Podcast: The Future of Supply Chains: Mass Email Layoffs, Gig Economy, Automation, and The Return to Work!

By Published On: June 6, 2023

Hosts: Rodney Apple, Chris Gaffney, and Mike Ogle

In This Episode:

The Supply Chain Careers Podcast hosts jumped into an exciting in-person recording session just before we headed into the Memorial Day weekend.

Join us as we delve into the future of supply chains, starting with the rise of the Supply Chain Gig Economy and its implications. We then tackle the sensitive topic of “Email Layoffs,” discussing their impact on employees and corporate culture. We also covered how a lot of supply chain employers are starting to cultivate talent pipelines at universities to help deal with shallow labor pools.

Next, we explore how automation is reshaping supply chain management, promoting efficiency and sustainability. Finally, in the context of the post-pandemic world, we debate the “Return to Office” dilemma, considering the potential fusion of remote and on-site work. Get ready for an enlightening journey into the evolving world of work and supply chains.

[00:00:59] Mike Ogle: Here we are in Memorial Day 2023. We’ve fixed our supply chains and the talent gap has closed.

[00:01:12] Chris Gaffney: Well, when we got together in November of last year, we all speculated that this year was gonna look very different from a talent standpoint. And based on the way things were trending, we thought it was going to make life easier for employers and probably more challenging for employees.

But it really hadn’t played out like that.

[00:01:34] Rodney Apple: No, it seems to be business as usual on our end on the search side, and it’s been wide open and taking on more clients, more searches. It’s all over the functions. The only impact we’ve seen is your large corporations going into preventative maintenance mode.

They’ve been shedding talent here and there, but haven’t seen a whole lot of that on the supply chain side other than maybe your mid-management roles, like if you’ve got multiple DCs. They may remove that layer and then put more on the head of distribution or logistics. That’s about the extent of what we’ve seen from a major layoff perspective.

Nothing that’s substantial in the supply chain. And I would argue, especially the operation side.

[00:02:22] Mike Ogle: it’s been interesting watching some of the companies experiment, at least with trying to get people back in the office, try to go back to some old rules as if we got through a crisis and we’re going back to 2019, and being able to see the feedback that they get.

[00:02:43] Chris Gaffney: The chief supply chain officers that I’m talking to on an ongoing basis, last year they were totally overwhelmed with servicing capacity issues. A lot of that has abated. I do see them worrying a lot about people and whether they have the right people. As Rodney said, you’ve said many of them are actively trying to either fill holes or they’re trying to upgrade.

And I think Rodney, to your point, where there have been, a few, whether you wanna call ’em layoffs or reduction in force. Most of those people have not been on the market very long. You know, they’ve been able to, and so you have employees, if they got severance, they’re pocketing that severance and going right back into the workforce.

And I think, Mike, to your point, employers who are trying to change the rules of the game quickly in terms of back to office and that type of thing, their current employees aren’t thrilled. And I think Rodney, potential employees are still asking about that in terms of when when they’re entertaining a job, and that’s still a consideration.

So, I think it’s not a pitched battle, but it’s a very, very balanced market. At least I think.

[00:04:11] Rodney Apple: That’s the proper word, balanced. When you think about that pendulum, the last few years in the pandemic era, we’ve seen employees, their compensation go through the roof and the demand has been heightened due to all the shortages of product and inventory and it hasn’t really swung back towards the employer, at least on the supply chain side.

So, it’s really gonna be interesting to see what unfolds in the balance of this year. But like I said earlier, we just haven’t seen the shift and if anything, the demand is still there and it’s still very high. And it’s gonna be real interesting to see what happens, I would say even the next, looking further out, in the next few years, as baby boomers hit that mass exodus. There’s a generational gap below that. We did not pump enough people into supply chain from the academic sector. 20 years ago we had six schools that taught supply chain. Now I think we’ve counted. Over 200, roughly close to 200. And we’re seeing more universities add supply chain programs.

To help meet that need and take advantage of the demand is having new degree programs, but there’s still that middle layer. And when the senior folks walk out, who’s gonna move up into those? I don’t think there’s enough people to go around. So, you think the poaching is bad and the compensation wars are bad now? I think it’s gonna get worse.

