About This Episode

The current labor market can be described in one word — weird. While competition has always been fierce for supply chain talent, it’s only growing in the demands and expectations placed on candidates. Additionally, in the volatile economy, organizations seem almost hesitant to hire. Likewise, candidates are hesitant to make any big career moves amid uncertainty.

Today’s guest, Anthony Allen, VP of Supply Chain Recruiting at Supply Chain Talent Advisors joined us to discuss the strange phenomenon occurring across the supply chain labor market and he shares his insights and advice for employers and job seekers.

Topics Discussed

➡️ Current state of the supply chain labor market in 2023
➡️ Competition for supply chain talent
➡️ Supply chain talent shortages
➡️ Turnover and retention challenges
➡️ Changing workforce demographics
➡️ Advice for employers looking to hire supply chain talent 
➡️ Advice for job seekers


The U.S. Manufacturing Workforce Transcript

Michele Vincent: Hi, everyone. I'm Michele Vincent, host of the US manufacturing workforce podcast. And today I'm talking with Anthony Allen, former Supply Chain Director turned Supply Chain Operations and Manufacturing Executive Recruiter. I invited him on the show to get his insights into the state of the supply chain talent market, what's changed in 2023, and get some advice for employers and candidates that are looking to hire or change jobs this year. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Anthony, how are you this morning?

Anthony Allen: Thanks, Michele. I am doing fantastic. How are you?

Michele Vincent: I am good, very good, thank you. Why don't we start with your background? Tell us a little bit about that and what led you into supply chain recruiting.

Anthony Allen: So I am at a bit of an anomaly maybe an oddball in this recruiting world. And I mean that in a good sense. So I started my career in supply chain and operations and had about 15 to 16-year career working mostly in gas and oil, and aerospace and defense. On the manufacturing side, one of the last corporate jobs I held was the director of supply chain. So I've led operations and manufacturing. Everything from sourcing and procurement to demand planning to logistics and warehousing and distribution. The whole end-to-end supply chain really was contacted over the years by a few headhunters and was very interested in what they did, and took a leap of faith and sort of jumped into this career headfirst relying on my supply chain background to solely recruit supply chain operations and manufacturing profession professionals so kind of jumped in headfirst not knowing what I was getting into, I have not looked back and I have loved every minute of it so far.

Michele Vincent:  Awesome. So, you are VP of supply chain recruiting at Supply Chain Talent Advisors.  Can you tell us about what you're doing now in terms of the roles you recruit for, or even some examples of some of the roles that you're looking to fill now?

Anthony Allen: So we are a small recruiting agency, it's just me and my lovely bride, my wife - I'm gonna give her a quick shout out her name is Jennifer. She is a retired Air Force veteran with a background in logistics. We keep the agency small on purpose because we want to serve our clients well. What that equates to is we typically partner with those small clients, so small manufacturers, anything from startups, to established companies -- the range is about $20 million to $500 million in revenue which is kind of the sweet spot for us when partnering with our clients. As far as the types of positions that we recruit for, to give you an example, currently, I'm working on a CEO position for a furniture manufacturer in the Deep South. I'm working on supply chain manager position for an electronics manufacturer, I have three or four buyers I'm working on for a consumer packaged goods manufacturer. So typically, what you're noticing there are most of the positions I work on or that manager to C-level, but I will take on some individual contributors if I think I can truly serve that client well.

Michele Vincent:  The pandemic really impacted the labor market, but it seems like that's changing once again -- what are you seeing right now? And what are your thoughts on the current state of the labor market specifically for supply chain and operations executives?

Anthony Allen: I'm gonna sum it up in one word, and I will elaborate. It's simply...weird

And I'll tell you what I mean by that -- competition, prior to COVID and even now competition for top talent -- it's been fierce. I know it sounds cliche, but every company wants a candidate with industry experience, for example, whether a food manufacturer, they want someone with a food and beverage background, they want the college degree, they want certification, they want the experience, they want the soft skills. So you've noticed a lot of want want want, they want everything.

