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Talent: what’s the answer?

June 18, 2019

A recent report from CAPS Research states that 70% of companies are experiencing a supply management talent shortage. Almost 40% say that recruiting in this field is more challenging than for any other function.

That finding is borne out by The Hackett Group’s latest ‘Procurement Key Issues’ report, which identifies ‘aligning skills and talent with business needs’ as a top challenge.

At the same time, there are consistent indicators of a downward trend in Procurement’s budget and headcount – and only about 30% of organizations appear to be doing anything significant to raise skills, attract talent or create alignment.

What’s going on?

These findings from the world of supply management are not unique. As I look across the IACCM membership, similar challenges face those in contract, commercial management and legal. In every case, demand for increased competence is high and there are concerns about the adaptability of the current workforce.

Sitting behind all of this uncertaintly is emerging technology. Everyone senses big changes and we are all aware that repetiive tasks will increasingly be automated. Indeed, that process is under way and explains the drop in the traditional procurement workforce. Where everyone is struggling is in defining quite how the new world will operate – and the classic chicken and egg problem of which comes first – the new talent or the new technology.

Hackett’s report calls for more analytical capabilities, leveraging relationships, enhancing agility and achieving true customer-centricity. There is nothing unique about this – the same list can be applied to every business function. So without urgent action, will our world collapse?

It’s a continuum

The truth is that the shortage of skills and talent has been a recurrent theme throughout history. It is either that ‘young people today just aren’t good enough’ or that ‘existing workers can’t adapt’. Then of course there is the endless fear over the imminent loss of talent and knowledge due to retirement. Many of these concerns are self-contradictory, but htat doesn’t stop the complaining and worrying.

And in spite of all the predictions of doom, our world somehow survives. Perhaps it is simply that people and workers are actually more adaptive than we believe. And behind the scenes, changes are occurring. For example, I observe more and more academic institutions engaging on the topics that are key to business and working to produce far more practical, pragmatic content. This is at all levels of teaching – undergraduate, post-graduate and executive education. The volume of material available to those who wish to self-educate is at unprecedented levels.

In my experience, managers are not all that good at predicting quite what skills are needed for the future and the real issue very often has more to do with overall organizational competencies than with individual or functional skills. So perhaps the fact that so few are trying to ‘align skills and talent with business needs’ is a good thing. Maybe that is better left to individuals and the market.

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