A Winning Combination: Millennials, Gen Z and the Supply Chain Industry
Written by Angie Freeman and Kingshuk K. Sinha
We are at the cusp of having four generations together in the workplace. Baby Boomers are retiring every nine seconds without enough Gen Xers to replace them. Millennials have now been in the workforce for several years, and are beginning to lead teams. And the first of the Gen Zs (1995-2012) are graduating from college and are entering the workforce.
The skills of these two newest generations, Y and Z, and the needs of our dynamic supply chain profession create a mutually beneficial match. However, with the demand far exceeding the supply, the race for top talent won’t be easy. If we don’t effectively market ourselves, we will miss out on the talent that will drive our industry forward. To really attract, engage and keep Millennial and Gen Z employees, we need to understand them in much the same way we do our customers.
Millennials now make up the largest, most diverse group in the workplace. In fact, this generation accounts for more than 65% of the C.H. Robinson workforce. In our experience, Millennials are collaborative, entrepreneurial, creative and innovative and very adaptive to change – all valuable traits in our dynamic, knowledge-based industry.
Gen Zs are true technology natives who have never known life without Internet connectivity. They are realistic, conscientious, driven and mindful of the future. They value security, career paths and financial stability and are seeking a fun, flexible work environment. In their book, Gen Z @ Work, David Stillman and Jonah Stillman share additional characteristics that make up this generation, including a fear of missing out (FOMO) and a confident DIY mindset.
As a result, they stay up on trends, are anxious about professional advancement and are interested in jobs with multiple roles. Having grown up with YouTube, Gen Z believes they can figure out how to do things for themselves. This tenacity, drive and technical aptitude are essential qualities for our industry, which is increasingly driven by technology.
Combined, all of this means we have to be smarter than ever before in what we offer and the way that we market our companies and the industry.
Top Five Things We Can Do to Attract, Engage and Retain Millennials and Gen Z
1. Yell a better story and connect the work to a greater purpose
Millennials and Gen Z want to know that the work they do matters. We have a chance to promote our dynamic industry and connect the work to a common purpose. Employees in the supply chain profession have the unique opportunity to be at the heart of business and the global economy. Great businesses and great supply chains get people what they need, when they need it; they drive commerce, create jobs, help create efficiencies which in turn keeps prices low, and in doing so they support communities and families around the world. This creates a better way of life for everyone.
2. Lead the right way
We can adapt our leadership style to create environments that allow Millennials and Gen Z to flourish. They are looking for authentic leaders who provide frequent feedback, connect their work to the overall company strategy, provide confirmation of a job well done, and a degree of freedom. Studies have shown that they’re looking to solve hard problems. As leaders, we should mentor and challenge them while giving them enough space to be creative. Sandra Leclerc, director of global supply chain at Boston Scientific, says Millennials are naturally interested in the supply chain space. Leclerc’s team, which is made up of more than 75% Millennials, is able to learn quickly as supply chain planning tools evolve. “They have spent much of their lives using software/programs, they are not afraid to try new things and explore new options,” She notes.
3. Define clear career paths and provide tools to help employees manage their careers
Show your employees where the opportunities are and clearly define the skills, knowledge and abilities needed to be promoted to the next level. Not only does this create transparency in job roles and expectations, it makes it easier for employees and leaders to work together to identify needs and help employees reach their career goals. Keep in mind, their career goals may include more than upward mobility or a title change. Think about lateral moves, stretch assignments or the ability to travel as additional opportunities. “Millennials see the value in global supply chain,” adds Leclerc. “They are quick to grasp the ‘global’ concepts including how to work within differing cultures, time zones and regulatory requirements and are eager to travel abroad.
4. Invest in their learning and development
One of the most important roles of a leader is to develop their people. Millennials and Gen Z want to know that you’re investing in their learning and development. That starts with real onboarding and carries through the rest of their career. This industry has a long history of developing leaders within the profession. Right now, we need to focus our efforts on ensuring that Millennials are prepared and ready to move into leadership positions. To that end, for example, the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, along with its industry partners on its supply chain and operations board of advisors, co-created and launched a one-year MS degree in Supply Chain Management for high-potential working professionals to accelerate or transition into supply chain careers. Launched in 2016, the MS program is developing leaders with three key characteristics: the ability to think strategically, end-to-end across firm and country boundaries; design win-win propositions for supply chain partners; and both lead and execute supply chain initiatives using data and analytics.
5. Foster a Winning Culture
While our first priority is ensuring we meet our business objectives, we can do so in a fun, collaborative workplace. Fun equates to providing meaningful work, in a positive environment, with colleagues who are working together as a team and supporting each other to do great work. An environment that fosters engagement and creativity allows employees to bring their innovative ideas to life, creates stronger organizational agility, and supports greater retention—all of which leads to higher performance.
While these five approaches are directed at Millennial and Gen Z talent, in many ways the formula is the same as with previous generations. Talented people are more willing to give discretionary effort where they feel valued, they respect and have confidence in their leaders, and feel aligned and excited about the strategy and the work. Our industry’s future will be driven by how successfully we attract and develop the best and brightest of these newer generations.