[00:05:40] Mike Ogle: And you see people come from all kinds of different paths as well throughout the podcast episodes we’ve done, we’ve seen all these people who started out in finance and then they got assigned to somebody in supply chain to try to figure out their cash flows, and all of a sudden they discover an interest in it. I think they’re going to have to borrow from some other areas and be able to develop talent with experience. They’ve got the financial side, maybe they’ve managed people already and they’ll just have to bring them in from other areas as well and give ’em a little bit more of the supply chain side.

[00:06:18] Chris Gaffney: It’s an interesting perspective, Mike, because at the same time the technical demands of running supply chains are increasing. It’s not getting less complex, and I don’t disagree with you that people are saying, can I bring best available talent into supply chain? But then you’ve gotta have a way to get them the necessary domain knowledge to be effective. And if they’re into any kind of leadership position, they’ve gotta be digitally aware because that whole shift in capability is going on. So, I think the talent strategy for people is a big factor. And what I see is there’s still not enough time in the day for these senior supply chain people and the HR business partners who support them to really step back and think about that. They’re still fighting these near end battles. They’re still fighting a balance of having, do I have the right team in place? How am I onboarding people? Where is my employee engagement?

And so, I think this theme, and maybe that’s a push for us to think forward is our advice to people would be step back, find the time as we come out of this summer season for a lot of businesses that are summer focused and make sure you’re investing in really build, rebuilding your overall talent strategy.

Where are you going from a human capital planning standpoint because that will be the kind of thing that will differentiate people over the next couple years.

[00:07:54] Rodney Apple: Yeah. And on that note, we’ve certainly seen a bigger push. We hear about the gig economy. It’s been huge. Lots of projects, lots of contractors, probably more contractors than perm staff. So there’s lots of it staffing. I grew up doing some of that, and now we’re seeing the burnout in supply chain. People are like, I can’t keep up with this. My health is deteriorating and mental, physical. And so, we’re seeing people get sick of it and, and they’re taking breaks and sabbaticals and kind of reentering the workforce as a contractor.

Chris, you’re an example of that. So what have you seen, just from your, what you call fractional consulting, I know you’ve got several folks that you used to work with are working on projects right now and kind of that, you know, food, beverage, CPG domain.

Do you think that’s gonna be a bigger thing? More gig workers? Of entering into supply chain to work on project basis so they can maintain a better work-life balance.

[00:9:01] Chris Gaffney: So I think it connects back to the talent strategy. I think for the companies that are being thoughtful about this, they’re gonna be more intentional around saying, what do we want to staff for?

With our employees, where do we want to use partnerships to access some capabilities, and where do we want to use contract kind of resources to flex that? I don’t think a lot of people are being very intentional about it, but I think that’s something they should, my observation in terms of the people I work with is over the last, you know, 10 or 15 years, I think the general trend, outside of tech, so let’s just say CPG, industrial, that type of thing is to get your resource level to the level of resources needed to run your business. But that means you don’t have enough resources to change your business. And the fact is because consumers are changing and how you compete is changing so fast.That’s the gap. And I think that’s where you’re seeing the people who are gig based or gig interested particularly. Beyond the midpoint of their career, having a big opportunity to come in and help those businesses with that space. They have domain knowledge, they still want to play. And I think a lot of the people I see who have been taken a break, that’s where they’re coming back in and done well. It’s a great, it’s a great outcome for the client and the people involved.

[00:10:28] Rodney Apple: And you got the other aspect in that, recruiting in supply chain for over two decades, people get to that retirement age, and I honestly don’t know many people that have like retired into the sunset. I’m gonna play golf every day. They do the honey to-dos, they take the trips, and then they have operations in their DNA and their blood and they’ve got to be doing something. And so, where I’d say the majority of people are coming back in and at least working part-time and working on projects, typically engaging through their networks, and making very good money doing so. And then they can control, well, I’m gonna work on this project for six months. I may work a few days a week. they’re dictating what they want to do. And then they’ll take a break, go do a trip, come back, making some excess money, to have a better retirement.

And I think it’s a real opportunity for folks that are kind of burned out on the 50, 60 hour weeks, week in, week out. I think it’s gonna be a bigger thing in the future, cuz there’s not gonna be a way to solve this mass exodus other than to, like you said, Mike, borrow from other functions, transferrable skills that you can tap into and then just tapping into that older workforce that has sort of either retired or semi-retired.

[00:11:55] Mike Ogle: Another interesting dynamic with all this when you talk about the job changes, and I wonder how long it really takes somebody when they end up moving from one spot to another to really have an impact on the next supply chain that they get into. So, if it has some vast differences to it or even some small differences, maybe in Food and Bev or something like that, when somebody goes from one company to another, how long does it truly take to be able to get up to speed where you can make a difference?

