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The Supply Chain Shift Toward Technology

Companies exploring ways to combat workforce shortages are finding that technology is impacting their workforce talent strategies.

* By Doug Reed *

Last December, The Conference Board—a think tank sharing insights about future developments and issues facing business among top executives in multiple industries—released a report detailing why blue-collar workers are now scarcer than white-collar workers. The findings confirm the reverse of a multi-decade trend in the U.S. job market while forecasting that growing blue-collar labor shortages will continue in 2019 and well beyond.

Gad Levanon, lead report author and The Conference Board’s chief economist for North America, said that the report confirms what those in the supply chain have already been experiencing: workforce shortages in transportation, production and manufacturing. “The trend is partially due to the increase in the number of people attaining bachelor’s degrees, who typically do not want those types of jobs, as well as to the increasing retirement of Baby Boomers, a workforce segment that once held many of the blue-collar jobs,” he said.

So how can companies cope? “Increasing pay is the most obvious answer,” replied Levanon, “because it not only helps keep your workers, but gives you a greater opportunity to recruit workers from other companies. But that’s not always the most popular choice.”

Other options include lowering educational requirements, providing in-house training, relocating to different areas with a more available and accessible workforce, and expanding the diversity among the pools of potential candidates—such as how the trucking and transportation industries have been working to attract women to jobs previously dominated by men—he added.

“But I see more companies increasingly automate in such a way that they need fewer workers. However, that also means they’re going to need a different type of worker,” noted Levanon.

The increasing investment in technology isn’t just limited to automating blue-collar jobs. Indeed, as more companies place higher importance on their supply chains as a competitive advantage, they’ve increasingly adopted other next-generation technologies such as predictive analytics, digitization, machine learning, artificial intelligence and more. There may be greater numbers of white-collar workers than blue-collar workers out there now, but the ones with proven experience and qualifications in these specific, technology-oriented areas within supply chain organizations are just as difficult to find.

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There is no silver bullet to building a workforce that can thrive in this new digital environment. It takes leadership, collaboration, innovative talent sourcing, continuous training and improvement. This issue of MHI Solutions focuses on this important topic from the technologies driving changing skill sets to industry-academia collaboration to how to hire, retain and develop the digital supply chain workforce.

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