The following Supply Chain Matters guest blog contribution comes from Megan R. Nichols, technical writer and blogger.
Community colleges are simply not producing enough STEM graduates to meet the rising workforce demand. That problem is compounded even more when you consider just how competitive the market is. Because the recruitment and retention numbers are so low, industry professionals are chomping at the bit to grab the attention of new grads and potential hires.
Encouraging students and potential candidates to pursue a career in supply chain management, manufacturing and similar fields is challenging but possible. Most of the issues arise from an image problem, particularly regarding what people think of such career opportunities. Many of the solutions deal with countering these misconceptions and building awareness around the industry in question. From the outside, many of these opportunities don’t look all that enticing to younger generations.
It doesn’t matter how difficult it is, though — demand continues to mount every day. As a manager, you must bring on new talent. How do you make that happen? How can you attract new graduates and younger audiences, so they are willing to pursue careers in supply chain management, manufacturing and some of the less-popular industrial fields?
1. Creating General Interest in the Field
Step one is to make SCM and manufacturing seem more interesting and desirable to everyone, not just STEM grads. It’s known that community college and low-income students don’t enroll in STEM courses because of misconceptions. There is a lack of information about related pathways and career fields.
A stigma surrounding STEM courses posits them to be for nerds or people with advanced intelligence. That fosters the idea that STEM programs are more difficult and take more work to complete. That may be true in some cases, but it’s not indicative of the entire field.
Dealing with it is a matter of outreach and awareness. Adopting more informative education practices can help spread the word about these fields. More importantly, ambassadors who actually work in the real world can share what these opportunities are like.
In addition, supply chain providers can establish mentorship and onboarding programs that better introduce prospects to the real world. In other words, they can gain valuable on-site and on-the-job experience that allows them to better assess what a career in the field is like. Many industries already do this sort of thing — for example, many law enforcement offices allow interested candidates to go on ridealongs with local officers.
2. Discuss and Explore Personal Impact
Younger generations want to know what they’re doing has a strong impact not just closer to home — for themselves and within their organization — but also for the surrounding community. How will their work in SCM and manufacturing impact the world? What is it that new hires and entrants will be able to achieve immediately, or even throughout their careers?
Take machine operations, for example. Rather than simply looking at what regular duties are and what that means for the end product, how will work affect the surrounding environment and community? What kinds of things will new hires be building and how will that contribute to the greater good? Are there any personal rewards or affirmations earned as a result?
3. Reveal Industry Growth
When directly involved with an industry such as SCM or manufacturing, it can be easy to see how profitable and promising the market is. For anyone outside of it, that may not be the case. This is especially true for younger generations who are being told automation, robotics and AI are taking over everything — and that’s not true.
It’s necessary to discern and provide verifiable stats on the growth of the supply chain and why that matters for the future. Why are these industries so important to the overall infrastructure of our world? What do they contribute, and what happens if they fail to do so? More importantly, what does that mean for the growth and development of each field?
It’s not just a matter of community impact — it’s also about personal growth and development. These students want to know they’re going to have a place in their field of choice, with plenty of opportunities to excel and advance.
All of this also applies to personal recognition in the field.
Companies can help improve the industry’s reputation by recognizing various professionals — even new hires — for a job well done. If and when top talent sees the impact they could have, especially at a small business, they’re more likely to get involved directly. This involvement might encourage them to apply for a position immediately or take the time to further their related education and training.
4. Available Support
Between learning valuable skills, taking a paid training course, or earning SCM- and manufacturing-related scholarships, there’s a lot to benefit from while pursuing a career in the field. The problem is simply that people don’t know about a lot of that support, especially students.
A great way to counteract this problem is to establish a team or department for educating various candidates and prospects. Taking that a step further, companies could establish financial assistance and reimbursement programs particularly for top industry talent. This would encourage younger candidates to acquire the education and training they need, while it may also inspire experienced professionals to get reacquainted with the industry through new training programs.
Certain industries even have professional organizations in place to provide support. In SCM, for example, sources include ASCM, CSCMP and the IBF. Most of these organizations have learning and development programs set aside specifically for new entrants.
Sometimes all it takes is knowing someone has your back and will help you succeed, particularly for younger students who are seeing increased levels of competition across the board. That’s before even taking into consideration the average cost of higher education compared to the salaries of entry-level career opportunities. People definitely need the support these days.
5. New Technologies
Modern SCM requires experience and knowledge of many new technologies, such as automation and AI, data science, IoT and more. This is promising for a lot of potential candidates who are excited to work with these solutions and platforms. It also presents the opportunity for growth, as more organizations adopt similar technologies.
In addition, there’s a need to mentor peers (Paid subscription required or complimentary metered view) in the use of such technologies, especially older, experienced professionals who have been working without it for decades. New candidates get the opportunity to participate in more reciprocal mentorship programs. This give-and-take environment is far different than the expected scenario — career dinosaurs bombarding young candidates with years of advice and experience. Instead, older professionals can share their insights into more conventional work, and younger, tech-friendly candidates can share their expertise with modern solutions.
6. Lots of Opportunities
Some of the positions you can have include supply chain design and planning, procurement and supply management, freight transportation, warehouse design and management, inventory management, disaster recovery and much more. There are new areas developing as well, including that of the supply chain or business strategist. These opportunities tend to combine functionalities and skills — bridging the gap between many SCM strategies, technologies and solutions.
Of course, all that is just a more complex way of saying there are budding opportunities in these fields with lots of room for growth and personal development. No one wants to enter a stagnant industry, which these fields certainly are not.
Highlight this realm of opportunity when interacting with candidates. Be sure to demonstrate what a career in the field looks like, where one might start and even where one might go after a few years in the industry. What can they expect to achieve? What kind of new technologies and solutions will they be working with? What will their labor go towards? In other words, how will it change the world?
Building Interest in SCM, Manufacturing and Similar Fields
Even with many of these strategies in place, it’s going to take some time before the sentiment surrounding these industries and fields is changed for the better. Perseverance and dedication will be necessary, particularly when it comes to educating others.
Students and younger generations alike are looking specifically for new opportunities that will benefit not just their personal lives, but also the world around them. It is up to the SCM and manufacturing communities to show this is possible in their field, and to open the eyes of everyone around them.
About the Author
Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer and blogger. She currently writes for sites like American Machinist, EBN Online and other industrial publications. Megan also publishes easy to understand manufacturing and technology articles on her blog Schooled By Science.