1. Technology & Innovation

The Crucial Human Element in a Tech-Forward Supply Chain

Recent news coming out of the supply chain industry shows how major players are continuing to make moves when it comes to their fulfillment and distribution processes, particularly around implementing more automation. While these advancements are great for trimming store-to-home delivery costs, industry professionals are asking themselves what this means for the future of the human-led supply chain.

While automation surely has its benefits, such as reduced costs, increased efficiency, and improved accuracy, the fear is that it will cause companies to reduce headcounts. UPS, the delivery giant responsible for delivering 5.7 billion packages last year, has cut 43,000 jobs in just three years, in part by tapping into artificial intelligence and machine learning advancements to shift volume from more labor-intensive package sorting facilities to automated hubs.

The Human Element is Critical

However, despite automation and AI advancements that seemingly have the potential to make the entire end-to-end supply chain run autonomously, the human element is still crucial in leveraging new advancements. Technology is simply a tool, not the ultimate solution. Therefore, talented individuals will always have their place in the supply chain, but the type of talent needed has shifted as technology’s potential has grown.

In order to implement AI-empowered design and manufacturing into fulfillment and distribution processes, and to actualize its potential, the need for candidates with more technical backgrounds has increased drastically. Now, companies are going to be looking for candidates that can already navigate the technical automation systems and tools that have been introduced into the supply chain, utilizing those technical skills to drive innovation.

For instance, warehouse automation is one area that’s expected to be a continued focus for supply chain leaders over the next couple of years. These operations include tasks such as inventory management, supply chain tracking, and operating heavy equipment. Therefore, automating these operations can enable companies to achieve higher productivity, increased worker safety, sustainability and more.

Furthermore, the recent Global Warehouse Automation Robots, Technologies, and Solutions Market Report 2021-2030 found that the warehouse automation market size will double to $30 billion by 2026, so more candidates will be in demand to understand and effectively implement the technology. Those who are already familiar with new tools like automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), for example, will be highly sought after in this space, as well as those with degrees in electrical or mechanical engineering, as they will understand the technology and potential applications from the start.

An Analytically Focused Candidate

In addition to warehouse automation and related education and experience, there will be an increased desire and search for a more analytically focused candidate. These candidates have transferable skills directly related to the analytic needs of these warehouse positions, and experienced candidates will be able to adapt and evolve as the technology does. Transferable skills, overall, allow prospective candidates to also bypass some of the basic skills training that would otherwise be needed — saving both them and the employer time and resources. Ensuring companies bring on the right candidate from the start is crucial to increasing productivity, employee happiness and decreasing turnover.

A New Frontier

Every aspect of the supply chain is getting a technology makeover. From back-office and transport automation to contract management software to predictive analytics, prospective candidates will need to either have degrees that complement this new and evolving technology, like electrical or mechanical engineering, or come from industries with transferable skills.

There’s no stopping the exponential growth and influence of technology — particularly in the supply chain — when its potential for efficiency and reducing costs is too great. To further capitalize on the value this technology provides, companies need to bring in the right talent with the right technological backgrounds and experience, and prospective candidates need to be aware of the changing landscape and expectations from employers.

Christine Corson is executive director, DSJ Global, a Phaidon International brand. DSJ Global is a leading specialist recruitment agency for procurement and supply chain professionals.

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