Because manufacturing never stands still, supply chain management doesn’t either.

As automation and robotics continue to bring more efficiency to manufacturing, the supply chain continues to become more logistically nimble and adept. And because manufacturing is in and of itself managed strategically as a core driver of the enterprise, supply chain management is one of its leading competencies for success.

Breaking chain

For proof that the supply chain is now on the agenda of C-level strategy sessions, consider this: Data from a recent CAPS study revealed that 82 percent of Chief Procurement Officers report directly to the CEO. Or try this: Google the biggest software companies and business consultancies. Type in ‘supply chain’ after their names and see what comes up.

"Supply chain managers for U.S. manufacturers play a critical role in ensuring America continues to be a world innovator and leader."

As the supply chain has become more sophisticated and business-critical, so have today’s supply chain managers. Their resume skills read like a page from a b-school course catalog: operational analytics, information technology and systems design, innovation sourcing and contracts, demand planning, manufacturing economics, data analytics and management, international transportation, corporate and social responsibility, global energy utilization—these and more are essential to effective supply chain management.

Big problems

These skills reflect the increasingly complex challenges that supply chain managers working in a global industry must be prepared to successfully navigate. What do you do when your manufacturing relies on components sitting offshore in a container ship, unable to enter port and unload due to a dock labor strike? What if you’re a battery manufacturer and you are responsible for sourcing rare earth—how do you ensure a supply at a predictable price even as China continues to corner the rare earth market? Imagine you’re a procurement data analyst for an automotive manufacturer and it’s budget time. How do you forecast the cost of transporting tires to a factory over the next 12 months given trending diesel prices?

As these scenarios illustrate, supply chain management requires creativity, intellect, business acumen and the ability to think both practically and strategically. On the other hand, it does not sound very sexy to freshly minted college graduates who are deciding on a career path. As a result, there is a serious shortage of supply chain talent.

Answering new demand

Within 10 years, three-quarters of the global workforce will be millennials, born in the early 1980’s. Currently, they are being groomed to fill the shoes of the managers and executives who will be retiring over the next decade. Proactive, forward-thinking manufacturers and supply chain industry organizations recognize the crucial need for sourcing the next generation of supply chain leaders and are implementing recruiting campaigns and training initiatives in order to fill the pipeline.

There are some great selling points that resonate with the so-called target audience: 1) The pay is highly competitive and there are often signing bonuses 2) You can go farther, faster: manufacturers are framing out very specific internal career paths to executive and leadership positions, along with accelerated timelines for getting to the top 3) You will not be bored: supply chain management in today’s global environment is incredibly dynamic and intellectually stimulating. Supply chain managers for U.S. manufacturers play a critical role in ensuring America continues to be the world innovator and leader. And how well you do your job directly impacts the success of your company, which directly impacts your neighbors, your community and even your quality of life.

So what does the new supply chain manager look like? If you’re a millennial interested in a great career, maybe he or she looks like you.