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Supply chain managers in demand as businesses hit by shortages

Demand for supply chain managers has surged following a series of disruptions to global trade, propelling once-overlooked professionals to increasingly important positions in multinational companies.

The number of US job postings for supply chain managers on LinkedIn more than doubled between 2019 and 2022, according to data shared with the Financial Times.

UK vacancies for supply chain managers on jobs site Indeed rose 22 per cent between 2019 and 2021, when trade issues for many businesses peaked, outpacing an 8 per cent increase in the total number of UK roles advertised. Demand continued to rise last year, when openings were 36 per cent higher than in 2019.

Recent crises, including Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, have led to highly publicised shortages of goods from microchips to vegetable oil — putting supply chain issues at the centre of boardroom discussions.

Lucy Harding, head of the supply chain practice at headhunter Odgers Berndtson, said businesses had realised they must “hire more senior people. [Supply chain professionals] have become more important.”

She added that executives responsible for supply chains had increasingly been invited into boardrooms and that companies had been expanding teams of analysts who could identify potential supply chain problems before they hit, including those caused by political instability.

Before the pandemic, businesses often sought to cut costs in their supply chain — but some blue-chip companies “were caught with their pants down” as shortages emerged, said Richard Wilding, emeritus professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield University and a consultant to multinational companies. Businesses have since invested to make their supply chains more resilient, he added.

BT announced plans in 2021 to recruit 70 people to a new procurement arm based in Dublin. Staff have since been planning how to protect the telecoms group’s supply chain, including by holding “war games” to prepare for a potential conflict between China and Taiwan.

An executive at a big food producer said they had created a “resilience team”, which identifies possible issues in the company’s network of suppliers. “We were saying, ‘We need to be better at this. Let’s get some experts in supply chain management’,” the executive said.

Job vacancies across a number of vocations have soared over the past couple of years, as employers boosted hiring after Covid-19 lockdowns and workers sought new careers. But headhunters and supply chain managers said the hiring trend in procurement had been particularly notable.

Kory Kantenga, senior economist at LinkedIn, said the most intense demand for supply chain professionals had eased as global pressures receded in recent months.

The end of China’s zero Covid policy and declines in consumer spending have helped alleviate the strain on manufacturers and shipping. But demand for US supply chain managers during the first two months of this year remained 54 per cent higher than during the same period in 2019, according to LinkedIn data, and businesses may be faced with a shortage of people with the right skills. “There is a crunch in available talent,” said Harding. “These are first-time challenges for a lot of senior leaders.” Wilding added that the relatively small number of people with relevant supply chain expertise had come under pressure.

LinkedIn and Indeed do not share data on the actual number of jobs posted on their websites.

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