemical 

Dow uses a web tool in which employees submit themselves for management succession online, making it easy and transparent. The tool allows employees to explore career maps which list the job sequence they can expect in different functions, with compensation and bonus estimates shown as incentives.  

Next Steps 

We  hope the benefits and pipeline strategies suggested in this article have helped you appreciate  the necessity to develop your own pipeline to ensure that you futureproof your company.  

Working with an experienced recruitment company in the Supply Chain sector will make all the difference if you are building your talent pipeline. Utilising their experience and contacts will enable you to start the process of securing a strong supply of future managers and leaders who will be key to your growth and expansion. 

Martin Veasey has over 35 years’ experience in building supply chain teams both in the UK and globally. Contact us today to find out how we can strengthen your talent pipeline.  





About Martin Veasey Talent Solutions 

At Martin Veasey, we have been working with blue-chip and SME businesses for over 35 years, both in the UK and around the world.  

We are an independent consultancy company with highly qualified staff, including many degree and Masters educated consultants, with memberships of professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the British Psychological Society.  

We have unique expertise in hiring for senior roles in Board & Senior, Supply Chain & Logistics, Purchasing & Procurement, Manufacturing & Engineering, Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences, Sales, Human Resources, plus many more.  

If you are looking to work with a highly accomplished recruiting partner, you can call us on 01905381320 or get in contact today.