The Future Supply Chain: Will Workers Keep Up?

Half of executives worry they won't have the talent for the high-tech production and shipment of products, a new whitepaper finds.

Across the industrial sector, executives are thrilled at the prospect of technology revolutionalizing how a company engineers, creates and ships a product. According to some estimates, industrial firms may spend about $1 billion on digital technology in 2017 alone.

But the technological potential for the product supply chain remains enormous, executives are quietly worried about the people they need to pull it off. Indeed, according to a new Korn Ferry whitepaper, more than half of the industrial executives interviewed say their organizations have people with leadership abilities but not the technical skills. More than a quarter say their tech talent lack leadership drive.

“Attracting and developing digital talent is a significant shift for industrial companies,” says Scott Adams, leader of Korn Ferry’s North American Supply Chain and Operations practice.

In the paper, “Digitizing Industrial,” Adams and Managing Consultant Elizabeth Schaefer discovered that the biggest obstacles to a digital supply chain aren’t software-related, but people related. Their premise, corroborated by interviews with several supply-chain executives, revealed that firms need to blend their existing engineering and manufacturing knowledge with cutting-edge digital expertise. The secret to sustainable success is having the right people who are energized by helping transform the industrial space. As Vince Campisi, chief information officer for United Technologies Corp. told the authors, “The Internet of Things is more about people than things.”

This likely means industrial firms will need to make some adjustments to their talent strategies., including not only changing workplace benefits but, more importantly, establishing new career paths for digital talent. “With the digitization of the supply chain, industrial companies are looking for not only pure-tech talent, but also those who can become influential leaders within the company. This is a tall order,” Schaefer says.

Even if the industrial firms can effectively recruit tech talent, they have to determine how to groom them into industrial leaders. They key, says Annette Clayton, chief supply chain officer for Schneider Electric, is to develop people’s ability to make decisions with limited information. “This calls for agility and also curiosity, along with a willingness to move relatively quickly,” she says. “We’re looking for cultural adaptability.”

Download the PDF