It’s not news at this point that our supply chains continue to be intensely challenged on just about every front. And, at no time was this more evident than during the 2021 holiday shopping season. (A time when the average consumer got a primary education in some of our biggest challenges based on difficulties they faced in gift shopping.)
Amid that fraught period, some of the talented industry leaders involved with our SCLA Think Tank group took a brief break together to look back at 2021 and share answers to some of the big questions about the ongoing challenges.
Amanda Martin, Chief Supply Chain Officer - Senior Vice President at Neiman Marcus Group, posed those big questions to our group, which sparked an insightful discussion that I wanted to share. What follows are some highlights, which show just how we’re working to solve many of the continued issues we face—especially in the areas of capacity constraints and talent attraction and cultivation, which are major points of focus as we work to fix broken links in the supply chain.
Big Question #1: When you look back at 2021, what was the first measurable change you noticed in the market?
Several of our executives reported the talent shortage and being able to fill open jobs. This problem continues today. Many organizations adjusted wage rates to more attractive levels, but the challenge remains. Our colleague Stephen Jones, VP Supply Chain & R&D IT Services at Campbell Soup Company, noted, “we’re paying more but still have gaps in people.” His organization is certainly not alone in this.
Follow-up Question: Have you found anything that’s been successful in increasing the labor pool—aside from increasing dollars?
Our colleague Todd Steffen noted that he’s seen that putting inclusive hiring models into place has been working well for many large companies across the country. This allows them to recruit more people with disabilities who may have been overlooked in the past. These team members tend to bring much-needed new energy to organizations, enhancing the overall culture.
In fact, inclusion across the board—such as the economic inclusion I wrote about recently—will likely play a big part in what gets the supply chain industry moving again in the right direction.
Big Question #2: What was the first big impact that you saw from a capacity perspective?
The first thing several of our executives noticed concerning capacity problems was commercial flights going away—and imports not arriving on time that were coming via air. (Note that I talked about this disruption back in August 2021, which was partially being caused by port congestion problems dating back to late 2020.)
Once goods did arrive in the US, the transportation woes continued. As Mr. Steffen shared, transportation domestically has been so tough to get—and domestic warehouse space is also hard to come by.
Big Question #3: What period was the most difficult in 2021?
Many of our executives cited the timeframe from August-October 2021 as the most difficult. This was when organizations were really feeling the labor crunch ahead of the holiday season. In addition, the tight commercial real estate market was also making things extremely difficult.
Big Question #4: What was the most shocking lever you pulled?
Several of our colleagues noted that increasing wages by considerable amounts—in some cases, several times within one fiscal year—was a never-before-seen action to stay competitive.
It’s clear that attracting talent is at the top of everyone’s mind. And those who are being successful at bringing on new team members are also highly concerned with retention. For example, our colleague Pat Martin, VP - Corporate Sales & Strategic Planning at Estes Express Lines, noted that his organization had recently launched employee recognition programs that were totally new. And several other colleagues shared examples of leadership development, mentoring and coaching, and taking proactive steps to prevent burnout within their organizations that hadn’t been prominent in the past.
Big Question #5: How did you change as a leader this year?
This is somewhat of an open question—purposefully. Ms. Martin shared some questions that she asks herself to assess how she’s grown throughout the pandemic, including “where did I fall?” and “where did I do well?”
Have you also grown as a supply chain leader?
I don’t think that any of us could say we’ve remained unchanged since the beginning of 2020! However, whether we’ve grown and rolled with the punches or decided instead to walk away is another question.