[00:12:26] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I think both of those points connect. A client I’m working with who is intentionally not bringing on a lot of full-time people because they need to move fast. And so, they’re being really intentional about picking partners who they think can come right in. And they are betting that the set of partners will get them momentum and then they can actually bring full-time people in, because you’re right, the reality is for somebody to be effective today, we used to say 90 days, but in some cases if it’s a unique culture and or unique ecosystem where the networks matter internally, you know, it can be a year. So I think all those things factor in. I think the other thing that I would say to you, Rodney, is I have no disagreement because I’m in that peer group of those folks who are interested in working in the gig side, and I think a lot more people are thoughtful about adult learning and the need to be active and the need to have a tangible purpose, and you can anchor to something that you’ve been good at. A lot of the people that I work with beyond an economic motive are very focused on giving back and making a difference in a business and a supply chain. So that’s important important to them. But I’m still seeing younger people who are very curious about this, who say maybe I don’t want a traditional big corporate kind of supply chain career. And in all honesty, if they look at a traditional consulting kind of role, it all of a sudden feels the same big company and they’re trying to say, can I be entrepreneurial and gig and play in the supply chain world?

So, I think there’s a lot more interest in that, whether that plays out over time, we’ll see. But right now there are people making that work as well.

[00:14:19] Rodney Apple: Exactly. And I would even add on, you hear about these atrocious ways that some of these big corporations have been laying off through, through email and all the big tech companies, not all of them, but a lot of them have been doing that. And then sometimes I don’t think they are evaluating the repercussions that come from that on the greater workforce. Am I gonna really want to work for this corporation that at one point was treating me like gold, and then all of a sudden they chewed and spit me out through an email and you see that go on and on.

Companies, I mean candidates, are they gonna want to go back to their former employers or get back in knowing that that could happen again? And I think companies need to recognize that there’s better ways to treat their employees. cuz things are gonna pick back up. They’re gonna go out, Ooh, we need to rehire another few thousand people. And they may be finding a big surprise that not many people want to go to work for the same companies, if that’s how they might be treated down the road.

[00:15:33] Mike Ogle: I’m kind of curious, you’re making me think about whether students are looking, for instance, just in my domain, I guess. At the kinds of social media blowback that comes from that kind of situation and how much they’re getting into that. I’m gonna have to make sure I’m asking that a little bit more carefully of my students and fellow professors and conversations around the country and seeing what’s happening in the way that students are judging their career choices, and what they expect out of their careers going forward. So, we’ll probably have to talk with a few career services people too.

[00:16:12] Rodney Apple: We put out a poll on LinkedIn, our marketing team, and no surprise, would you consider going to work for a company that laid off their employees through email? And it was, I don’t know, 99% of the respondents were kind of like, hell no. I would not. That’s not the way you treat people. And I just don’t think the folks that are making these decisions, they really should, the board really should be getting involved questioning, like, is this the right way to do it?

[00:16:46] Chris Gaffney: Well, I, a couple thoughts and I do a lot of mentoring and coaching with, with people on their careers. A, I would say, the average employee is more of an educated consumer these days. There’s just too much information available. And there is a way to do diligence around a perspective employer. So this information is out there, right? So it’s not a matter of whether or not people are gonna be aware of it or not, then it gets into their decision criteria. People wanna work at a place where they’re valued. And back to what we said, we’re in at least a balanced market right now. So if you are a quality candidate, you can be choosy. And you are in many cases, trying to be more intentional about your career. And the moves matter, right? That we know you’re gonna make moves both to build your yourself or whatever, but you always wanna make that next move and have the chance to be someplace for a long period of time. And so, the quality candidates are gonna do the right research, which means if you want to be a quality employer and attract quality employees, then you’re gonna have to address that.

So, some of these companies, they’re gonna have to try to dig out of that. The employers who have not done that have the opportunity to make it clearer to say, this is our track record. Talk to our employees. We really do value employees. We, we don’t say it, lots of people say it, but it’s all about evidence-based. Do you indicate by how you’ve dealt with your employees that you really value people? There are a lot of employers who didn’t lay off this year because they knew how hard it was to keep really good people last year. Back to talent strategy, they’ve said, we’re gonna hang in there. Okay, we may have natural attrition, but let’s work hard to identify our best employees, reward them well, invest in their development. And as an employee, you wanna listen and look and find those companies. So I’m a big believer in the flight to quality, quality jobs, quality employers, quality employees.

