In brief

In brief

  • Only 38% of supply chain executives feel their workforce is mostly or completely ready to leverage the technology tools provided to them.
  • Supply chain workers may already have the skills they need, or similar ones to build on—they just don’t know it.
  • Skilling for completely different supply chain roles can be done far more quickly and effectively than is possible through traditional training.
  • Companies that commit to preparing their supply chain employees for the future with the right skills and support will emerge as leaders.

The greatest challenge CSCOs have ever faced

Across our research and client work, we’re seeing a gap between the typical supply chain skills most companies have and those that they’ll need to compete and grow in the future. As disruptions continue and the supply chain continues to become more intelligent and autonomous, the need to prepare the workforce is urgent. Chief supply chain officers should act now to start building, buying and borrowing the skills they will need for tomorrow.

Our latest Supply Chain Workforce of the Future report explores a new approach for skilling the supply chain workforce for the future: Skills Ontology.

Workers need new skills to succeed in new digital roles

Workers will need new skills to adapt to a more digital and automated supply chain, and new technology means big changes to existing roles. Large portions of employees’ day-to-day activities will be automated, and their jobs will require more innovation, creativity, collaboration and leadership.

How roles will change within three key domains

Procurement professionals will need to be able to interpret AI-generated insights and use digital technologies to solve business problems. They’ll also need a strong business sense and the ability to build relationships with ecosystem partners.

Factory managers will be supported by algorithms, which will help them optimize the plant’s operations based on a flood of data. They’ll have far more information available, and they’ll need to be able to understand it to make the right decisions.

AI algorithms can accurately predict and identify trends and patterns in ways humans can’t. So, AI will make most of the planning decisions, with humans managing alerts or anything the machine can’t decide. As a result, planners will be able to react more quickly and accurately with a better understanding of what’s happening across the supply chain.

Leading companies recognize that to succeed, they need to put people first

Most of the companies we speak to say they’re moving fast to become more digital. But many have forgotten they need to help people through the changes new technologies bring. Without the right skills and support to work in the digital supply chain, employees are unlikely to adopt new technologies. This wastes the investment and prevents companies from pursuing new opportunities.

But some companies are getting it right. How? By putting people first—before technology.

Putting people first in the supply chain

Practical steps to build skills for the future

We see a number of short-term steps supply chain leaders can take that require minimal investment but also can deliver substantial benefits quite quickly. There also are some longer-range actions with a higher price tag CSCOs will have to take to position the supply chain for success in the future.

Short-term steps

The future supply chain requires that companies move away from siloed functional teams working separately and hoping to connect the dots in the end. Instead, CSCOs need to build teams that can work collectively. When they do this, the teams can solve for bigger outcomes like supply chain resilience, sustainability and cost management. Cross-functional teams, when set up well with the right authority, will increase the collective understanding of the system, more proactively solve problems and minimize the “data latency” challenge that plagues siloed decision-making.

Digital fluency allows people to build on technological foundations. They don’t just work alongside technology. Instead, they use it to unleash newfound creativity and work in new ways. For example, Accenture has developed a program centered around a Technology Quotient, which helps employees understand the major technologies that impact their current and future work so they are better prepared to use technology effectively. Digitally fluent organizations reap major benefits. Our Honing your digital edge research found they’re about three times more likely to have experienced high revenue growth in the past three years. And they are also overwhelmingly seen as a great place to work by employees and as leaders in innovation.

A system of rotating assignments among supply chain departments is an effective way to help everyone see the bigger picture. For example, demand planners’ eyes will really be opened after a three-month stint in logistics, manufacturing and procurement. This deeper knowledge of connections and interdependencies will not only improve demand planners’ performance in their current roles, but also will help prepare them for the move toward a future network planner role.

New supply chain workforce skills are vital to the growth and prosperity of the larger enterprise. It’s critical for CSCOs to spend sufficient time with the board and management team to discuss what they need to get those skills. Plus, sales and marketing, IT and finance are experiencing similar shifts in skills. Setting up a shared approach and role-modelling some of the interventions at the very top of the company will send clear messages to the organization. It will also start the development of a “continuous learning” culture at the board and executive levels.

Of course, the skills issue is a big concern for HR. CSCOs should collaborate with HR in two key areas. The first is preparing the HR infrastructure (e.g., defining anticipated future roles, understanding and mapping proximate roles, refreshing job descriptions, and reviewing learning curricula). The second is starting to engage employees about the need to continuously refresh their skills (whether they’re a young dispatcher or a seasoned operator).

Long-term steps

It’s critical for CSCOs to identify which skills should be built, bought and borrowed. This talent strategy, combined with strategic workforce planning to quantify opportunity areas, will help companies make conscious decisions about where recruiting is required to fast-track the filling of some of the skills gaps and where contractors should be leveraged to backfill people who need time to invest in their learning journey.

Ongoing learning will be vital to continued success. Companies need to create a fit-for-purpose learning system that helps employees in targeted ways find both virtual classroom courses and job-rotation assignments to develop the skills they need to be successful in one of the emerging supply chain roles.

Companies and unions need to build a deep, shared understanding of the job changes on the horizon and the new opportunities digitization creates over the long term. Discussing skilling options and the implications for “learning on the job,” communicating early and often and co-creating a realistic plan to help the workforce make the transition are three key ways to keep unions informed and engaged—and avoid surprises.

Build a powerful workforce to transform your supply chain

Technology innovations have been transforming industries and companies for decades. But the latest wave of intelligent machines will fundamentally reshape what kind of supply chain work gets done, how and by whom.

Companies that can most effectively use the combination of human ingenuity and intelligent machines will be best positioned to achieve the competitive agility they need to win in the years ahead.

Inge Oosterhuis

Managing Director – Talent and Organization

Kristine Renker

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Supply Chain & Operations, Global


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Get the essentials

As supply networks become more intelligent, digital fluency and evolved skills will make or break the workforce. With the right strategy, leaders can ensure their employees can thrive and work effectively in the future supply chain. Here’s how.

2022 Report

20 minute read

How to skill the supply chain for a digital future

Use Skills Ontology to understand how roles evolve, map existing skills and build new ones with data and machine learning.


2021 Report

Put people first in supply chain transformations

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Find out why people are the most important part of a supply chain transformation and what you can do to prepare them for a digital future.



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Get a quick download on three actions you can take to put people first in your supply chain transformation.

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