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From AI to Gen Z: How Tech is Key to Attracting Procurement’s Next Leaders

July 30, 2021

author:
Kerrie Kennedy

There are numerous pathways that can lead to a fulfilling job within the supply chain industry. But how often do you really stop and think about what drew you to procurement in the first place? Was it a generational influence that saw you following in the footsteps of a family member, encouragement from a high-school career advisor, or – like so many others – did you ‘fall into it’ during young adulthood while exploring your career options? 

If it’s a case of the latter, perhaps one reason that a Chief Procurement Officer or supply chain management role didn’t always appear on your horizon as a worthy profession to pursue during your formative years is that unlike careers in law, medicine or technology, there has tended to be a lack of visibility around the expansive opportunities the industry affords or confusion about the critical business functions that procurement roles permeate. (And it doesn’t help that Hollywood hasn’t made any blockbusters featuring a character who works as a CPO.)

Now – as a result of recent and dramatic global events – procurement has morphed from being seen as “the purchasing police” to playing a key role in shaping and meeting strategic goals and ensuring strong business performance. In Ardent Partners’ 2021 State of Procurement and the CPO report, procurement executives said the impact of their work has been either ‘game-changing’ (12%) or ‘significant’ (40%). As the report’s authors say about the disruptions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic: “In many organizations, the procurement department has been thrust into the ‘hero’ role.”

‍With the Baby Boomer generation on the cusp of retirement age, the timing couldn’t be better for attracting a flurry of young graduates to the opportunities that abound in the supply chain industry. And yet, supply chain and logistics organizations often report they are still struggling to recruit talent from the latest demographic entering the workforce: Generation Z.

The Times, and Teams, Are Changing

Gen Z is a digitally native generation, many of whom are showing promise as innovative trailblazers shaping much of the sustainability agenda in our world today. According to a 2021 Deloitte survey, this generation has been deeply affected by the pandemic, but they also view the crisis as an opportunity to reset and drive the changes they want to see becoming the norm. 

Deloitte’s findings revealed that a focus on climate change, human rights, and Corporate Social Responsibility are among the key traits that Gen Z looks for in the companies they buy from and work for, and that they are even more likely than Millennials to choose their workplace based on their personal ethics:

The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey

In theory, this should spell good news for procurement as the opportunities to make a difference in supply chains aligns particularly well with plenty of the values that Gen Z job seekers hold in high regard. For example, strategic sourcing can mean they have a direct hand in driving more sustainable supply chains, or making decisions to seek out suppliers who share similar morals and ethical standards.

But there is another key priority for Gen Zers that many procurement organizations are still not quite hitting the mark on: technology. 

Driving the Digital Transformation Agenda

Gen Z talent is far more likely to be attracted to roles that afford them an opportunity to showcase their prowess with digital tools and apps, and they count ‘technological savviness’ among the critical employee characteristics for the success of their organization (Deloitte). Although Gen Z is not necessarily more competent with technology than past generations, much like their Millennial predecessors, this cohort finds it easier to accept and adapt to new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence since they have been exposed to digitization for the entirety of their lives.

On the flip side, this also means Gen Zers may be less willing to use complex or archaic IT systems and software when they know there are modern, user-friendly and efficient ways of getting their work done. They may also be less tolerant of jobs where the work is monotonous, tedious, repetitive, particularly if tech is available to automate those things so they can focus on more strategic or creative pursuits.

According to a 2021 report by Forrester, “businesses preparing for the future of work must understand the changing technology preferences among workforce generations.” Findings here showed that tools such as spreadsheets were far less likely to be used by younger generations when compared to their older colleagues; even email was shown to be used by just 42% of Gen Z weekly versus 76% of Baby Boomers. 

Unsurprisingly, Gen Zers and Millennials surveyed by Forrester were much more likely to gravitate towards applications including voice recognition, virtual assistants and augmented and virtual reality. And now it seems there’s a new technological evolution on the supply chain horizon to contend with, one which “coincides and is driven by members of Generation Z” according to Gartner’s Pursuing an Autonomous Supply Chain With Hyper-automation report (2021).

Just as AI tools emerged at the same time that the Millennial generation entered the workforce, Gartner reveals that Gen Z innovators are paving the way towards an autonomous supply chain, accelerated by a combination of new technologies that come under the umbrella of “hyper-automation.”

Between 2025 and 2030, Gartner points out that technologies such as machine learning and AI are expected to enter mainstream adoption – around the same time that Gen Z workers progress into leadership positions.

Is Your Business Ready for Gen Z?

Therein lies a conundrum for organizations looking to attract fresh talent into their procurement functions as the older leaders begin to retire, but have been particularly slow to adopt any kind of modern technology. Global awareness of procurement's importance has never been greater, and the opportunities to make a difference in supply chains align particularly well with many of the values that the Gen Z job seekers hold in high regard.

But organizations that have been reluctant to initiate any form of digital transformation or whose current procurement teams have become adept at problem-solving and deciphering complex workflows exclusively using legacy systems or spreadsheets could find it increasingly harder to get on the radar of young professionals as time goes on. 

And with the next stage in the supply chain technological evolution well underway and procurement’s potential for having a positive impact on society and the environment firmly in the headlines for the foreseeable, it might be high time to revisit whether your procurement function is being weakened by any archaic processes, or if legacy technology is acting as a deterring factor in attracting much-needed new talent. 

Summary

In this golden age for advancements in technology, it is vitally important that companies adapt, lest they be out-competed by nimbler competitors in the marketplace and in their recruitment efforts. As McKinsey analysts wrote prior to the pandemic in 2019, “only by hiring, training, and retaining people with digital skills will procurement be able to deliver in an increasingly disrupted and competitive landscape” – and today that message rings truer than ever.

At Keelvar, our Sourcing Optimizer platform marries optimization power with the usability that this next generation of workers look for in a technology solution, and our user-friendly Automation solutions will go a long way towards convincing tech-savvy young professionals that your company is the right fit for them. Through the addition of an AI component to your sourcing toolkit, you will be helping to enable the success of a younger team member who might not have the decades of experience of their predecessor to fill those shoes much more effectively.

And who knows, maybe Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet will soon star in a dramatic movie about two category managers racing against time to find the best suppliers while in a crisis.

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