However, what I'm noticing in 2023, is with regard to companies, and candidates, there's a nervousness that's out in the market that I have not experienced. What I mean by that is clients are taking a little longer to make a decision on who they want to hire. They're more thoroughly vetting candidates, it's almost as if they're a bit apprehensive to hire. And I believe it's because of the state of the economy that we're in. And there's uncertainty in the future. The same thing goes for candidates. If it's a local company, and that candidate is local, I can usually get some pretty good success there, we're getting that candidate to take the job. However, if there is a relocation involved, it's much more challenging, because I believe candidates are far more nervous in this economy. To not only make a change, but to possibly uproot their family, move across the country, and then risk being laid off six months later. We all are seeing that in our LinkedIn feed, so it's just a strange year. There are extra challenges and nuances that we're having to tackle right now.

Michele VincentL Yeah, and I'm seeing that as well. And I think it makes sense, there are layoffs all over the place. A lot of it seems to be taking place in tech, but yesterday I posted on LinkedIn about 3M which is laying off, I think it was 6000 workers. And then in automotive specifically, there are just a lot of changes that are taking place switching over to electric vehicles, so there's a lot of uncertainty. 

In terms of competition for supply chain talent, early pandemic versus now, is it the same? Is it changing? What does that look like?

Anthony Allen: So here's what I'm seeing, especially the past couple of months, and your commentary there on 3M is perfect as a perfect example, I'm seeing more recently, some of these larger household names such as 3M, you know, Walmart, there are other companies out there that are cutting staff, and in some cases, supply chain staff. But it's creating an opportunity for my client base, which if you remember is those smaller organizations out there, those $20 million to $500 million companies. Now there's talent that is available, that may have come from a large corporation, and now they're available -- there in the market. And many of them are very willing to go to work for a smaller organization because they can be more hands-on, there's more autonomy, and let's face it, sometimes there's less bureaucracy so they can get things done quicker. So I'm seeing it in a negative light for the larger companies, but the smaller companies that I work with are really taking advantage of what we're seeing in this marketplace right now. And it's a good fit for the candidate and the companies.

Michele Vincent: That's a really good point. And that reminds me, you know, during the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about the great resignation and I was thinking about it more as like the great reshuffle of talent, right? Because there is such a big labor shortage. There are skills gaps in the industry. And so when things change like that, I was just kind of viewing it as people moving from one company to another so I'm glad that you brought that up and that makes perfect sense. And I think with 3M specifically, the demand for a lot of their products substantially increased during the pandemic.  I forget off the top of my head what they make, but I know a lot of their products were increasing in demand. So I don't necessarily see that as something bad happening now. I'm certainly no expert, but I'm kind of looking at it as things more evening out, then something really bad that's going to happen in the future. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that. But that's kind of what I was thinking anyways.

Anthony Allen: Yeah, I agree 100% with that. I think things are leveling out. You know, to give you an example, I've seen in the past, you know, during COVID, some companies slash clients with almost what I'll call unrealistic hiring expectations, they have a salary that is set and they're looking for someone that has a certain skill set, certain education, certain years of experience. And it was hard to get them to deviate from that. And then on the other side, it was a challenge, because some of the candidates had unrealistic salary expectations, or they wanted to work 100% remotely, even though this is a job supporting a manufacturing facility. So that's not always possible. So there was quite a disconnect. Just like you're seeing now that we're in 2023, things are starting to even out a little bit more in terms of client-side companies, and candidates are getting more on the same page. And therefore we can actually create some win-wins and place these candidates in good jobs and help these companies find great candidates.

Michele Vincent: Yeah, it was a little bit of the Wild Wes out there during the pandemic, with the demand, and everybody was hiring and all these crazy things were happening. And just like you said, unrealistic salary expectations, and company expectations. So hopefully now things are leveling out a little bit.

In terms of remote versus on-site, typically, manufacturing requires people to be on-site. What are you seeing now -- what are job seekers looking for now and is it different at all than it was during the pandemic?

Anthony Allen: Being 100%, transparent, as I always am, it seems like there's there's a certain generation out there, and it tends to be the younger workforce, a lot of those folks are desiring 100% remote. And so when I present them with an opportunity, even though it may be hybrid, some of them are on-site five days a week, some of them are hybrid, they're passing on the opportunity, because it's not fully remote, and in some cases, it just can't be.