And I think if I was guiding our audience, cuz we’ve got people on both sides of that, that’d be my focus for the balance of the year. If I’m a quality employee, what am I doing to invest in my own development? If I’m a quality employer, kind of putting bricks on that foundation so that I’m credible, that I really do create the right environment for employees to be successful. And do I make that known out there?

[00:19:29] Rodney Apple: Yeah, you can’t just have values thrown up on the wall and on your website if you don’t live and breathe them. And I think that really trickles down too to some of the Podcast that we have on the supply chain leadership side, and you think about servant leadership and the style, you’re seeing this big push that that is the way to motivate people and to engage the workforce and to get them to get things done and hit goals and objectives.

The frontline workers, they can, they have a plethora. There is not enough of them to fill the jobs in our plants and our distribution centers. And if you’re gonna work for some person that’s just gonna break out the whip and be an authoritarian leader it just doesn’t work no matter how much you pay them. And so, we’re seeing a lot of our clients ask for leaders that have that kind, put the employees first, I work for my employees leadership style and whenever we get searches that are to replace a leader, I would say nine out of 10 times, it’s because they have the wrong style and they’re just have that top down approach.

So I think that’s becoming even more important. and it, it kind of fits in with what we’re talking about. Uh, you just can’t, you gotta have values, got to live, breathe them, and you’ve got to have people that treat employees with respect.

[00:20:51] Mike Ogle: So, what have you seen either of you, when a new leader comes in, whether it’s a chief supply chain officer or a senior VP, whatever they’re calling it at the top level of supply chain, when they come in, is there any kind of cleaning house kind of aspect and they bring in their own teams? What kind of mix are you seeing?

[00:21:14] Rodney Apple: More often than not, a new leader comes in and it could be a head of supply chain or COO or even a leader over a function. And, I would say that they are brought in to reevaluate their team and that’s when we pick up business often is within a few months, hey, realigning my team and finding out, got this bus that I’ve tweaked and here’s some different seats and, and you know, certain folks don’t want to be on this bus. And that’s when they come to us. So, I would say more oftentimes than not you’ll see some shakeout attrition and I think that’s what keeps the supply chain merry go round going and, and creates opportunities with leadership changes, what are you seeing, Chris?

[00:22:10] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I‘m probably in the general camp that you are maybe with a little, a little hedge to it. I mean, right now, if you come in, the first thing that’s gonna scare you to death is if you have a bunch of empty seats. And we know people like that, right? Now that’s not the greatest place to be. A very good friend of mine, who I worked with early in my career, came into a chief supply chain role and he basically said, gimme six months. I want to have the ability to give everybody in the seat the opportunity to demonstrate that they’re willing to grow, willing to learn, willing to change. And at the end of that period of time, I’m willing to have discretion in order to be able to do that. Yeah, I think that’s pretty fair and balanced. So that, I think that’s a way to think about it.

But to your prior point, worked with another very large name brand client this year who has a long-term view on talent and they fundamentally believe that long-term at all levels in the supply chain talent will be in short supply. So they have a much greater bias to upskilling and addressing the soft spot challenges of people. They’ve basically taken a mindset that most of the people who come to work are actually trying to do a good job, and if we’ve done a good job selecting people, then we have a big obligation to take good care of those resources.

Interestingly enough, this client is based in a more rural area, so people have to come there to move there to go to work, and so it’s a big effort for them. But I think that goes back to the talent strategy piece of it is when employees don’t work out, an objective view of how much of that is on the employee versus the employer, and the employer ought to own 55% of that, the employee ought to own 55% of that.

And if we both do that, we’re not gonna have a gap in there. But I think employers, back to differentiating, employers are gonna say, we’re gonna be ethical and diligent around how we give people direction. They have clear direction around what their job is and what they’re being asked to do. We equip them with the tools to be successful and we get them involved in the right feedback loops so both they and us can say, is something here off track? And how do we figure out how we address it? But before it fasters and it’s not solvable.

