Earlier this year, and again at the Institute for Supply Management’s 102nd annual conference in Orlando, Florida, Ardent Partners analysts were pleased to interview ISM’s Chief Content and Engagement Officer, M.L. Peck. M.L. has been with ISM for more than 12 years and, as a result, fluently speaks to the myriad business challenges and opportunities that procurement and supply management leaders and practitioners encounter today. Our conversations spanned several different but related topics, including macro business and technology trends, the state of the U.S. national economy, political trends, and global instability. We also discussed how ISM is adapting to these changes to meet the developmental needs of today’s and tomorrow’s supply management workforce. This is the second of three articles from our conversations.

Procurement 4.0

Over the last two decades, procurement largely has become digitized and automated, while supply management as a whole is fast becoming a more data-driven and intelligent business function. This much is true and has been well documented by Ardent Partners analysts. But in our conversations with M.L., one term came up again and again: “Procurement 4.0.” With Procurement 4.0, machine learning, data analytics, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and other innovations are joining automation to overtake manual, paper-based processes and time- and labor-intensive methods. This is “transformative,” said M.L., but quickly moved to distinguish Procurement 4.0 from digital or procurement transformation, which we frequently write about. As an example, M.L. said that Procurement 4.0 involves using technology in innovative ways, like how Tom Linton, Chief Procurement Officer of Flextronics (and “friend of the site”), uses predictive analytics to drive purchasing.

Procurement practitioners need not fear 4.0. Although manufacturing line workers and warehouse managers have lost and continue to lose their jobs to innovation, procurement and supply management pros stand to gain efficiency, opportunity, and agility from it. Indeed, there is significant potential in Procurement 4.0 for not only procurement and supply chain departments, but also for those who would fill critical (and substantial) job vacancies. As recently at 2015, the International Labour Organization reported that there were 39 million fewer global supply management jobs than there were before the global economic crisis began in 2007[1]. And so, for those who have the skills, aptitude, and ambition to “get smart” on smart technologies, there is enormous upside in Procurement 4.0. But where to start?

Reaching, Training, and Retraining the Workforce for Procurement 4.0

ISM is first and foremost an industry organization representing thousands of procurement and supply management professionals worldwide. And over the years they have made great strides to reach, train, and certify supply management practitioners, members and non-members alike. In recent years, they have gone to market with the ISM Mastery Model, a professional development and career progression service, as well as eISM, an online training and professional education program that offers online classes, refresher material, and short “just-in-time” training. The Mastery Model and elements of eISM also provide avenues through which procurement and supply management professionals can earn industry certifications, like the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM).

While ISM happily provides these services, particularly to those trying to “catch” Procurement 4.0, they do not reach outside of the profession; they also do not offer college degrees, which M.L. concedes that many entry-level positions require. She also noted that the procurement and supply management industry needs to foster better technical education, training programs, and training methods to better serve non-traditional learners. Many people do not learn via the traditional classroom lecture system; they learn “kinesthetically” — with hands-on, practical training. If aspiring supply management pros are forced into a classroom environment, they may become frustrated, drop out, and stall or even wreck their careers. As a result, ISM needs to determine how to meet people where they are and get them where they want to go — inside and outside of the profession.

A good start for ISM is to direct displaced but emerging professionals (those with eight or less years of experience) to the Mastery Model to help them determine the best course of action based on their skills and career interests. The Mastery Model will recommend either enrolling in community college courses or programs, taking eISM or Mastery Model modules for certification, or quick JIT training videos. From there, ISM will have to get innovative in how they reach more prospective candidates. [Perhaps they might learn from one of the 30-under-30 finalists this year, who as a hungry college student, was lured into his school’s supply management program with promises of pizza at one of their information sessions.]

Recruiting and Retaining the Millennial Workforce

Speaking of the 30-under-30 finalists, 2017 was the third year that ISM ran this program in conjunction with ThomasNet, the New York-based provider of cloud-based supplier discovery and eSourcing solutions. It is one of several initiatives that ISM has undertaken to develop the supply management workforce at the grassroots level and recognize young professionals that are making a big splash within their organizations. ISM and ThomasNet are doing it to build excitement around Generation Y (aka, the Millennial Generation), which will need to fill the gap between the Baby Boomers that have already begun to retire and Generation X.

Another way that ISM is incentivizing Millennials to enter and stay in the supply management field is through the R. Gene Richter Scholarship Program for Undergraduate Students, which is “the largest national scholarship program in the field of supply management.” It is certainly one way to reach college-bound high school students who may be unfamiliar with supply management but are looking for a rewarding business career. Finally, ISM has created Emerging Professionals Groups across the country to help Millennials network, learn from each other, and build a strong community of young supply management professionals who are quickly taking over the reigns in many procurement and supply management shops today.

Final Thoughts

ISM has embarked on an ambitious journey to not only grow its membership base and serve them well, but also to grow the industry’s professional base — right down to the high school level. To sow the seeds wider and deeper, ISM is going to have to meet more candidates where they are — in the classrooms and dorm rooms of colleges, the high school guidance counselors offices, the online job boards, and perhaps the job boards of state unemployment offices. With millions of workers looking for jobs, and millions of supply management vacancies remaining open, especially now in the Procurement 4.0 period, ISM has the opportunity to recruit critical talent at a critical juncture in the industry and the global economy.

[1] International Labour Organization, World Employment Social Outlook: The Changing Nature of Jobs, May 19, 2015.


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