ISM World 2024: Empowering Emerging Professionals in the Workforce

April 30, 2024
By Sue Doerfler

With the number of workers reaching retirement age over the next three years — estimated at more than 4 million baby boomers — the workforce of the future will trend younger, with millennials and Generation Z expected to account for 75 percent of employees by next year.

“There are going to be record retirement levels, starting this year,” said Shami Anand, founder of Power Your Impact, during the “Women’s Supply Management Community: Voice of the Emerging Leader” workshop Monday at ISM World 2024 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “And the concern is the experienced baby boomers leaving the workforce. With that goes 30-plus years of knowledge, insights and experience. This will create a new talent gap.”

Who will fill that gap? Emerging talent, Anand said, adding that if organizations aren’t already focusing on attracting, developing and maintaining such talent, they are going to “miss the bus.”

To assess how emerging talent and senior leaders compare on key supply management issues and trends, the Women’s Supply Management Committee, a partnership between ISM and Power Your Impact, sent the same survey to each group. Anand moderated a panel discussion with three emerging leaders on two key themes that emerged from the survey:

Theme 1: Work-life balance. Studies show an increase in companies instituting a return to office (RTO) policy over the past two years, Anand said, adding that a Forbes article stated that nine out of 10 companies are planning to institute such a policy by the end of 2024. Why are they doing so? Improved revenue, culture and employee productivity are among the reasons.

The survey found that about half of emerging leaders who responded identified work-life balance as their No. 1 workplace concern. Additionally, flexible and work-from-home options are important.

Panelist Debbie Wan, manufacturing operations manager at the U.S. Department of the Navy, said that while she has always been in a flexible hybrid work environment, she has found that RTO preferences often differ among supervisors and from team to team.

Laura Beth Hirt-Sharp, product owner — IBM procurement analytics as a service at IBM, said she doesn’t think RTO policies are a problem, but rather how they are communicated. For example, an email announcing the policy that implies that working from home isn’t “work” can be detrimental and off-putting. Companies need to realize that by returning to the office, people’s lives — work and family — are impacted.

Theme 2: Career development challenges. According to the survey, 42 percent of emerging leader respondents identified career development opportunities as the most important workplace value. Yet more than 50 percent of emerging leaders identified the lack of a clear career development path as their No. 1 challenge, Anand said.

“It’s no secret that investing in employee career development builds stronger teams and employees and produces better business results,” she said. “Studies confirmed that companies have been increasing their investment in employment career development. Yet our emerging leaders’ data suggests that organizations aren’t doing enough.”

Brandon Hummons, CPSM, CPSD, senior category management — technology at Walgreens, said that emerging professionals often amass skills in a role, but aren’t given direction, he said, “as to how to apply it to open the door for more possibilities.”

Transparency about roles and positions — as well as the career paths they lead to — could help emerging professionals move up the ladder. Baby boomers leaving the workforce also may open up management opportunities that emerging leaders can step into.

Key Takeaways

  • The “silver tsunami” — baby boomers retiring — will result in a talent gap that emerging professionals have the opportunity to fill.
  • Senior leaders need to listen to what’s on the minds of emerging professionals; they will become a large part of the workforce and the next leaders.
  • Trust between senior and emerging leaders is key.


“You have to be willing to listen to each other to attract, develop and retain emerging leaders. We have to listen to what they value, what's important to them, what they need from us. The business case is that by listening to these emerging leaders, we will drive business results. We will gain different perspectives and (perhaps) better ideas.” — Anand

About the Author

Sue Doerfler

About the Author

As Senior Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, I cover topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.