Offering a broad range of positions, many jobs available, salaries on the rise, along with increased recognition by companies: the supply chain industry has become very attractive. But there is still one big hurdle to overcome: becoming a “mainstream” industry to attract the attention of young graduates and policy makers.
In the professional field, the supply chain industry has entered the realm of nobility. Régis Bourdonnais, Head of the International Supply Chain Masters program, stated that “we really got rid of the old logistics image of things. Most supply chain heads are now sitting on company boards”, during the opening remarks of the “jobs in the supply chain” conference held on May 22nd by Supply Chain Village. And according to Charles Turri, partner at the Mews Partner firm “this trend of including supply chain managers in executive boards, which first started in the 2000’s, has made the industry more attractive by increasing its perceived value”.
On the field, key players attest to this attractiveness. For Philippe Raynaud, Director of supply chain for Bic “the supply chain manager supports, and even sometimes initiates, changes in a company. We’ve seen it with Zara, who revolutionized the fashion industry by adopting a whole new approach to logistics”.
Rich and varied possibilities
Philippe Raynaud also outlines the diversity and numerous different roles available in supply chain departments, both in terms of jobs and industries. “The range of opportunities is extraordinary. You could have functional or operational responsibilities, manage a project, or client relations: the industry offers an almost endless number of combinations, letting anyone create their own path”. One thing is for sure too: people are at the core of all the activities. According to Bic’s supply chain director “a good supply chain manager is a good community manager, who understands the needs of each person involved, and finds solutions by calling upon the best players inside and outside of the company, to reach the goals”.
And as a logical consequence of this cross disciplinary nature: to work in this industry, associates must have a broad range of skills. Technical knowledge should be supplemented by behavioral and management skills, along with a good sense of international dynamics, and the ability to understand the entire ecosystem of a company. What’s more: a supply chain manager needs to adapt to a job that is constantly evolving, and he/she especially needs to integrate all technological advances.
How can recruiters find these profiles? Several different educational paths feed into the industry. According to Charles Turri “about 50% of supply chain managers are business program graduates, and 30% went to engineering school”. There’s also a significant number of employees with no formal training.
However, the educational options aren’t very clear. According to Charles Turri, “if you want to become a doctor or an engineer, it’s easy to know what to study. But for supply chain jobs, choosing a specific university curriculum isn’t as easy. Engineering schools, business schools, and universities offer a few intro courses to supply chain management giving a general overview of the ins and outs of the industry, but you generally have to reach the Masters or MBA level to get supply chain specific curricula”.
Additionally, the progress of technology is creating new needs, especially in terms of data science. This is difficult because the market is tense, but it is also an opportunity. “Digital technologies, robotics, and data are going to make our industry more visible and attract new profiles. E-commerce is also an opportunity for supply chain players, as it makes it more palpable” says Yannick Buisson, Head of France and Southern Europe for FM logistics.
The supply chain industry has one strong argument in its favor: high wages, compared to other industries. According to Cyril Raynal, CEO of Turnpoint, a supply chain focused recruitment consulting firm, “after the 2008 crisis, we noticed stable salaries until 2014/2015. But now the market is clearly on the rise, without being inflationary, and companies are keeping a close eye on their salary policies”.
Wage chart (without bonuses and in-kind advantages). Source : Turnpoint
The rise in wages in the industry, as compared with other types of management jobs, comes from the tension in the market, but also from the newly acquired strategic role of supply chain management in a company. “It is a heavy and irreversible trend” explains Cyril Raynal.
Naturally, many criteria impact the salary level: management level, experience, specific skills (data analysis or tariff expertise for example), budget, role of the supply chain department within the company, and finally whether transport and logistic activities are subcontracted. The industry the company operates in is also an important factor : e-commerce, luxury products, pharmaceuticals, and the chemical industry tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum.
But overall, there is a war over talent because there is fewer qualified candidates than there are positions available. “Today, a person switching jobs expects a 10 to 15% increase in salary. Also, about a third of candidates drop out of the recruitment process because they get a better offer elsewhere” warns Cyril Raynal.
The issue of under-appreciation
Even though the supply chain industry is appreciated by the people who are familiar with it, it suffers from serious under-recognition, which makes recruiting talent harder.
First, from an economic standpoint, its role is still largely misunderstood, even by policy makers. “It’s been a little lonely in the National Assembly trying to advocate for the importance of good supply chain management in building a company” says deputy François-Michel Lambert. And according to the deputy of the Bouches-du-Rhônes, in the context of a trade war between the US and China, and with Europe in the middle of it all, supply chain is clearly a threefold strategic issue: it covers geopolitical, economic, and environmental aspects.
The supply chain therefore isn’t meeting its audience of young people looking to start their career. The French unemployment agency estimates the sector will create 540,000 new jobs between now and 2022. But today, as Yannick Buisson points out, 46% of positions are hard to fill, regardless of the qualification level.
Thinking outside the box to fill those available positions
Marie Dochy, Manager of Purchases and Supply Chain for the recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark, confirms these difficulties. “We have too few relevant candidates, especially for engineering roles. So, we’ll have to be creative, stand up against cloning and discriminations, and look for transferable skills. On a tense market you can’t rely on plug&play” asserts the recruitment specialist.
Clémentine Mermet, Head of Supply Chain for Warner Music, is advocating for more diversity, especially since the industry is still largely considered as being part of the “manufacturing” side of things.
Charles Turri has another idea: creating a “Supply Chain Academy” within the companies. “It would provide representation, promote the different positions, and highlight the talents”. More generally speaking, he encourages people to talk internally about the value of supply chain functions for the company, and about the benefits to one’s career of holding this type of position.
Photo : @Anne Kerriou