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Nov 19, 2014 9:00:00 AM / by Cassandra Czech

Interview with Rick Blasgen, President & CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP)

It’s no secret that the world of supply chain and logistics is one that is growing rapidly. A recent Fortune article predicted that there will be a need for 1.4 million new supply chain workers by 2018.  Unfortunately, companies are finding that the talent they need to grow this industry simply isn’t out there. What can companies do to win the supply chain Talent War and attract and retain talent they need?Insight Talent Solutions partnered with Rick Blasgen, President and CEO of CSCMP, to get his opinion on what companies can do to manage their supply chain business.

1. Why are you so passionate about the supply chain field?

Blasgen: I’ve spent 25 years in the food industry, prior to this position, and I remember the days when supply chain was simply a cost to be managed. Over time, the logisticians and supply chain managers proved to their companies that they could add a lot of value in terms of growing revenue. By figuring out ways to do things for customers that the competition was either unwilling or incapable of doing, effective supply chain management became a competitive advantage as opposed to a cost that had to be managed. Today, we enjoy supply chain leadership as a much-needed, competitive weapon in modern business around the world.

2. Where do you see the greatest challenges for employers in the near future in finding and retaining top talent in supply chain, logistics and strategic sourcing?

Blasgen: This answer is really two-fold. On the managerial side, part of the problem is that we have to get supply chain management deeper into our educational system – so that students hear about it in high school or even in grade school. I do a lot of work with universities and supply chain programs have expanded greatly, but we’re not producing enough students in many cases for the jobs that are out there globally. Even today, most don’t select supply chain as a major unless they know somebody in it or they stumble across it once they go to college. This is way too late in the process. So we’ve got to get it baked in just like marketing, IT, sales, finance, and all the other typical functional areas.

Also, supply chain is a global function – it’s a global career. We need to make it a destination career for people because there are so many opportunities. It’s relatively easy, as compared to other fields, to get a global assignment if that’s what a student desires, or even someone who’s flying into the industry from somewhere else.  For modern progressive companies, it’s become an area they’re truly focusing on – and that requires great talent.

3. How do you think these challenges can be eliminated?

Blasgen: I think building our university programs is important and many are starting to do that, even in community colleges. CSCMP is working with several community colleges through our certification program on providing them with content, which they can develop into curriculum. And I think that’s a really good start. Other universities have either started or expanded programs within supply chain management, in terms of offering a bona fide major.

The US government even plays a role in this. CSCMP is the sole content provider for a grant from the US Department of Labor to educate returning veterans and the unemployed on the fundamentals of logistics and supply chain so they can be hired by companies that need trucking or warehouse workers, or first-line manufacturers. There’s a whole host of opportunities to educate people in this field and we’re very passionate about that as well, because it’s not just managerial talent that we need. I’m sure you’ve heard about the pending truck driver crisis; there’s a wide variety of areas that logistics and supply chain talent can enter in terms of good solid jobs.

4. What can students who are studying in this field do to prepare to start a career in strategic sourcing, logistics and supply chain?

Blasgen: Join CSCMP – we are the professional society that connects, educates and develop global supply chain professionals, and we take that seriously. It’s not just about the content anymore. Yes, you will get exposure and access to a lot of great content from global thinkers, but it’s also the connections you’ll make. It’s important for students to be connected to a global supply chain community. I often say, when one person joins the professional association of CSCMP, everybody’s membership increases in value – because it’s one more person that you can connect with for a solution or a business proposition, or for advice.

It’s important that we don’t lose sight of this idea of connections. We are all connected through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But to be connected personally and professionally with someone who will return your call or respond to your email through an organization like ours is extremely important, more so than ever today because we are constantly bombarded with information. We’re a 51 year-old organization and we still exist to advance the discipline of supply chain management and the careers of the individuals in it.

5. What can professionals do who are presently working in the supply chain field to advance their careers?

Blasgen: Talk to people outside of your company, or outside the industry. So if you’re in the consumer packaged goods industry, you may well learn from someone who is in oil and gas, aerospace or consumer electronics. I get to work with lots of different industry verticals, so it’s fascinating to see what the problems are, but also what best practices can be transferred from one industry to another. So be connected out there.

Also, stay connected to an association like CSCMP. Someone once said, “You can only teach yourself what you know.” Once you’re done doing that, there’s a lot of things you don’t know that you need to learn, so connecting with other people through an association like ours is a major way to keep yourself relevant and current. Talk to people outside your company and participate in conferences and things like that to keep yourself relevant, current and connected to other people.

6. What is your organization doing to help prepare leaders to bridge talent shortages?

Blasgen: We just published a three part series on Supply Chain Talent that’s available through our website. It was done in conjunction with some of our academic members, Auburn University and Central Michigan University. It’s called “Supply Chain Talent Development” and it involves three processes: The Acquire Process, the Develop Process and the Advance Process. The book covers these three areas: how we acquire talent; how we develop it; and how we advance and retain it. That’s what companies find important. We also host sessions with companies, facilitated by the authors, on how to go about doing this. What’s the best approach that you can put in place to acquire talent, develop it and advance and retain it? That’s the type of modern-day research we provide our members with that is current and actionable.

7. What would you advise professionals who are working in another business area (i.e., marketing or finance) to get started in the supply chain industry, even if they don’t have a supply chain degree?

Blasgen: That’s a good question. My degree is, in fact, in finance, as I didn’t know I was going to be in supply chain. We definitely need people who are financially astute, who have great inter-personal skills and have a global mindset. Just because you don’t have a supply chain degree doesn’t mean you can’t fit in and learn. You can still gain effective experience and have a great career. You can also educate yourself beyond your current degree, again, with associations like CSCMP that provide a lot of education, connections and experience.

I tell younger people all the time, “your career’s a marathon, not a sprint” and there’s no replacement for experience – no matter how well educated you are. So if you’re not a supply chain – or logistics – degreed individual, join a company that has individual development plans for that, and get in there. Get a job, get your foot in the door in a logistics position and educate yourself – talk to people who are in the supply chain field. Spend time with a production scheduler, a transportation professional or somebody who’s running a distribution center. See what lights your fire and what supply chain functions or positions you feel passionate about. Then put yourself in a company that wants to help you acquire those experiences – they want you to go spend time in a distribution center, a manufacturing facility or a carrier operation. There’s nothing replacing your own creativity or your own ability to gain experiences within your career.

8. What are your final thoughts on the supply chain talent shortage?

Blasgen: I want to reinforce that supply chain is a destination career that’s only going to grow. Many companies that were behind in supply chain are getting into it, like healthcare or biotech organizations. Now it’s becoming a focus and they need talent. So it’s a great time to be in supply chain management – it’s a great career.

Rick Blasgen has more than 25 years of experience in the supply chain industry. He began his career at Nabisco where he held many supply chain roles – including inventory management, order processing and transportation and distribution center operations management. In 1998, he was promoted to VP of supply chain at Nabisco and has since been a VP at Kraft Foods and ConAgra Foods.  His experience gave him a solid foundation for his role at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), where he has responsibility for the overall business operations and strategic plan of the organization. His efforts support CSCMP’s mission of leading the supply chain management profession through the development and dissemination of supply chain education and research. Blasgen serves as the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness (ACSCC) and is a member of Northwestern University’s Transportation Center Business Advisory Committee. Blasgen holds a finance degree in business administration from Governors State University.