[00:24:37] Rodney Apple: That’s exactly right. And I’ve seen the other side of that coin too, where you bring in a leader and their goal is to bring in their former, call it buddies, right? I’ve seen this happen at a very large retailer, brought in the wrong C-level executive who wanted to change the world, and turned the ship way too fast. And this company had a very rich culture, that people checked in and they never checked out. And the next thing you know, it’s an absolute mass exodus because of one leader. And so, you clearly want to avoid that at all costs cuz it can be detrimental to a company’s growth and the ability to attract future talent. Once you have that reputation, it’s hard to get it back on track. Costs a lot of money with PR firms.

[00:25:32] Mike Ogle: Yeah, that kind of damage once it takes place, takes a while to get back from it.

[00:25:38] Rodney Apple: Same thing with laying off through email. I mean, it’s the social media, it’s, everyone knows instantly who it is, how they did it. It’s all over LinkedIn. It’s all over social media and you know, and if you think you’re gonna six months, everybody’s gonna forget, yeah, we’ll see.

[00:25:53] Mike Ogle: You can fix defective products a lot faster than you can fix defective culture.

[BREAK at 26:00] [00:26:40] Chris Gaffney: Well, I mean, we’re in the world of a continuing trend in automation, both physical and digital now in the world of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, those trends are gonna be what they are gonna be. But there’s no business that’s not gonna win without people in the next 15 or 20 years, which is plenty of time for anybody’s strategic planning horizon.

And to your point, Rodney, and Mike to your background, the science of change management matters. Most of the big businesses are in that to compete, they have to be in some level of constant change. And the vast majority of employees, vast majority of humans, struggle with that. And so the clients we’ve seen who are most successful, part of their talent strategy is investing in that intentional change management. They respect the reality that you have to take every individual employee and enroll them in the change. Have them see the self-interest, what’s in it for me. And if you can get them there, they will then go with you.

But you don’t do that magically. And to Rodney’s point, if you do that in an autocratic way, then then people are pushing the time clock and they’re waiting to get out. And there’s no magic around that. So anyway, back to if you really do fundamentally at your heart and soul believe that employees are part of how your brand wins, you can’t take those shortcuts.

[00:28:11] Rodney Apple: Exactly right. Chris, just to shift gears a bit, I know you’ve done some work here recently, more thought leadership around the future of supply chain work. Could you speak to some of that, some of the research looking further out to like the next 10 years or so?

[00:28:31] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I think there are a number of things that are out there. I think it’s super clear that if you’re in the world of supply chain, you are going to have to be a continuous learner. The work isn’t going to be the same, and that’s true whether you’re 10 years out or you’re brand new outta school.

It’s tough. If you’ve just gotten your degree, you’re like, I’m done with school. You’re like, no, you get two weeks off and you have to have that adult learner mindset coming into work because the work is gonna be fundamentally different in 10 years. So, I think that’s a big deal. And as I said, I’ve heard a lot of companies saying we are gonna be about upskilling our employees and we’re also not gonna sit on the sideline around the talent pipelines for our future employees.

And the leading employers are gonna get involved in the educational system. Where they hire and say, these are the capabilities we need frontline workers to have. So people who may not necessarily go to college, the jobs that are gonna be in the frontline workforce in the next five to 10 years are gonna be fabulous jobs. Working with automation, working with technology in the US as there’s gonna be a big industrial revolution, a positive industrial revolution. If the local school systems who are nearby those employers can shift those curriculums to have the skills needed, that’s gonna be a huge win for local economies. It’s gonna be a huge win for employers. So, I think really understanding that you’re still gonna need people, you’re gonna have to be in a constant learning kind of mode, and you need to enable that as an employer. I think that’s a huge trend because it does get into net population growth being less. Net industrial demand being up. The math basically says the talent, this balance of talent, if it’s gonna tend anywhere over the next 10 years, despite automation. Particularly in supply chain, I think there’s gonna continue to be a battle for good talent.

[00:30:40] Mike Ogle: Agree. Yeah. Absolutely. The boomers were a huge influence population wise. As you had mentioned, Rodney, going out of the sort of the upper level and part timing it to some extent, but you’re still lowering the capacity overall. Then you had the little dip that was in between, then you had the Echo boomers, so it’s the Echo boomers that are just finishing school, for instance.

So, at the university side, we’re certainly seeing there’s probably going to be this decrease. But I think there is also this realization that some of them are looking at other alternatives as opposed to racking up high debt. If it turns out the family doesn’t have the means, for instance, and they’re looking at other things that are going to be apprenticeships maybe just doing a couple of years at community college to get the basics to get into the workforce, but they’re going to still have to learn these tools, the digitalization of things, the AI assistant kinds of things. They’re going to help them be more productive than anybody ever was before.

