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The Future of Supply Chain in Australia – changing skills and capabilities

by Alastair Pennie

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Every day I get to meet supply chain leaders who provide insights into a huge variety of supply chains in Australia – everything from fully automated DCs to paper-based warehouses, of which there are still plenty!

I constantly hear of all the new technologies that are going to impact supply chain but I’m yet to see too many job descriptions asking for a diploma in Augmented reality or a degree in the machinations of BlockChain.

In conjunction with the AFGC and ASCI, I decided to get an accurate pulse on the supply chain market in Australia and research what the future holds.

Download The full ‘Future of Supply Chain’ insights report

While the world of supply chain will most certainly change, we can’t be certain exactly what it will look like.

The importance of data

An unsurprising theme throughout the report is that data will be the lifeblood of supply chain in the future. The term, DataChain has been coined in a number of formats often linked to BlockChain but the supply chain industry has to own the Data Chain and ensure it becomes an everyday narrative within the industry. But is the movement of data more important than the actual physical products we deliver?

Although data is seen as most important, when asked what defines a successful supply chain, strategic thinking and agility came out on top. While it may be easier to control these areas, surely the control of data is the vehicle to allow true strategic thinking to happen?

If supply chain wants a seat at the table, sure the supply chain has to be the one to take the data conversation to the boardroom.

Industry experience required?

Another interesting insight for me was that only 3% selected “experience in the industry” as being important. Most of the job descriptions I look at have “5+ years in an FMCG sector essential” so maybe it is time to change this emphasis on industry experience and focus on the future skills candidates can bring.

According to the survey, only 1 in 3 businesses have no supply chain representation at the Executive Leadership level. Executive-level support is an important factor in accommodating new technology and yet supply chain is still seen as less important than many other business functions like sales and marketing.

As an industry, we need to promote supply chain more and make it a destination people strive for rather than fall into – 60% of people ‘fall into supply chain!

Changing roles

We know change is coming, and in most cases, it is already here in some form but what does this look like? Encouragingly, the report indicated there would be an increase in job volume over the next ten years. There is clearly an expectation that the more manual roles will be on the decline, while data manager, supply chain analyst, and Integrated Business Planning (IBP) Manager roles are on the increase. So, although job volume will increase, the job mix will be significantly different.

Data management and IBP is all about the interpretation of data, and clearly this is where supply chain is heading. Supply chain has traditionally controlled the physical movement of product but now it must be at the center of product evolution, NPD, customer experience and life cycle management.

Managing the shift

So how do we manage the shift in skills from today to what is required in the future? To me, this is one of the greatest challenges we face as leaders over the next generation. In terms of having the current strategy to cope with new skills, only 22% gave a score of 7 out of 10 or more. Millennials don’t have the monopoly being tech-savvy, so employers can provide opportunities to reskill to help keep good employees and provide career progression.

Technology will advance quicker than humans and businesses can cope with, so at some point there will be a lag between the skills entering the workforce and the ability of company to use them! A strategy around reskilling existing employees and attracting new talent should be on the table and it needs to be the supply chain leaders knocking on the door of the HRD because your finance, sales and marketing colleagues will be doing the same. If we wait, supply chain will be last in the queue.

Attracting new talent

One area where the Future of Supply Chain insights report suggests we can make a huge step is in the attraction of new talent to supply chain. Only a third of businesses have a graduate program that includes supply chain and even less have some form of internship available. Only 1 in 5 supply chain leaders has any form of engagement with an academic institute.

There are a lot of smart people leaving schools and universities but supply chain as an industry is losing the battle to attract these people. If data is the future, why does marketing and finance cherry-pick the best graduates on the market?

I believe we need to work harder to sell supply chain - with customer expectations as to how quickly they receive products skyrocketing, there has never been a better time for supply chain to position itself as the competitive differentiator in a business and offer a compelling career pathway for talented graduates.

When asking the question at the recent AFGC supply chain conference, “Who has a true data scientist in their supply chain?” only the two big retailers were able to put their hands up (both have over ten).

Key take-outs

  • Data and data interpretation are key skills for the next ten years.
  • Retailers and suppliers need to work together to allow easier access to data, ensuring faster ROI on new technology and the chance for Australia to become a global test case for cutting-edge supply chain.
  • Supply chain still needs to promote itself within a business and strive for ELT presence, as executive sponsorship as supply chain becomes integral to a business’ success.
  • There will be a lag between technology being developed and the ability of a business to utilise this technology. How do businesses cope with the resulting change in job mix? Can we reskill or do we have to hire new people?
  • New entrants to the workforce are seen as early adopters of new technology, so programs need to be put in place to attract and develop this talent for supply chain.


Listen to Alastair Pennie of Six Degrees Executive discuss whether your job will be around in 10 years' time and what leaders are focusing on to achieve a successful supply chain in ASCI's podcast series 'The Future of Work'.