The New Employee


Supply Chain execs need to prepare for the new employee and new work models to drive competitive advantage as logistics takes center stage in our Omni-outsourced world.


We hear so much about Millennials. And we should. Half the world’s population is under 30 and they are also digital natives. When I say to the kids, “How about just talking directly to the person,” I get a blank look. They would much rather use their devices to get things done and be connected to all things, digitally.

They are taking over, so that is the new reality. They thrive on apps, automation, convenience, and are refreshingly collaborative. They are also far more educated than their seniors (Figure 1) and more diverse (Figure 2), bringing new viewpoints to the table — and new markets.1

Source: Image by OECD
Figure 1 – Growth of College Education Worldwide

And in the U.S., the growing number of youth will be the engine of the economy and the future tax base upon which the soon-to-be retired will rely, so we need to bring them on board and eventually cede the field to them. This is also a reality for the world’s most populous nations such as India and China.

Cede the Playing Field

As we cede the playing field to a new generation, we have to support a new generation of entrepreneurial innovation. We have evolved from ideas that once were generated in a corporate lab to ideas generated in college dorms. Today, new ideas are born in the homes of the millennials who are barely reaching high school graduation. Many of these people will be, are, or should be your employees.

As tough as it is for those starting out to get that dream job, those jobs are clearly there. In the U.S., for example, unemployment rate for the professional level is about 4.4% and for the low-income workforce (restaurant workers and so) the rate stands at around 6.4% according to the U.S. Labor Department, with wages rising a bit in both categories — which show that there is competition for good employees.

Still, it is tough for those emerging from college, often saddled with debt (Figure 3). In spite of that, they bring a fresh idealism and much needed perspective on the world, the products, their jobs, and how things could be done today. And some tired business environments need that. Surely, business needs to understand where the world is headed. With consumer spend about 70% of economic spend, these are the customers, too.

Recruiting Young Talent

There is a huge talent shortage in Supply Chain. And that lack is stymieing results for the enterprise — and the economy. Turning to younger talent can be a challenge, but that challenge must be met. So how do we recruit and provide a thriving environment for the new generation?

Sadly, when job searching, applicants are confronted with application apps that have search methods that sift through their resumes for key words. My guess is that most of you cannot reduce some of your greatest career accomplishments down to a few key words. This approach is a real problem, because several studies have come out that say today’s recruiting processes are poor predictors of performance. Maybe we need to bring real human resource people back into the enterprise.

For the Supply Chain profession, the irony is we are growing in recognition, yet universities are not pumping out quite enough graduates (though they are doing better than before). However, within the enterprise when others interact with supply chain, they get intrigued and often want to switch into the profession. And supply chain is one area where having had a more universal exposure — whether in human resources, finance, or marketing — actually can be an asset in a supply chain career. For example, think about customer demand management — marketing or sales background; or sustainability — human resources; or data scientist, optimization and analytics roles — finance. I have often seen ‘bean counters’ get really excited walking through a warehouse and decide that they want to make that leap.

Another strategy I saw was the write-down of college debt as a company benefit. Don’t think you can afford this? Ask yourself how much it costs when jobs go unfilled and how much time, effort, and money it takes to recruit and train. The employee’s reward for staying on is reduced financial worry, which translates into energy to put into the job instead of stressing over how they are going to repay their college loans and move forward in life.

Statistics indicate that there is a five-year gestation period to train a college graduate to become a supply chain operative. So young employees will need training and mentoring — something our busy schedules and tight budgets may have a shortage of. Which leads us to how else we can get them to the top-performer category.

Sharing Knowledge

The buzzword these days is about sharing. (An aside — my take on Uber et al. is they are not really ride sharing. When did you actually share your Uber ride with someone? I think they call that a bus. Uber, as we supply chainers know, just has a new dispatch system that includes previous non-logistics professionals in the game.) However, we are sharing like never before. And the exploration of data, analytics, search, social, and content is providing new insights that the new employees are well poised to take advantage of.

For greater sharing you can go to the user and industry conferences where your peers will present. If you plan your session attendance well, you just don’t sit in sessions, but find time to dine with others to learn more.