And they don’t have to have the degree, but they’re still gonna have to get the development of the what we always call the soft skills. We always ask in our interviews with people in our podcast and making sure that they can get that aspect of it. And I think that’s the part that scares employers a little bit, is how can I get them over that edge to some extent.

[00:32:07] Rodney Apple: You mentioned soft skills, Mike. As we did our 50th episode, the highlight reel, and I was tasked with going back through all 50 and identifying the common themes around what are the top hard skills, which you just touched on, and then soft skills, and there was a whole lot more reference from the plethora of supply chain leaders and practitioners we interviewed on the soft skills.

I do think folks coming out that are growing up with, born with a phone in their hand and they’re just staring down, I think that’s detrimental to the soft skills. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in some of the newer generations is they’re just coming out a little bit awkward and not as you know socially adaptive to leading and communicating and influencing change.

Is that gonna be a big issue as in terms of a skills gap if we can’t figure that out. The addictiveness of social media. I know that’s a little bit off topic, but I think it lends right into the soft skills gap that we’re seeing with people coming out. It’s not a broad stroke, but it’s we’re certainly hearing that from our clients, that we’ve, it used to be they don’t have the hard skills universities. Can you get them to have this? Now it’s the other way around. It’s like they’re coming out lacking in soft skills, so we’ve gotta do what can we do to. Either undo that trend that’s negative or combat it with additional learning and development.

[00:33:41] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, it’s interesting, it’s a logical leap to say automation will get rid of repetitive, non-value added work. Or low value work. That’s gonna be true. Physically back breaking too. That’s where the robots in the work, in the distribution centers, they’re eliminating walking and there are just not that many people who are excited about walking in extra 20,000 steps on the shop floor to pick orders or whatever.

So that’s what’s going on there. In the knowledge side, it’s the same thing. It’s getting rid of repetitive tasks that most people would say are not the most gratifying part of their work. So what’s left in both the physical side of supply chain and in the knowledge side, are the things that are gonna require critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, collaboration, and communication that the tools aren’t gonna do, right. The tools are going to enable greater focus on the problems to be solved, and the premium will be on how do we make decisions with the best available information informed by our analytics and the people who are equipped to make those decisions well and provide that direction when we need to shift gears. That’s the differentiator again, both on the shop floor and I think in an office setting.

[00:35:10] Mike Ogle: Yeah, we’re gonna have to see how we’re going to do this best on the academic side. Particularly I split the early part of my career on the engineering side of things and soft skills were one of the last things you talked about in an engineering school. It just tended not to be an emphasis. You can go off on an internship or hopefully you had another job where you picked that up. In a business school where I’m teaching now, it’s a different animal. But they’re trying harder to pick up more of the analytics and the little pieces of some of the engineering and math and pieces.

So the two of ’em are kind of going in towards each other to some extent, which I think has been really interesting to see how that trend is going and how we teach our students in the future. They’re going to have to give them some good exercises that somehow mimic what’s really going to happen. As they go through this analytic decision-making process and figure out they gotta make mistakes, but how do you present those mistakes in front of them that match a real world supply chain situation?

[00:36:21] Chris Gaffney: It, it’s a great point. I do mentoring with college students and I’ve watched a few of the students I work with at the beginning for a variety of reasons they didn’t have access to work experience and that type of thing. And over the course of the time, they’ve both been very fortunate in having, whether it be project work or intern work, and you can see the light bulbs coming on because they’ve been able to take the kind of the coursework kind of thing and place it in context.

So I think, as much as people love education for the sake of education, in some cases, kids love particularly a college experience as kind of a life. You know, lifetime or that type of thing. The reality is, in our society, most education leads to work. And the sooner people in the student setting get exposed to what work looks like and get that context in that experiential side, the science says 70% of learning is accomplished while doing.

You don’t learn to play golf playing Tiger Woods on the EA sports. You’ve gotta go to the driving range or whatever your equivalent of that is. So, my view, and I’m biased because I was a co-op in an engineering curriculum, but I’ve seen the value of internships. The sooner education gets students exposed to what that work force and brings them back in, they’re much more motivated to learn. When they’ve seen how it can be applied and they’ve seen how it can advantage them.