Now on the flip side, I do have a, I'd say 20% of my clients have some fully remote opportunities. But what I find it's my clients that don't necessarily own manufacturing facilities. And I'll give you a prime example. There's an opportunity that I'm working on right now with a company, they utilize co-manufactures, and co-packers to manufacture and package all of their products, and then stick their name on it, which is a great business model. So what that means is this supply chain manager that I'm looking for, they don't care where this person sits, as long as they're willing, you know, if they're on the East Coast, as long as we're willing to have a 5 am East Coast call with a co-packer or a 3PL that is sitting on the East Coast - that can be done anywhere else so long as they're willing to travel. So it's a mixed bag, but I will say about 80% of my clients are still wanting someone on-site, or at least on-site two or three days a week.

Michele Vincent: That makes sense. Obviously, that's a unique example in terms of how they're operating and being able to offer a position that's 100% remote. But with that, obviously, that opens up the potential candidate pool, which is always nice, because then you have access to more experience and more skills.

So with that said, I guess in general terms, is there a shortage of supply chain candidates out there? It seems like there's always a shortage of candidates. So is it bad? Or is it better now with what's changing in the labor market?

Anthony Allen: It's interesting, with the term shortage, I think, truly I think yes, and I'll tell you, this is strictly my opinion, based on data that I've seen out there. So obviously, we know that the generation of what I'll lovingly call the baby boomers -- they're retiring, some of them are approaching retirement, some of them have already left the workforce to go to do something different. So, on the other end of it, I'm not really seeing a whole lot of people that are interested in jumping into supply chain. Here's the reason, even prior to COVID, most people didn't know what a supply chain was. And even now, post-COVID, everyone thinks they're a supply chain expert and they hear supply chain and they think, oh it's just logistics -- well, no. Supply chain, think of it as an umbrella, the term supply chain is at the top of the umbrella open and the handle is all the functions that make up the supply chain, which are sourcing, procurement, all your planning functions, your distribution, logistics, all of that.

So with that being the case, a lot of the people that are out there that are younger, aren't really getting into supply chain, it's just not... let's face it, it's not a sexy career field. I hate to put it like that. But most of the younger generation appears to want to go into technology, robotics automation, etc. Before this call I actually did some research and there are less than 100 universities in the United States to offer any type of supply chain degree. It's even worse if you get to the community college level and it's certainly not being pushed as a career field in high school. Therefore, we have this gap that we're looking at.

So the older generations are retiring, the younger generation may not have interest in supply chain, and that leaves the Gen Xers, my age, kind of carrying the brunt of the workload for the more entry-level and the more seasoned professionals, a lot of the burden is falling on them. So I think there's a serious issue coming if it's not addressed.

Michele Vincent: Yeah. Our focus at MADICORP is staffing production-level and skilled trades in manufacturing and we're seeing the same thing there. So it's not really a surprise. There are two big issues, I think that are contributing to this, right, just like you said, supply chain and manufacturing in general are not really sexy. The industry has a perception problem, right? People think manufacturing is dirty, it's dangerous, all the things. And then for so long, we've been pushing those younger generations towards the college route, and like you said they want to get into technology. That's all the rage, that is sexy. In general, I think one of the challenges that we face working in this industry is how do we attract talent, the younger generations into supply chain and into manufacturing because it is fascinating, it is very interesting and there are so many different things that you could do within the sub-sectors of manufacturing. And just on a personal level, I think the coolest manufacturing facility I ever went to manufactured fighter jets, and as I pulled up to the plant, they were taking off right next to the plant. It was absolutely incredible. Not to mention walking through the massive facility and seeing all of that work being done. It's extremely fascinating. I'm going off on a tangent here, but we have to start having these conversations with children who are in school, who are then looking at their high school graduation and considering what steps they're going to take after that. Any thoughts there?