As well, vendors provide user-community websites, where you can search, ask questions and build a dialogue with peers, which is really useful. LinkedIn, which bypasses the extreme advertising; and Twitter, which bypasses what those in your network ate for lunch have great content to sift through. Assign search time at the office and have a sharing brown bag lunch. Sound elementary? Not at all. As a research person I can tell you once you get past page one of Google you will find great companies, great content, and new horizons. (This, however, is not a substitute for investing your own time and commitment.)

The Mentoring Challenge

Space is not the final frontier. Time is. How do we get more of it in our 7×24 world? How do we get time to mentor? Recently we wrote about a type of managed service in the supply chain that is really taking off. It usually includes mentoring as well as advisory and training services from your supply chain tech company. Those services not only mentor the new employees, but add productivity and improvements to the whole team.

Even smaller companies can afford to have internships as well as mentor young employees. One customer we had (a distributor) invested in several young recruits and had them do every job in the company over two years, including the loading dock, driving a forklift, and so on (core tasks in a distribution company after all), as well as get to know many of the workers and build credibility with them. They had no defectors during the process, so squeaky clean Harvard MBAs sweated in the hot summer working the yard along with other workers, counting containers, doing inventory and lifting heavy cases. It worked. And, of course, along the way they learned many right and wrong things with the business. Afterwards, they were assigned the functions they were hired for and worked side by side with the soon-to-retire department heads.

When we arrived to help with the new process and technology, the young execs were assigned to the team to build the future of the company. The philosophy was: the decisions you make today, you will have to live with later. Smart! It did not take a rocket scientist to figure this strategy out. They were clearly ready when we arrived that day in the 103° summer heat for our first tour of the warehouse! This example also points out that the nature of work is changing.

New Employee, New Work

Work is a topic that is surely worthy of its own research study. However, it is important to discuss it, at least briefly, in the whole discussion of the new employee. Several futuristic (and not so future-ish, obvious facts) point to significant changes in the nature of work. (We began this topic in Workers Wanted — Or Not in the Brief).

AI/machine learning, predictive analytics, visual and geospatial technologies will — and are — providing a new level of automation in the office. For example, AI is commonly and increasingly used in financial services2 and may replace the trusted financial advisor. “Automation is threatening one of the most personal businesses in personal finance: advice,” says the Wall Street Journal.3 In addition, the kind and nature of work will evolve. Forecasts predict that ~20% of today’s jobs will be gone. Clearly every job from farmers to repair technicians to analysts will have a digital component. With this trend, we need to open our organizations to understand and wisely use a new generation of technology.

Make it Digital

Putting your digital natives to work is a smart move for most companies. Supply chain is all about cross-functional and cross-enterprise collaboration. It’s an early win to immerse them in the new generation of technology that created the connected enterprise. If you are a product company, how can IoT transform your products into smarter products and provide more value to your customers and your enterprise? If you are a retailer, what are the big game-changing ideas you can try to attract shoppers?

If you don’t have a community website for your employees or customers to share, have your new employees build one. Supply Chain is one of those areas in which social connectivity with customers and suppliers to work on urgent tasks is a real productivity gain for the organization. In spite of all the progress, we still have waste, inventory, and cycle time to chip away on. Immerse the new employees in the science of supply chain — this is essential — and they may have a new take on how to get that job done better.

As far as cycle time goes, the new employees have more of it than we more ‘experienced’ have. Engage them in the future — they will be that future.


In case you hadn’t noticed, some of the best ideas and biggest companies were started when folks were young. FedEx was a college idea of Fred Smith. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Michael Dell, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs were mere pups when they launched their companies. The world is brimming with these examples. But you knew that. Yet we hesitate, focusing on so-called low risk well-worn paths: a certain degree, key words, etc., rather than sitting in front of a real person and getting to know them — their drive, their energy and determination.4 Perhaps it is time for that to change.


1 More on this from BBC News. — Return to article text above

2 New York Times: The Robots Are Coming for Wall StreetReturn to article text above
3 Wall Street Journal: Talk is CheapReturn to article text above
4 This is also true for other types of candidates. — Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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