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Letting Millennials Talk to Millennials… A Possible Workforce Solution

* By Barton Jennings, Professor of Supply Chain Management, Western Illinois University *

Just using the term Millennials probably turned a number of readers off. Sorry. This generation born from the late 1980s through the early 2000s has a reputation of being disinterested, lazy, filled with anger and lacking many of the manners typical of society. While this generalization may be based upon some truth, this is also a generation that can become passionate about the things they believe in, and supply chain management is becoming one of those areas of passion.

The various parts of supply chain management call for efficiency, no waste, customer service customized to the individual’s needs, technology, and many other characteristics that mean something to this generation. Millennials are excited to make meaningful improvements, help the environment and their communities, and to become leaders. Properly guided, this is a positive for many companies and the field in general. For education and workforce development, it can be an even bigger benefit as Millennials live with technology, including communications, media and digital technologies. They love to share what they do and what they believe in. For a field that is trying to attract talent, using this passion and ability to communicate is a natural fit.

For the past decade, our supply chain management degree program at Western Illinois University has been highly active in workforce development by making presentations at area high schools and community colleges, professional meetings sponsored by such organizations as the Illinois Business Education Association, and at various student club meetings. These have resulted in positive recruitment efforts by both our degree program and local industries, but we felt more could be done to reach the students. After all, no matter how exciting or informative we can be, to some students we are still the “old teachers” taking up their time.

So, what is the solution? When looking around, one of the things we noticed was that many recruiting companies were bringing back recent alumni who could relate to our current students. These alumni could often joke about classes and assignments, swap stories, and were great at relating to these possible new employees. These Millennials could explain their careers and show how the skills learned were being applied in “The Real World.” This idea excited students and worked as a recruitment tool for companies, so it should work for our degree, and for the field of supply chain management as well.

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According to the recently released 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report, “Overcoming Barriers to NextGen Supply Chain Adoption,” eight out of ten survey respondents believe these supply chains will be the predominant model within just five years. However, the report found that the adoption of some of these technologies was slower than originally reported when MHI started the annual report in 2014. The report cites three top barriers to adoption of these technologies: 1. Making the business case for NextGen supply chain investments. 2. Tackling the supply chain skills gap and workforce shortage. 3. Building trust and security in digital, always-on supply chains. This issue of MHI Solutions focuses on the adoption of these digital solutions, from best practices in robotics and artificial intelligence to blockchain and innovations in last mile delivery.

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