Supply chain leaders the world over are currently grappling with the need for digital transformation across their operations, and nowhere more so than in the retail sector. Digital technologies are currently disrupting the retail model beyond recognition, radically improving both the performance and reach of the most advanced businesses and, at the highest level, creating game-changing digital disruptors like Spotify, Uber, AirBnB and, of course, Amazon.

In retail, every step of the shopping journey, and every stage of the supply chain, is being digitalised and re-engineered. The retail model has always been product-centric, with a focus on transferring product from factory to consumer, but to be successful, retailers now need to be good at buying low, selling high, and optimising every step in between. The reality is that today, without the volume of Walmart, no-one can truly be price competitive.

We see this in our business every day. At Proco Global, we focus exclusively on the recruitment of supply chain talent around the world, and the retail sector is one of our key markets. We are keenly aware of the advances being made by market leaders, and the concerns of those that fear being left behind.

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Weave Supply Chain 360 conference in Hong Kong, which brought together a line-up of international speakers to discuss the challenges facing modern retail. One thing I highlighted was the findings of a recent Proco Global survey, which noted that nearly 40% of the supply chain leaders we spoke to did not have a roadmap in place for digital transformation, and nearly half lacked any kind of workforce strategy.

This is a problem, because digitalisation is set to have a fundamental impact on workforces. The Mckinsey Global Institute recently did a study on the impacts of artificial intelligence and automation on the workforce in 60 countries, predicting that by 2030, half of all activities will become fully automated. The good news is that only 5% of jobs will be replaced by full automation, although two-thirds of occupations are likely to be significantly affected.

Interestingly, most of the 375 million displaced workers that McKinsey anticipates by 2030 will be in developed countries like the United States and Europe, and the majority in white-collar occupations.

Digitalisation will transform the supply chain workforce, with most anticipating a slight decrease in headcount driven by improved efficiencies, but fierce demand for talent with the appropriate competencies to drive digital transformation. Competition for the bright supply chain talent is already extraordinarily high, but we predict a new war for digital talent in our field.

How can employers prepare for this new era of workforce upheaval? At Proco, we see three key pillars to focus on when defining a digital talent strategy: developing an employer brand around digital transformation; blending current roles with technology talent; and, developing digital leaders that have genuine influence at the top of the business.

When it comes to the attracting the best people, it is clear that transformation stories are critical for recruiting digital talent, whether the goal is luring individuals away from existing tech firms or tempting graduates into your business ahead of the likes of Apple or Google. If you want talent that is different from the norm, you have to be able to show them the attractiveness of your industry and your work environment, and sell a story around adopting digital capabilities.

The transformation message must also be about far more than the business’s bottom line, and instead focus on applying technological expertise for the greater good, with a purpose-led mission.

The workforce has recently welcomed Generation Zed (individuals born from 1995 and up) and research suggests they are much more societally conscious compared with older cohorts.

They are demanding more transparency about how brands and employers impact the planet – sustainability, slavery, climate change, water and energy conservation and giving back to poor communities are all important initiatives with which young professionals are increasingly aligning.

The talent challenges created by digital transformation are vast but not insurmountable. The sooner businesses act, the better their chances in a highly-charged and brutally competitive marketplace. Now is the time to shape up for how digitalization will transform your operations, your workforce, and your future.

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