Don’t miss a chance to engage young people

posted by Craig Mincher
13 March 2020

If you can help students to visualise a career in supply chain management, the rewards for your organisation and the wider economy are hard to ignore

Sadly, it’s a situation that many employers around the world will recognise – a severe lack of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. In the UK, the shortfall of STEM workers is 173,000 (a figure that translates to 89% of businesses claiming they’ve had difficulty hiring for STEM-related roles in the last year alone). This already costs the economy £1.5 billion a year in lost productivity, and the bad news is that it’s only predicted to get worse. In the next decade alone, the UK government expects the number of STEM roles will double – with the needs of the supply and procurement profession being no different to any other profession. To say we need urgent action is perhaps an understatement.

This is why I was so pleased to be involved in Maths in Action – a project aimed at encouraging our procurement and supply chain networks to showcase their profession in school environments – to motivate the next generation of supply chain leaders. 

The event – involving businesses including Market Dojo, Johnson Controls, ADI Engineering, 42 Partners & Skyblue Solutions – aims to bring maths lessons to life by linking maths skills to the world of supply chain management.

At the event I took part in, students from Kingsmead School in Hednesford, Staffordshire, got their first introduction to e-auctions via the Market Dojo platform, where they looked at supply chain tendering exercises, ran supply chain risk/opportunity assessments, as well as supplier accreditation tasks. Part of the day also involved them developing ideas to critique sub-contractor submissions, delving into P&Ls and cash flow forecasts and checking that supply proposals were sustainable.

Before we can even start to tackle low engagement with STEM subjects (including the fact girls are still less likely to consider them), we first need to promote and educate students about lesser-known careers that use them – like supply chain management. This is especially the case when traditional engineering and finance routes are much more established.

When we promote both a role, and the STEM skills applied within it, we make our profession ‘real life’. When material provided is fun, creative and challenging, I see first-hand that students quickly understand the topic. 

Yes, the day is tiring for the executive volunteers, teachers and students, but the reward is well worth it. Business volunteers I’ve spoken to have described the Maths in Action day as one of the most enjoyable, exhilarating and rewarding days they have had.

Why? Because they see the benefit in inspiring our next generation of procurement specialists. I’m very happy to admit that the ideas students came up with have been so great, I’ve used them in my own day-to-day negotiations. Their ideas have been especially motivating around the topics of sustainability and energy usage in the supply chain.

Teachers have huge challenges, and pressure to keep improving exam results leaves little time to link the skills they’re teaching to career opportunities. And yes, this will be exacerbated when there are careers – such as supply chain management, procurement and emerging careers in the internet of things – that are not widely known to young people. 

But there is so much more that can be gained by engaging with young people, and working with education establishments. 

My sense is that more businesses are now recognising that activities like Maths in Action provide huge rewards to individuals in terms of making a difference in the community. Do something similar, and I promise you will be amazed at just how much students and yourselves will learn. 

My advice is not to lose any opportunities that come your way to run similar challenges. Our profession needs fresh minds. If you have a challenge and are thinking about brainstorming ideas, look no further than the next generation. And if you need a place to start, try the CIPS #iBuy campaign, where you can download presentation materials, and share some case studies from buyers of Land Rover tyres, eggs for Premier Inn breakfasts, and Christmas decorations for the City of London. Real jobs in a real environment.

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