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What opportunities and challenges face the supply chain professional? Q&A with Claire Stuart, Manager, Supply Chain & Purchasing

From July 2016, Oliver James Associates launches its Supply Chain & Purchasing desk, partnering with clients across Retail and FMCG to identify, attract and place outstanding talent from Analyst through to Director Level. Our unique consultative service includes contingency, retained and executive search solutions for both permanent and interim positions. 

Claire Stuart joins Oliver James Associates to lead the Supply Chain & Purchasing desk. With over ten years’ experience, her exceptional knowledge of the retail sector puts her in a stellar position to advise our partners and find the best technical and culture organisation and role fit for our candidates.

Read our Q&A with Claire to find out more about the opportunities and challenges facing the supply chain professional longside the specific skill sets companies are looking for…

Claire, tell me a little about yourself and your professional background

Four years ago I moved into the recruitment industry to set up a desk for FMCG supply chain. However, prior to joining the recruitment industry, I had ten years’ experience within both retail operations and merchandising so my understanding of how retail stores and head offices function means I’m able to advise our partners on innovative solutions to meet their recruitment needs or the best path for candidates to take in order to elevate their supply chain career.

What’s your role here at OJ and what do you hope to achieve?

I manage  the retail and FMCG Supply Chain & Purchasing team across both contract and perm. The team and I work on all levels of vacancies from Planners and Analysts through to Managers and Directors with salary ranges from £30k  to £150k plus. I’m hoping to expand the team throughout the Midlands and the North, as we’re predominantly focused on the South currently. From a personal perspective, I’m looking to step up to Associate Director level in the future.

What are the main recruitment challenges facing the supply chain sector?

The main challenge facing the supply chain sector  is the lack of quality demand planners. Businesses are finding it particularly difficult to find planners with the correct skills to collaborate with the customer. Equally, in terms of operating systems, employers are asking for specific skills such as SAP, APO, SAP R3, S&OP.

With these challenges in mind, I always encourage clients to be more open minded about particular roles they’re looking to fill; for example, if a business is adamant they need a candidate with experience in the food sector who’s got substantial experience sourcing from India and China I’d suggest they look to interview and potentially hire candidates who have experience sourcing from these countries but not necessarily exclusive to the food industry. Ultimately, excellence in delivery is about being innovative, thinking outside of the box and always looking for new ways to approach difficult roles. 

Are there any other markets outside of the UK that are thriving in this sector?

Yes; the USA, Netherlands and Belgium. In terms of the USA, many quirky and innovative brands such as Hello Fresh are looking to take their brands and products out into the American market. With regards to the Netherlands and Belgium, many businesses are looking to  move their warehousing there to be more efficient with costs.

Is the demand for a particular skill set changing and/or evolving for supply chain professionals?

Yes. I’m seeing most businesses place emphasis on CIPS, S&OP and CPFR skill sets. In terms of how the supply chain landscape is evolving for professionals, many businesses are placing ‘implants’ within key retailers, which gives them greater control and easier access to retail systems. The shelf life of these roles is usually 1 - 1.5 years to ensure the employee doesn’t get embedded into an alternative business culture. Some companies leading the way with this initiative are Lego and Heinz; having previously placed the first ever ‘implant’ into Waitrose on behalf of Dale Head Foods, I’m familiar with the benefits of collaborative planning and its influence within retail.

Is technology presenting further opportunities for professionals within the supply chain sector?

There are multiple consultancies doing much more with data analytics. Retailers are also investing more in outsourcing systems to understand more about improving shelf life and wastage down to a store and even skew level. With this in mind, it’s key for supply chain professionals to enrol on software courses and be proactive about getting involved in system implementations such as ‘Super Users’ for SAP. We've seen this really add value to people's careers in the long-term. 

Are companies looking for specific competencies in the talent pool to meet future strategic objectives?

I’m seeing more hires being down to a cultural fit within the organisation than previously. Historically, the supply chain was always seen as a back office role; businesses are now looking at where they can make significant cost savings so the supply chain and purchasing functions are more relevant now than ever.

What talent attraction challenges will the supply chain sector face in the next 5 years?

The main challenges within supply chain recruitment will be identifying available talent. With businesses looking to invest more in their supply chain, identifying and attracting key talent will be more difficult. It’s actually wise to look at hiring graduates with view to training them up to the industry standard. Understanding how to communicate with and manage key stakeholders is an essential factor to success so hiring the right talent in order to maintain this is of paramount importance.

Why should candidates and clients partner with OJ? What do you do differently?

Oliver James Associates’ headhunting approach is completely different and niche in comparison to other recruitment firms; we’re constantly networking, market mapping and using extensive data analytics to reach candidates and understand our sectors in more depth. Personally, we have established and maintained some great partnerships throughout my career to date watching my clients become my candidates and vice versa; everyone I’ve placed and worked with has been 70% repeat business so I am able to offer exclusive access to the best market opportunities. Quite honestly, a CV is not just a CV to me; it’s somebody’s career and livelihood. It’s my responsibility to guide and shape a supply chain professional’s career and my knowledge of the industry and the key partnerships I’ve built have enabled me to do this. It’s a real sense of achievement to learn that a candidate you placed 3 years ago for example is now a line manager.

If you’re looking to hire within your supply chain and purchasing department or you’re a supply chain professional looking for that next step, contact Claire for an open and honest conversation Claire.Stuart@ojassociates.com 0207 398 4349