[00:37:57] Rodney Apple: Yeah, I would add to that, it’s if we were equipping them with the knowledge and the learning in school, but the sooner we can get them, on a better path to transition cuz what I see is folks come out and especially in supply chain, where there’s such a, a vast, wide, myriad of career paths. And the biggest question I get from students is, Hey, where do you think I should start? I have to turn that back on them and like, well, what are you interested in? Where are your passions? What kind of work do you enjoy doing? What are you good at doing? And then also figuring out what are you despise?

What are you not like doing? And the sooner you can figure it out in college, and then maybe shift a curriculum around that you’re gonna come better prepared to launch in the right direction and not go in this big circle and with setback to setback and, and get frustrated. And, you know, and then next thing you know, you’ve got other peers that figured that out sooner than you did that are several steps ahead of you.

[00:38:57] Chris Gaffney: I think I would leave this discussion with a couple of thoughts. We are all predicting and talking about a future that based on today will look a certain way. And whether you’re a student in our audience, whether you’re a young in career employee or whether you’re a senior leader, you now have awareness that the future is out there and you can either be a participant or a bystander in whether that future looks better or worse than you projected to be.

So, I think our takeaway for folks is be intentional. If you’re a student or an employee, be intentional about where you want to go with your career and how you’re gonna invest as you show up every day. To deliver on your current job and to learn for the future. And if you’re an employer, be intentional around where do people fit in our real business strategy. And do our actions match what we need in terms of delivering against that? And if they don’t, then say, what are the set of actions we’re gonna take to change that?

[00:40:04] Mike Ogle: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things, whenever people have asked questions about how do we fix supply chain? Hey, Mr. Professor, when I have conversations with friends or family what kind of action needs to be taken to fix supply chains? I said, just hang back. It’s millions of collective self-interests that people are pursuing. It’s a great way to watch capitalism and self-interest collectively happen with millions of mistakes happening, but at the same time, it’s getting fixed slowly but surely, you just threw some big rocks in the pond and the waves have sunk some boats, but we’re getting there.

[00:40:49] Rodney Apple: So shifting gears, Mike and Chris, the RTO movement, return to office, is picking up steam. Employers want to get some of that balance back that the employees have benefited from in the last few years.

I think in the middle, being neutral, there’s the win-win spirit. but we certainly have seen companies doing things the wrong way as it relates to laying off example through email. and now we’re seeing some employers, I think being too fast with that movement and either move or you lose your job.

Well, what, from a supply chain perspective and looking at the talent, we know people have a lot of choices throughout no matter what function or industry you’re in for the most part. What are we seeing and what advice do we have to share? I would say both for the employer and the employee.

[00:41:50] Mike Ogle: Well, when I look at it from my perspective on the university professor side of things, I’ve seen a lot of students that, the ones that can still be very successful, that love to take their classes where they don’t have to come at a specific time, things are a little bit more open, and I’ve actually had stronger performers on exams, exact same exams. For people that aren’t in class. And that scares me a little bit because I don’t know whether that means something’s wrong on my end, but other professors are saying the same kind of thing. You get quite a mix of what ends up happening. What I do worry about though is the interaction. They can score well on an exam because you tend to end up having these exam questions that don’t get as thoughtful as maybe they should be. They’re not getting the interaction with each other as much in in classes. They’re not developing the soft side, so I understand it the employers themselves saying we need this interaction. There are so many things that happen that don’t just get within your 30-minute zoom call where you take care of a piece of business.

It’s the other interactions in the hallway things. And oh, by the way, you know, while you’re here, I wanted to catch two minutes with you. That’s really difficult to do when you’re out of office, but the really good ones can make that work. I think you’re gonna have some people, if you look at the bell curve, you’re gonna have the really strong performers who find a way to make that work. The ones I worry about are the ones on the other end of the bell curve and maybe even some of those in the middle who need that to develop their careers.

[00:43:34] Chris Gaffney: Yeah. I’ll give you a couple observations. Talked to a lot of people. who have seen their cohort of employees that they hired in the last two or three years, both new to their company in some cases, right outta school. Those folks are really struggling. They are behind because they just didn’t get a lot of those kind of organic experiences by being in an environment with other people, osmosis. So that’s a fact. The flip side of that is most employees want to retain some element of that flexibility. And we said most employers, their gut feel is, I’d rather have people be back in the office more than they are. And the evidence is they’ve all struggled with it. It, it’s not, we are not near ideal in almost all cases. And my simple advice to the employee is, if you like working at home, when you are working at home, make sure you are very clearly overdelivering on expectations. So, there’s never a question that you can be effective when you’re at home working or wherever you are virtual.

