November 15, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Adrian Tan: The feedback from business leaders is that they wish to see a balanced mix of different skills in new graduates. An unexpected skill mentioned is the ability to use spreadsheets such as Excel. Companies do not expect to have to train new employees to use spreadsheets, though it turned out that spreadsheets are widely used (at varying levels of complexity) at all levels in organizations. An assumption here is that if a graduate already has good spreadsheet skills, then the graduate should also have the ability to quickly pick up on other more complex business IT skills required by the organization.
Businesses also need to know if their new employees can effectively interact with internal or external audiences. In this regard, excellent presentation skills are the minimum expectation from businesses. Presentation skills (both formal and informal) include the ability to read people, to communicate, and to covey information appropriately to the different types of audiences they may encounter - and these may sometimes include bored, skeptical, adversarial or even hostile audiences.
Every organization also requires graduates to show that they are good team-players. In addition to that, it is a big advantage if graduates can also demonstrate sound leadership skills in the context of teamwork. This is because new employees with leadership potential are viewed as those who are willing to go the extra mile, able to function with minimum supervision, can roll with the punches to jump back into the fray, and trusted to welcome (instead of to avoid) new assignments or challenges. Leadership skills are also seen as closely aligned with the possession of a corporate entrepreneurial mindset in that such employees are more willing to challenge the status quo, come up with out-of-the-box ideas, and help lead transformation efforts that can guide the organization in the future.
Adrian Tan: Business skills are in great demand anywhere where there is a desire to organize human beings for productive gains. Realistically, new graduates always have to consider if they should relocate for their first jobs. This is because it is natural for business cycles to expand or contract over time in patterns that may not be in sync with the timing of new graduates entering the work force. For instance, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has froze certain types of jobs in businesses, but has expanded other types of jobs instead. This means that there are new opportunities being created, but these may be located in other parts of the country.
Adrian Tan: Large organizations will likely continue to invest in data mining efforts to better understand their supply chain dynamics. Smaller companies (defined as those with reduced access to funding) will likely make increased use of cloud computing applications to remain competitive. Governments, verification or certification organizations may invest in blockchain technologies in order to reliably track sources or destinations of goods.
Abe Eshkenazi: COVID-19 has put a global spotlight on the importance of supply chain functions for all aspects of life, including food, e-commerce and logistics, public health, and the economy, so there's no better time for graduates to enter the profession.
A successful career in the supply chain requires both technical and leadership skills. The Association for Supply Chain Management's 2020 Salary and Career Survey found the top five technical skills for supply chain professionals to master include: inventory management, best practice knowledge, project management, computer skills, and risk management. On the flip side, the top leadership skills that respondents valued in potential employees were effective communication, collaboration with others, critical thinking, big picture future planning, and problem-solving. While it's not expected that new graduates have mastered each and every skill listed, they should be able to articulate to future employers how they have used these skills in the past and show that they plan to hone them in the future through on-the-job experience and continued learning.
In addition to academic credentials, there is a push towards more application/competency-based knowledge (certifications) that can be achieved for specific areas within the supply chain.
Abe Eshkenazi: The impact of technology on the supply chain will be multi-faceted, but, overall, I see it helping us close the ever-expanding skills gap. A growing issue in industries, across the board, is a surplus of positions that go unfilled due to the lack of skilled professionals available to fill them. In fact, as of October 2019, there were 7.3 million job openings in the U.S. economy, as companies across industries have had trouble finding skilled employees.
Technology is critical for the digitization of supply chains, which will help with visibility and transparency along the supply chain. Being trained to keep up with the new logistics platforms and technology available is very much a part of why upskilling and keeping your certifications up to date is so important. The push toward adopting technology and automation creates the opportunity for employees to develop, move up, and fill more skilled positions. Instead of investing dollars recruiting and training employees for lower-skilled positions, companies can now focus on training motivated employees for the specific skills needed for more technical roles, improving productivity, raising incomes, and satisfaction levels.
Education and upskilling should be thought of like a supply chain pipeline, where you plan for your talent needs before they become critical - the demand-driven approach. By implementing this system of demand-driven education supported by technology, it allows companies to have a full view of where future shortages may lurk and plan accordingly. Businesses would have a plan for attacking the talent gap and know what to do, rather than waiting for perfectly trained applicants.
Daniel Stanton: Of course, supply chain professionals need to understand the basics of logistics, procurement, and operations. But if I had to pick just three skills that I think are going to be critical for supply chain graduates in the years ahead, I'd say 1) Data Analysis, 2) Systems Thinking, and 3) Project Management. The amount of data that's available is growing quickly, and we need people who can access and analyze it. Then, we need to understand what that data means, and how it affects all of the different functions within our supply chains. And finally, in order to use that data to make changes, supply chain professionals need to be able to launch and manage projects effectively.
Daniel Stanton: Every business and government organization has a supply chain, and that means there are job opportunities for supply chain professionals virtually everywhere. I always encourage people to focus on industries and regions that align with their personal priorities, while factoring in the upside opportunities and downside risks. It's easier to get a job with a company that is growing, and in a region that has a strong economy. But you can still find opportunities with companies that are trying to cut costs in their supply chain to survive an economic downturn.
Daniel Stanton: Technology is having a huge impact on supply chains! Many of our planning and execution processes are being automated, and robots and autonomous vehicles are changing the way we think about transportation and material handling. Sensors and telecommunications are also giving us better visibility to what's happening throughout the supply chain, and making it much easier to control supply chain activities around the world from a laptop or cellphone. I know some people are concerned about technology replacing the work that people are doing today, and eliminating supply chain jobs. But I think there are many more examples of companies that are creating new positions for people who can plan and orchestrate the vast number of complex activities that need to be aligned in order for a supply chain to function effectively.