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Upskilling Supply Chain Labor for the Digital Age

Technology adoption in supply chain is challenging manufacturing workforces to quickly convert traditional manual skills into technical expertise.  As technology modifies existing tasks, the most prominent challenge is overcoming the skills gaps between veteran employees and digitally-native new hires. The mass exodus of the baby boomer generation from manufacturing industries effectively contributes to an experience drain, and remaining supply chain workers often fall behind productivity thresholds because they lack technical understanding and are slow to integrate digital innovations into daily operations.

In order to overcome the talent drain and mismatch between generations, supply chain managers should focus on upskilling their employees as a multifaceted solution. As jobs become obsolete, skills no longer match, and workers struggle to adopt digitalization, redesigning roles and retraining your workforce can catalyze your human capital potential. Providing training, mentoring, and opportunities for growth within supply chain jobs is an efficient way to mobilize a company’s existing workforce and promote productivity.

What are the benefits of retraining my supply chain labor force?  
Existing employees bring domain knowledge – they know your products, your supply chain, your customers and their demand patterns, etc.  This kind of deep knowledge of your business comes with experience; a significant learning curve can be expected when bringing on new Supply Chain employees.

Additionally, hiring new employees is both difficult and expensive. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates the average cost for a new hire is $4,129, and the current climate makes it difficult to find skilled workers at all. These issues make retraining the optimal solution, as current employees can provide SC managers with a moldable pool of talent that’s able to evade the paperwork that trails behind new hires. Upskilling the existing workforce can also incentivize them to remain present, and polls show that career development is a key part of employee retention. By providing more formal on-the-job training, employers can feel secure in nurturing technical talent that’s targeted toward company goals.

How can companies strategically retrain? 

Online Training Programs
Online training programs are a simple and fast way to upskill large portions of the workforce in highly technical areas. Microsoft is currently training over 15,000 workers using internal programs and online content, and software company SAP provides numerous training platforms through which employers can develop their staff. Most Supply Chain software providers have online and/or classroom training opportunities.  By providing internal and external training regimens, managers can encourage a continuous-learning mindset to spur both current and future productivity.

Reverse Mentoring 
In reverse mentoring programs, younger, technically literate workers help to educate older, more experienced workers in using new technology and media. Younger generations are digitally native and possess technical knowledge that older generations lack, and as they aid manufacturing veterans in adopting supply chain technology, senior workers conversely provide mentoring not only on your supply chain, but also on soft skills such as punctuality and professionalism. This method has been implemented by Aetna, HP, and Bayer using in-person meetings and online apps. Reverse mentoring functions as a two-way street, sharing necessary expertise among workers of diverse skill sets to give everyone a leg up.

Overcoming the Challenges of Upskilling 
Upskilling is time and resource intensive, but through online training technologies and reverse mentorship programs it can be much more cost-effective than hiring new workers. These approaches can help retain valuable experience and build new skills in the Supply Chain team.  As all parts are constantly moving and IT Staff supply is nearly as limited as that of supply chain, companies should give time and thought as to how they plan to retrain workers. Retraining is a long-term investment, and if done right, it can set your existing workforce on an exponential learning curve that boosts productivity in the long run.

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Contributions by Kyleigh Andries.

Tags: Organizational Effectiveness, Supply Chain Planning & Execution