By Howard Roddie, Senior Supply Chain Consultant (@HowardRoddie)
Did you ever, as a kid, walk into a shop and wonder “where does all this stuff come from…it can’t be all from the same place?” Chances are, as a supply chain professional, you did think this at some point and it was your first unwitting step into the dark profession nobody’s heard of.
Let’s bring things up to date. You’re meeting new people outside work and they ask you what you do. Accountant, Geologist, Bricklayer… everybody knows what they’re about. Then you say you work in supply chain. Blanks. Then you have to explain and it still draws a blank. Familiar? It doesn’t help that we don’t even have an appropriate job title, “Supply Chain Professional” doesn’t exactly trip off anyone’s tongue. Not exactly the reach-for profession you had the discussion with your schools career officer, I guess.
Yet the supply chain is the lifeblood of our economy and our lives. Not for nothing are our major transport routes referred to as arteries. Indeed, short term disruptions can lead to panic buying and a vaguely raised profile.
There’s no shortage of excitement and intrigue either. Where else can you be dealing with the impact of a strike affecting supplies from the channel tunnel one day and trying to reduce carbon emissions the next? Oh… and where else do you get to play computer simulations where the reward is something more tangible than a high score?
My own path to supply chain was through IT and solving vat problems. Unfortunately the company I worked for thought a vat was some sort of tax rather than a silo and reckoned my talents should be channeled into accountancy. You might guess, I left.
So here we all are, serious supply chain people, committed, sometimes stressed, always passionate and seeking improvement. How on earth did we get here? Well, the answer is most of us fell into it. This may have been fine in the past, but as we deal with increasingly complex challenges with decreasing margins of error, this kind of hit and miss approach to spotting and misdirecting talent has to end. We need a two pronged approach.
Firstly we need to educate the rest of the world about what we do and it’s place in the world so that kids want to do it, the same way they want to drive trains, argue law or break rocks (geology not jail). Secondly we’ve got to offer a path through schools, specifically referencing supply chain problems in mathematics, IT, geography, history and so on. The day I can tell people what I do and they understand is the day we step out from the shadows.