There is a growing gap between the haves and the have nots, and I’m not referencing the growing income gap. What I foresee is a growing gap between the corporate haves and have nots. A number of data points came together during November to form my opinion (including our Future of Supply Chain survey, the writing of the 2018 Future of Supply Chain report and the conclusion of this year’s European Live Forum).
For years we’ve been asking supply chain executives to rate the technologies they feel are most important and disruptive. After years of consistent increases among all emerging technology, we’ve noticed a divergence. The “thing” technologies (additive manufacturing, drones, etc.) are beginning to lose out to “knowledge” technologies (big data analytics, cloud computing, machine learning, etc.) when it comes to gauging importance and disruptiveness. This points to a growing perception that the technologies that allow us to sense changing customer/consumer demand, understand what our supply chains are capable of, and allow us to make profitable commitments will be more disruptive to business than technologies that replace people (i.e., drones, autonomous vehicles). It’s not that they won’t be important, just not as disruptive.
The easy conclusion is that technology will drive a widening gap because a subgroup of companies will invest in the most advanced technologies, but that is only part of the story (and not the most important part).
The fact that “knowledge” technologies are distancing themselves from other types is more than just an interesting tidbit; it places a heavier focus on the passionate discussion among supply chain executives that we have significant talent shortcomings.
Our recently concluded European Live Forum ended with the naming of our Power of Profession award finalists (my favorite part of the forum). It was fantastic listening to all the great things some companies are doing to develop the skills of their employee base. For example, some are creating innovative partnerships with universities to ensure new employees are coming in with the skills they need. Others are developing rotational programs intentionally designed to give associates the experiences and skills that will prepare them to be future executives. These companies are purposefully developing their current and future employees. Unfortunately, it seems as though not enough companies are focused on this.
The starkest illustration of this came from this year’s Future of Supply Chain survey. Executives were separately asked: “How confident are you in your business’ readiness to succeed?” and “What is your organization’s strategy for developing skills and competencies?” By comparing these answers, a troubling picture comes into focus. Those who are not at all confident in their business’ readiness to succeed rely overwhelmingly on unstructured on-the-job training and consulting. In contrast, those who are extremely confident rely almost equally on formal internal training, external partnerships (working with universities or certification programs), and recruiting developed talent.
It’s not much of a stretch to paint a future where businesses are overwhelmingly disrupted by knowledge-based technology. To capitalize on that technology, companies will need talent that they are short of or simply do not have. In this future, simply asking employees to learn on the job just won’t cut it. It’s great to see a number of organizations purposefully engineering their talent development, but it just doesn’t seem like enough are taking the initiative.
There seems to be a high probability that the “have” and “have not” gap will widen greatly over the next few years as top-tier companies combine technology with their talent programs, while the remaining tiers do not. It’s a good time to evaluate whether you are widening the gap, closing the gap, or being left behind.
If technology is the great equalizer, how we train and prepare our employees will be the great “unequalizer.”
Michael Uskert, Managing Vice President, Supply Chain Research, Gartner