Inside Supply Management Magazine

The Challenges Facing Supply Management Talent — and the Skills Needed

April 30, 2019

There’s a lot of talk about how the supply management profession has evolved from a tactical, purchasing role to a strategic function within a business. Many organizations are undergoing transformations as they manage disruption from new technologies, increasing complexities and global risk.

But, as most organizations will admit, it’s often the people who make a difference in how they handle that change. And as the profession continues to evolve, the skill sets needed by talent at all levels also will evolve and change.

“It's a growing profession with many roles in demand,” says Deb Stanton, Executive Managing Director of CAPS Research, a Tempe, Arizona-based program jointly sponsored by Arizona State University and Institute for Supply Management®.

Up-and-coming roles include data analyst, business liaison and chief value officer. (Read more about upcoming roles in “The Supply Management Professional of the Future” in the April issue of Inside Supply Management®.) “Organizations are advancing and investing in their organizations, so they are always searching for talent at a variety of levels,” Stanton says.

What skills will talent need as they enter or advance in the profession? A survey by CAPS Research found CPOs consider the largest supply management skills gaps, in order, to be data analytics, supplier risk management, category expertise and supplier relationship management. Regarding soft skills, the CPOs say the largest gaps, in order of size, are strategic perspective, leadership, business partner/stakeholder relationships and persuasion, Stanton says.

What challenges will future talent face? Stanton offers her thoughts about three levels of professionals: emerging, mid-level and executive.

Emerging Talent

Whether in early-career roles like buyer or commodity analyst, or team members of supplier risk, supplier performance or rotational programs, emerging professionals tend to be in the more operational/transactional part of procurement. At this stage of their careers, these professionals are still learning about many aspects of the profession, so the skills need to be a balance of detail-oriented tasks and a drive and initiative to take on new responsibilities and learn new things. Their biggest challenge is developing increasing understanding of supply management — and perhaps determining which role they would like to pursue.

Mid-Level Professionals

These professionals tend to have more experienced management roles and lead various supply management or procurement functions; for example, they might lead category management, direct or indirect groups, or a purchasing center of excellence.

Leadership and talent-management skills will aid them in their supervisory roles. And as they handle bigger and more strategic initiatives for the company, they must be able to (1) develop category strategies, (2) understand and manage global implications like tariffs, (3) manage supplier relationships, (4) manage complex spend and (5) interpret data and nformation faster, more strategically and in more predictive ways, among other responsibilities.

Executives and CPOs

The C-suite faces numerous challenges as the supply management function evolves. One of the most critical skills is integrating with the business and delivering business solutions. Others include:

Developing an agile supply chain

Minimizing supplier risk

Managing CSR, including trade issues

Emphasizing digitization — ensuring the function is driving efficiency, effectiveness and a smart operation using current tools like automation and blockchain, technology like robotics and artificial intelligence, and data analytics

Managing talent — finding new talent, retaining current talent and upskilling the talent who might be used to old programs, tools and technology. (Upskilling is a large part of talent management, as the role of procurement has changed within an organization.)

As supply management grows increasingly complex, talent at all levels will find their skill sets also will need to evolve. “There are strong opportunities” for all skill levels as supply management organizations continue to reinvent themselves, Stanton says.