A recent joint meeting of ISM-Greater Rhode Island and the Purchasing Management Association of Boston focused on America’s supply chain management talent gap: 270,000 jobs are estimated to be created each year through 2020, but 72% of these jobs may go unfilled because our educational institutions are not producing enough qualified graduates. Experience has traditionally dominated the hiring criteria for supply chain jobs, but today there simply isn’t enough experience to go around. This is where academia comes in. Education is the traditional substitute for (or at least a jumpstart on) experience. At this meeting, over a hundred supply managers were asked five specific questions to help us produce more qualified graduates. The first two focused on how to deliver education, while the last three considered course content framed by Gartner’s “Top 25 Supply Chains.” Gartner classifies supply chains as agile, efficient, or responsive. The results were intriguing.

Question 1: What skills and talents need to be developed in our students to succeed through the year 2020? The answers focused on “soft” or people skills including political and negotiation abilities, communication, teamwork and cross-cultural knowledge – all of which tend to be shortcomings in most academic programs. “Hard” skills such as analytical, research, and technological topics also made the list along with the traditional business school subjects, but with more emphasis on industry-specific knowledge. The main message: Ideal entry-level hires should focus on developing breadth over depth.

Question 2: What are the most critical continuing education needs for the existing Supply Chain Management workforce? What certifications (if any) are valued? Attending managers reaffirmed the long tradition of collaboration between academia and industry. They also supported continuing education in the form of self-paced self-study with a broader business focus. The consensus: Certification is still valuable but best if driven top-down.

Question 3: Given a corporate goal of efficiency, what are the most important KPIs to teach? Efficiency was defined as “Output vs. Input.” Respondents indicated that graduates need to understand a handful of key metrics including spend per unit of labor, output per individual, cash-to-cash, defects per order, inventory accuracy, and procurement cycle time.

Question 4: Given a corporate goal of agility, what are the most important KPIs to teach? Agility was defined as “the ability to adapt to changing market requirements related to commercializing new products and technologies.” The most important KPIs cited here by the audience were time-to-market and quality control. Other metrics identified were related to different aspects of quality, cycle time, and lead time, with a nod to managing costs and cash flow.

Question 5: Given a corporate goal of responsiveness, what are the most important KPIs to teach? Responsiveness was defined as “the ability to respond to unforeseen changes in market demand for existing products.” The most important KPIs listed emphasized quality rather than speed, especially supplier quality and responsiveness to repairs and defects. Additional metrics included lead time, fill rate (vs. backorders), inventory turns, manufacturing capacity, and cycle time.

Without prompting, our responding procurement managers produced a list of KPIs that closely matched the exemplary performance of Gartner’s “Top 25 Supply Chains.” One professional asked the most revealing question: What’s the one metric used by all three supply chain types? The answer: supplier on-time delivery! The beginning of every good relationship starts with simply committing to show up when needed. The challenge is to develop the critical “hard” and “soft” skills of our students and your employees to best achieve these most important KPI’s. I’m in - are you?

This article is part of the monthly series authored by the Institute for Supply Management’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain and Professional Development topics.

Dr. Michael Gravier, PhD, CTL, is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Bryant University in Providence, RI. He is also the 1st Vice Chair of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at mgravier@bryant.edu or (401) 232-6950. Membership in the L&T Group is open to all current ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in Logistics & Transportation.