Reeling in the Millennials to Your Industry

Baby boomers are retiring, and millennials are rising. It’s a familiar story, but the change is affecting some more than others.

Here’s the problem. Millennials are looking to work in cool industries, and industries like supply chain management are not one of them. Millennials choose four to five other careers in business before they even consider a career in a supply chain vertical; many fall into the track accidentally, and that’s not sustainable.

The Institute for Supply Management and ThomasNet are challenging purchasing and supply chain management professionals to take responsibility for the future of their industry, which depends on a new pipeline of talent from the millennial generation to maintain its strength.

I interviewed M.L. Peck,senior vice president of program and product development for Institute for Supply Management, and Linda Rigano, executive director of media relations for ThomasNet, to find out what their companies are doing, why millennials haven’t traditionally been interested in supply chain work, and how talent leaders can get young talent more engaged in industries like that moving forward.

What’s keeping millennials from the supply chain industry? There are plenty of opportunities — do millennials just not know about them?

Peck: The supply chain industry has an awareness problem. Supply chain management programs in colleges and universities are increasing, (nearly 200 schools have it as a major) but many millennials are still unaware of the opportunities that this profession offers.

Why do you think this is the case? Why are certain industries, like this, that were so hot for boomers suddenly struggling to find top, young talent?

Peck: Supply chain, like manufacturing, has an image problem, which dates back quite a bit. Twenty years ago, procurement was considered a back office function.

Today, it is completelydifferent. Supply chain professionals have earned the respect of the C-suite and are considered key players in a company’s success. Over the past decade, as schools have embraced the profession as a major, parents, students and educators have started to see how attractive a career supply chain can be.

M.L. Peck, Institute for Supply Management
M.L. Peck, Institute for Supply Management

I also think that our ability to educate millennials about supply chain careers hasn’t kept up with the pace of business change. As technology advances, supply chain professionals have even more of an opportunity to make an impact. At Zara, for instance, innovative supply chain practices are central to the company’s success. An industry pacesetter, Zara can get new products to their retail partners within weeks of designing them. They also have the flexibility to change their product strategies midstream.

Another example is Diageo, which sells premium drinks ranging from Johnnie Walker to Baileys, and has a very complex supply chain system. Yet, its people are able to track every product at every stage, from the brewery or distillery to the retail store.

We need to educate millennials that if the career of their dreams lies in fashion, food/beverage, or any other industry, then one way to make a difference is through a supply chain role.

Rigano: For over one hundred years, ThomasNet and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) have worked to advance the purchasing/supply chain management profession. We share a common goal of attracting more professionals from Generation X and millennials into supply management.

There is urgency in doing this as the present baby boomers, who now represent the majority of the workforce may be retiring by 2025, and 75 percent of the workforce will be of millennial age. To maintain the vitality of the supply management profession, everyone needs to continue to cultivate and tap into this rising talent.

What about supply chain is attractive to millennials?

Rigano: Being a key player in the global business arena is just one facet that makes jobs in this industry so satisfying. Using new technologies and managing the complexities of different cultures, regulations, tax codes, etc., are all a part of it as well. Millennials also have the chance to get involved in areas that may dovetail with their personal values, such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

In fact, every day supply chain management and purchasing professionals make decisions that affect their companies’ brands, competitive positioning, and bottom-line performance.

Peck: Financially,supply chain offers limitless opportunities. An average salary for a professional is $72,119, according ISM’s 2014 Salary Survey, for someone four years and under on the job. This is on par with engineering, which was recently ranked as one of the highest paying positions starting out.

What’s the solution? How can the fact that there are opportunities in supply chain roles be communicated?

Linda Regano, ThomasNet
Linda Regano, ThomasNet

Rigano: Like any other widespread branding, it takes a village to spread the word about the exciting, rewarding opportunities this industry offers. Supply chain is truly unique because it crosses over so many markets — from Diageo, a worldwide producer of premium alcohol brands,  to Zara, an international clothing retailer — to small manufacturers of everything from aerospace to electronic components to heavy machinery.

Organizations like ISM and ThomasNet are taking the lead. We recently co-sponsored a “30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars” recognition program. The primary goal is to generate awareness of this new generation by celebrating the accomplishments of the young, bright, passionate millennials who are in supply chain management and procurement today.

A Rising Star is someone who is making a contribution to their organization and to the supply chain profession…someone who demonstrates leadership, initiative and innovativeness. Over 200 nominations have been received around the country. In early fall we’ll be announcing the 30 winners and highlighting one “mega star.” Each person will receive complimentary membership in ISM for one year.

One “megawatt” professional from the group, along with the person who nominated him/her, will receive a full expense-paid trip to ISM2015 — the group’s 100th anniversary conference to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, next May.

Peck: At the end of the day, it’s about raising awareness — highlighting and celebrating role models and encouraging young people to consider supply chain as a viable career.

For those that do go into this field, what sort of development needs are you finding they need? Do they come to the workforce ready to work or are there certain skills millennial supply chain workers lack?

Peck: Each company has particular needs, but overall, professionals in this industry have solid business skills combined with technology and an appreciation for processes. The schools that produce supply chain graduates are a step ahead.

There are also numerous opportunities for young supply chain professionals to build on their pre-existing strengths — be they negotiation, fluency in several languages, finance, technology, etc. Millennials should recognize that senior people in supply chain roles are eager to close the gaps in their own skills/training. Many millennials can fill in the holes for a more successful team.

This article originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.