Millennials’ Desire for Meaning in Work – A Potential Key to Addressing the Supply Chain Talent Shortage


Millennials are seeking jobs with meaning and purpose. They are more concerned about social and environmental issues. Companies that are strongly committed to sustainable and responsible supply chains have an advantage in attracting and retaining younger supply chain professionals.


Workers at Google/Alphabet recently formed a union.1 Their main gripe is not about pay (median pay for Google employees is around $200K) or working conditions. Rather they are trying to influence and reshape Google’s role in society and the corporate culture, such as denouncing Google’s firing of Timnit Gebru,2 lobbying against certain use of Google’s technology by US border agents, pushing for better support for diversity, and other social issues.

This is not an isolated case. Concerns about sustainability and the environment have been on the rise for a long time. As shown in Figure 1, the percent of US adults who said protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress rose from 41% in 2009 to 64% in 2020.3

Source: “For Earth Day 2020, how Americans see climate change and the environment in 7 chartsPew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (APRIL 21, 2020)
Figure 1 – Rising Concern About Protecting the Environment, Dealing with Climate Change

Research has shown that all people, but especially Millennials, want work that has meaning and purpose. In a 2019 survey of over 2,000 Millennials by Olivet Nazarene University, 90% of respondents said that it was important4 for their work to “make a positive impact on the world.“ 50% said they would take less money to do more meaningful work and 68% said they would work longer hours in more meaningful work. The number one conclusion of an extensive 2019 survey by Gallup was “Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck — they want a purpose.“ A 2015 study showed that ‘inspired’ workers were more than twice as productive as workers who were ‘satisfied’ and three times as productive as ‘dissatisfied’ workers (see Figure 2).

Concerns about social causes and the environment tend to be higher amongst Millennials than their older peers, across the political spectrum. For example, as shown in Figure 3, younger Republicans tend to prioritize climate change and clean energy much more than their older counterparts.

Source: “U.S. Public Views on Climate and Energy | Pew Research CenterPew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (NOVEMBER 25, 2019)
Figure 3 – Support for Environment and Climate Action Higher Among Younger Republicans

The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 found that climate change and protecting the environment were by far the top concerns of Millennials, handily beating out unemployment, crime, terrorism, and other concerns.

Source: Data from The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, Chart from ChainLink Research
Figure 4 – Climate and Environment are Top Concerns for Millennials

Chronic Supply Chain Talent Shortage

At the same time, we have had a chronic shortage of talent across supply chain positions. A 2019 MHI/Deloitte survey of over 1,000 supply chain professionals found that 88% of companies find it challenging to hire and retain top talent, with 22% saying it is extremely challenging. Hiring and retaining qualified workers was by far the top challenge for supply chain professionals amongst the long list of challenges presented, as shown in Figure 5 below.

Source: Data from 2019 MHI Annual Industry Report, titled “Elevating Supply Chain Digital Consciousness”, Chart from ChainLink Research
Figure 5 – Hiring and Retaining Talent Tops List of Challenges for Supply Chain Professionals

While there are many facets to meeting this talent shortage challenge, a major part of the answer is providing meaningful work — a sense of purpose, and pride in what you do. That same survey found an enormous difference in what factors mattered the most, regarding the kind of company these supply chain professionals would recommend to family and friends. Corporate responsibility and sustainability were important for 53% of 25 to 34-year-old supply chain professionals, but only 17% of 55 to 64-year-olds. A similar divergence was seen in fair pay and diversity concerns.

Data from 2019 MHI Annual Industry Report, titled “Elevating Supply Chain Digital Consciousness”, Chart from ChainLink Research
Figure 6 – Younger Professionals Care Much More about CSR, Fair Pay, and Diversity

The good news in meeting this talent shortage challenge is that supply chain jobs can have an enormous impact on social and environmental issues. Supply chain professionals are in a position to influence supplier behavior, carbon footprint, and corporate social responsibility in meaningful ways. There are so many ways in which supply chain roles can have real substantive impacts, such as:

Fair labor practices and conditions – supplier code of conduct that has teeth and is audited robustly helps weed out abusive labor practices, unsafe working conditions, and unfair wages. These are not easy problems to solve, but that gives supply chain professionals who are passionate about it something to really sink their teeth into, provided they are getting the right support from the top.

Reducing packaging — Supply chain leaders at major retailers and others have played a major role in reducing the amount of packaging used, as well as encouraging more concentrated liquids and other changes that reduce the environmental footprint.

Reduce miles driven/carbon footprint — Transportation planners can help reduce a company’s carbon footprint through optimization programs.

Fair trade Procurement and supply chain practices can help ensure that the original farmer or craftsman is getting a fair shake. In some sectors, this can be a major brand value booster too that builds customer loyalty by engaging and connecting the end consumer to the farmer or craftsman who created the product they are consuming.

Diversity and inclusionCompanies can set goals for more diversity in their supply base, such as woman-owned and minority-owned businesses.

Protecting the Environment Supply chain professionals are in the thick of the fight to try and stop deforestation and the destruction of critical environmental resources, through efforts such as only buying responsibly harvested lumber and forest products, purchasing sustainably grown and harvested materials, and more broadly enforcing environmental standards with suppliers.

Reducing corruption By crafting and enforcing anti-corruption and anti-bribery policies, supply chain professionals are helping countries to become better places to live and do business with, driven by the rule of law.

Conflict-free resources The right procurement policies and traceability initiatives can help ensure raw materials are ‘conflict-free,’ i.e., not used to fund warlords and bloody civil wars.

These are just some examples of many different ways that supply chain professionals can have a real impact. Companies that prioritize social and environmental responsibility and diversity should be able to attract more top supply chain talent, especially among younger workers. Imagine a transportation planning job headlined “Help us become carbon neutral by 2030!.“ Of course, it is not just about the job description. The message and passion have to come from the top and infiltrate the organization. When that happens, it attracts people who really care. Passion and commitment to higher causes are something prospective employees immediately sense. That can make all the difference in which company they ultimately choose to work for.

There are of course many different things a company must do to attract and retain top supply chain talents — such as providing for career development, work/life balance, competitive pay and benefits, and more. However, very high on the list must be providing purpose and meaning in work. Supply chain jobs are able to do that in spades, provided that the company’s leaders really believe in and invest in these causes and outcomes. It is not just the right thing to do. It is good for the business too.


1 Albeit with only a tiny portion of employees as members so far. — Return to article text above
2 Ms. Gebru is a Black scientist who used to lead Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team. She was fired, after she co-authored a paper exploring the pitfalls and ethical implications of AI tools used by Google and others. — Return to article text above
3 Similarly, those who thought climate change should be a top priority rose from 30% to 52% over the same period. — Return to article text above
4 57% said it was very important and 33% said it was somewhat important for their work to “make a positive impact on the world.“ — Return to article text above

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