Anthony Allen: Yeah, I don't want to get on a bandwagon here but you know, it's funny you went down this road because I recently had a conversation with a young man that lives in my neighborhood and he was asking me about supply chain. And basically, he said, that doesn't sound very fun. It doesn't sound like there's much technology there. And I said oh, my friend, but you're wrong. Because there is. I'll give you an example -- I had a client reach out to me last week, and I had a conversation with them. At first I thought they were just looking for a warehouse manager. No, they are not. So here's an example of where you're taking supply chain and adding in technology and making it exciting to these younger generations. So this person needs to know how to manage a warehouse, okay, it's not rocket science. But this particular warehouse was going to start implementing all kinds of automation, robotics doing away with some of the manual labor that's out there and being replaced for the robots and so they wanted someone that could bring that skill set that happens to know how to run a warehouse, but knows how to implement this different automation and manage that automation. So that right there is a prime example of you can take what may appear is not sexy, and turn it into an awesome career throwing in technology. So, I think we have to peel back the onion and understand what the whole thing looks like and there are some exciting opportunities out there within supply chain.

Michele VIncent: Yeah, I completely agree. And I'm glad that you brought that up. Because technology, just like you said, it's everywhere. Especially in manufacturing, it's necessary, it's changing and we need people with those skills. 

In terms of finding the right talent, where does technology fit in? Is it ever a problem? Where does the changing technology fit in either from the employer's perspective or the candidate's perspective?

Anthony Allen: I think I'm seeing more and more companies looking for someone on the technology side, depending on what they're doing, that has a deeper understanding of ERP, MRP systems, which some of those are rather complex. For the example I gave about the warehouse, they're looking for someone that knows how to manage automation and knows what automation makes sense to put in a warehouse. So I'm seeing more clients looking for that type of skill set than I've probably seen in the past couple of years. It's not extreme yet, but it really sits at those, I'd say manager-level positions, versus on the other side, I'm seeing less of it with the VP and COO levels. I think they're expecting those people at that level, to hire the personnel that have the skill sets, but the thing is, there's not a lot of those people out there yet that have that skill set, or the interest to take that skill set and couple it with supply chain.

Michele Vincent: Interesting. What advice do you have for job seekers right now who are looking to change companies or looking for something in a different industry?

Anthony Allen: I would say that as the past five positions that I've worked on, or that are on my plate now to work on, there is probably more emphasis on what I'm going to call soft skills, and culture fit than there is on technical skill sets. I think the reason being a couple of companies I'm working with have had some people that were in the position that did not possess the greatest soft skill. So what COVID has brought us is people need to be able to think very quickly on their feet, handle complex situations, and handle those situations in collaboration with others. And Lord knows, that's a special skill set on its own and not everyone has that or the patience for it. So a lot of these employers are focusing on soft skills -- job seekers need to keep that in mind that not only do they need to present their technical skills, what they've done, and the improvements they've made at previous companies, but they need to also demonstrate that they're dynamic, fast thinkers think on their feet, and can lead as well as fit the culture of the company that they're interviewing at. That's very important as well.

Michele Vincent: I love that. Thank you for bringing that up. I agree that that's super important and I'm not surprised by that. I did an interview a little while back with Dick Finnegan on employee turnover and he's written several books on stay interviews and turnover. His stance is that the number one reason that people stay or quit their job is how much they trust their boss. I think having the right soft skills to be able to interact with coworkers, your employees, and things like that -- it's so important and it's more important now, I think, as a result of the pandemic because everybody is thinking differently about work. They are prioritizing life a little bit more and if they're in an environment that is a little bit, I don't know.... abrasive, and if they're working with people that don't have those skills, then it can turn people away.

I don't know if you want to talk about turnover at all or retention -- but have there been any changes that you've seen with regard to that?

Anthony Allen: Well, yes, retention is always an issue. I read somewhere that the cost to replace an employee is anywhere from half to two times that employee's salary, when you take into account the position being vacant for two or three months, the sourcing and the recruiting and the training, and the learning curve -- that number probably does make sense is justifiable.