The flip side of that is if you are an employer and you want people to be in the office, make sure that they’re in-office experience delivers, and if you have people come to office and they sit in their cube on zooms all day long, you’ve lost the battle. I talked to a mentee this week at a significant company that’s a very highly engaged employee, and that person really is effective at home, but wants to be effective at work, but they’re disappointed when they’re in the office and the more senior employees that they want to interact with are in meetings all day. So those value added interactions don’t occur. So if you’re an employer, the reality is you’ve got to curate those days in office. It’s a different obligation. That may be for the short term, but it may be for the long term. So if people are coming in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, you can’t just have him roll out of the the parking lot and roll in. You’ve gotta do structured collaboration, you’ve gotta do team events, and you don’t get to do it for one week. You’re gonna have to say, this is our reality. It’s like going to summer camp. You may have to program things more than you used to to get what you want. So that’s my current advice for our audience.

[00:46:08] Mike Ogle: Supply chain speed dating.

[00:46:12] Rodney Apple: Yeah, and I think from the supply chain recruiting executive search side of the fence, the employers that are real stubborn and are saying, well, productivity is down, across the whole team, you know, will fix that. You know, maybe you need better tools, better engagement, like you were just alluding to Chris, but, just know that if you’re gonna have a five day in, and a lot of other, your competitors are hybrid, you could lose the overall talent battle, as people want that flexibility. And I think somewhere in the middle is a degree of flexibility degree in the office. And like you said, make sure that it’s a positive experience is gonna be mission critical and I think that’s something that we should keep a car careful eye on as the future unfolds.

[00:47:05] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I’ll add to that point. because I think it, it goes back to what it said before about the flight to qualities that that employer, and I know many of them, they’re frustrated and, and when it comes to these back to office moves, the policies are mass policies. You run the risk of that frustration coming from your perception of a portion of your employee base that may be, you know, a lower cohort. You impact your high quality employees. So you may have, you may be trying to solve, for a portion of your population and then you’re gonna have the best of your employees saying, this is not the place for me. Right.

[00:47:45] Rodney Apple: And your competitor’s gonna scoop them up and hopefully they learn lessons from that.

So again, back to the whole overarching movement, it’s return to office, I think. Yeah. But do it in a very smart and mindful way before you just do a mass order, get back in, or, or you’re done. Yeah. And so, from our, my perspective, just with, with a team of a small team, you know, we’re a boutique agency here. We were struggling, and I think you have to look at your location. I mean, we’re in a great town here in Asheville, North Carolina, but it’s the most expensive city to live in North Carolina, and there’s a lot of tourism here in hospitality. But there’s not a lot of professional workers and definitely not a lot of large employers that would warrant having recruiters. and so we have moved to this remote, slash hybrid, workforce long before the pandemic. Even with offering relocation, people would look at the pricing of homes, or even rentals and they’re like, I can’t make this work. but what that did for us was it significantly increased our culture happiness employee, employee engagement, knowing they have flexibility to work from home, knowing they have flexibility, to come into the office and get that osmosis.

Because in recruiting you do learn a lot from listening to your peers and how they handle conversations and deal with challenging clients and so forth. And we’re continuing to evolve this. Okay, well, we don’t want you out there on an island cuz you’re not getting that osmosis. From being in the office.

Ao a new program we’re doing is round robbining, bringing folks in one or two at a time, and, sit in the office a few days and then we get together for team outings, headed to Charleston in a few months and have some fun, but also get some good work conversations and collaboration.

And so, it’s worked well for our little small business. And at the end of the day, I think the message is you, you gotta do what you gotta do to, to attract and retain employees and maintain a positive culture. That’s, we still focus very much on learning and development, continuous learning. I think the moment you stop doing that is the moment that you’re, you’ve hit your peak. So that’s our big focus and it certainly has worked well for us during the pandemic. I was the only one in here for a couple years. That was boring. I missed the engagement with people. So I think all employers need to focus on that happy medium that’s gonna keep their employees engaged, learning, and productive.

[00:50:38] Chris Gaffney: Well, this is a different kind of discussion for us, but I thought it was great. And a great addition to kind of our podcast flow. So, thanks for doing this Mike and Rodney, and thanks to the audience for listening. And you know, this type of episode will be kind of in our future. So stay tuned.