Does the following scenario sound familiar to you? Your company hires a graduate with exemplary credentials, straight out of University. He or she has spent perhaps four to five years gaining a supply chain education, starting even before leaving high school, because he or she is passionate about working in the space.
Yet for all the credentials and the theory that flowed like musical notes from the graduate’s mouth at the job applicants’ assessment center, you know the chances of your new hire hitting the ground running are less than slim.
Schools Out: Let the Supply Chain Education Begin
For most young people entering a logistics or supply chain management role, the real education begins on the first day at work. I’m not disparaging the value of gaining a degree in a supply chain-related discipline—far from it. I believe it’s a very necessary, important, and big step in the right direction for career success and employer satisfaction.
However, if you’re a supply chain manager reading this post and wondering what I am getting at, just think back to your first year or two after graduation.
Were you a shining example of practical management expertise? Beware, I can’t hear your answer, but you’ll know if you are being honest with yourself or not.
In reality, there has to be a skill/talent gap for anyone taking their first management role straight out of the halls of residence. Your graduate has probably never hired anyone; never fired anyone; never had to deal with change resistance or appease an angry customer.
Transitioning from Theoretical to Pragmatic Supply Chain Education
Everyone’s supply chain career has to start somewhere, so there’s no shame present in being untested from a practical perspective. What does exist is the need for your graduate to build upon her academic education and begin to test her theories in the live business environment—and the sooner the better. After all, your company and your new employee have both made investments which deserve a return.
So how can your company build upon the academic supply chain education received by your new hires and help them accelerate the addition of practical knowledge?
The following ideas might help, especially if yours is a small to medium enterprise without the benefit of a large HR department to build internal supply chain education programs.
Courses Endorsed By Industry Associations
One way to help new hires (and even those who’ve been with you for years) improve their practical knowledge, is to enroll them on industry-specific courses recognised by trade and industry associations, such as the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation Australia. Because of their roles in advocacy, industry associations tend to invest in practical education rooted in best practice and with an emphasis on the latest operational trends and techniques.
CILTA-recognised courses for example, can range from short, one to two day supply chain education workshops all the way through to programs of a year or more in duration.
These courses are run by education companies and institutions that are thoroughly vetted by education experts within the CILTA ranks. Relevance is therefore assured and you know you won’t be paying for hastily flung-together programs designed only to make money for a training company.
Delegate “Safe” Projects to Work On
Of course you will want your employees to gain as much supply chain education as possible while on the job. However, there is always that catch-22 situation in play. Your employees need to learn by doing, but when thrown in at the deep end, they can make mistakes that cost your company money or jeopardise its business reputation.
By developing small projects for new managers to lead, you can gain value for your business. At the same time, you provide the opportunity for new hires to get their feet wet with practical leadership, analysis and problem solving exercises.
The key is to develop projects which will deliver business improvements, but which won’t cause harm if not successfully completed. In other words, create a safe environment for your graduates to develop and to make mistakes, which of course they will.
Obviously it’s best to avoid implementation projects, but instead focus on those which conclude with a set of recommendations. Mini-projects in lean or continuous improvement can be a great way to get newly hired graduates’ feet wet and immerse them deeply in your operation.
Learning from the Old Hands
While it should be considered permissible for new management employees to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them (and don’t repeat them), the chances of error can be reduced if they have the benefit of coaching or mentoring from senior members of staff.
Practical supply chain education is all about learning from the experts—even when the experts are more accustomed to doing than to teaching.
As highlighted by the Logistics Bureau’s Australian Supply Chain Report, a large proportion of logistics industry employees are over the age of 45. Many of these will be baby boomers close to the point of retirement, so now is a good time to get them involved with mentoring and coaching younger employees. By doing so, your company can ensure retention of expertise after an older generation has exited the supply chain arena.
It shouldn’t matter too much if your veteran practitioners are not particularly skilled in teaching or training, although for those who are willing, some mentoring-skills training might not go amiss. The important thing though, is to task the younger employees with the objective of learning from the old hands. A new hire’s learning skills will be well honed from the years in academia, which should offset any lack of teaching expertise on the part of the mentor.
Mix it Up For Best Results
With some mentoring from your experienced and more senior employees, a few projects concentrated on practical skills development, and some training by a CILTA-recognized provider like the Supply Chain Leaders Academy, your freshly hired managers and logistics practitioners will soon have plenty of practical knowledge to supplement the supply chain education received at college or university.
Rather than knocking off the rough edges, pragmatic education in supply chain should aim to do the opposite—to roughen up the clean cut graduate and make her ready to apply theory and practice in concert, henceforth to provide a healthy return on the money and time invested.
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