But on the retention piece, I think one of the biggest things, goes back to the culture fit that the interviewer, the company, and the candidate needs to be in lockstep because that candidate needs to be excited about the culture and the mission. And what that boils down to is engaged employees are going to stick around, and that doesn't mean they're happy at their job. There can be employees that are happy at their job, and they can be lazy. So there needs to be employee engagement and what that really boils down to is they get behind the mission, and the culture, and your product, or whatever it is, and they're happy to tell people about where they work. And they dive in, you know, headfirst, hands-on, that is the key to keeping employees. Because the minute they start checking out mentally, then it's over and you might as well get ready to start looking for a replacement.

The other thing, obviously once the employee is there there's more to it. You know, most employees are obviously going to work for a paycheck. Money's not always the most important thing, but they need to be paid at least market value. But the biggest thing is the health, the retirement, the leave needs to be there. But here's a big deal, too, that we've seen during COVID, or post-COVID is flexible work arrangements. Let's talk about my generation. For example, I'm a Gen Xer, I don't mind saying it. Most Gen Xers have aging parents, it may be in many cases, it's the baby boomers that are our parents, they're aging out of the workforce, and some of them may not be in the best health. So that goes back to flexible work arrangements. I don't mind coming into the office three, or four days a week, but maybe I need to work from home one day a week, or one day a month to take my father somewhere to help him. So that goes back to seeing more employees wanting that flexible work arrangement and desire and we're also seeing that with a younger generation too. Because if that's not there if you're telling them, -- hey, you have to be here five days a week, every single day, every week, with very little flexibility, that's a huge turnoff in today's market.

Michele Vincent: Yeah, I agree with that. Flexibility is super important and that can be a little bit more challenging in manufacturing, but it can certainly be accomplished. And speaking as a millennial, or as I like to joke, an elder millennial, that is very important to me as well. I have four children and they are 16, 12, 9, and 4. So I too need some flexibility there to shuffle them around from place to place and be able to get my work done sometimes during off hours. And I personally probably couldn't get my job done if I had to, at this point with all of my children, if I had to be on a rigid schedule. I mean, I made it work back in the day, but now that I've been through COVID and switched over to working remotely it's definitely been a game changer and improved my quality of life. So I agree with that.

Let's switch gears a little bit. What advice do you have for employers who are making changes and looking to hire supply chain executives?

Anthony Allen: Perfect question. So for any employers that wind up listening to this podcast, I've got three words for you: Time kills deals. And so here's what I mean by that -- goodness gracious, as you're thinking about your interview process for a candidate, please make sure that process is efficient and lean and that there's thorough communication with the candidate. I have witnessed firsthand where a candidate is being interviewed, they're going through six levels of panel interviews, and then an on-site and there may be a week or week and a half delay between each interview. So that means you're dragging this interview out for two months. The longer you make that candidate wait, the greater the chance that they are going to become disengaged, they're going to be courted by another Headhunter or another company with a faster hiring process than yours, and they're going to be snatched up. So what that means is you're gonna have invested four to six weeks with this candidate, and they're gone because you took too long.

Also a pet peeve of mine, I make fun of other headhunters and talent acquisition people, and even hiring managers that don't give feedback -- as in, they ghost candidates. If you're passing on candidates, at least give them a Dear John letter saying, Hey, we're passing. Detailed feedback is always good, but I understand they're busy, and sometimes they can't, but never ghost candidates. So those are probably my greatest words of wisdom that I can give to help improve the process.

Michele Vincent: Those are spot on. I agree with those 100%. We are just about out of time, but I appreciate all the insights that you have shared with us today. Tell us where people can connect with you if they want to reach out or follow you online.

Anthony Allen: Absolutely. First and foremost, you can start with LinkedIn. Anthony Allen, look me up on LinkedIn with Supply Chain Talent Advisors, I regularly post blogs and advice for job seekers around supply chain certifications, top schools for supply chain degrees and also post tidbits and nuggets for hiring managers for things to think about. So LinkedIn is a great place, they can also find me online on my website at www.scmhire.com

Michele Vincent: Wonderful, thank you so much, Anthony, I appreciate you coming on the show today.


  • Connect with Anthony Allen on LinkedIn
  • Follow Supply Chain Talent Advisors on LinkedIn



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