Innovation Forum’s recent subscriber survey had highlighted concerns about a shortage of talented supply chain sustainability professionals coming through the recruitment pipeline. During Innovation Forum’s webinar in which experts discussed the survey findings, it emerged that many participants are seeing a talent shortage across the board at the moment – not just for supply chain positions.
However, a cause for optimism is that there is currently real interest in sustainability-related positions. As companies begin to effectively get to grips with challenges such as their scope 3 emissions and the responsible sourcing and human rights issues in supply chains, more interesting and rewarding opportunities will inevitably emerge. This could be a key factor in attracting and retaining future talent.
A note of caution was discussed, warning companies against equating sustainable supply chain expertise with sustainability more generally. Supply chain knowledge is specialised – and companies should recognise this when devising employee training. The right specialist education is necessary to develop required skills.
Another factor that was highlighted is the significant shortage of skilled people who can go and build supply chain capacities on the ground. There is too much of a focus on technology solutions such as use of remote sensing imaging, artificial intelligence or blockchain rather than actually fixing the problems on the ground. In addition, companies tend to rely too much on the skills of people in NGOs rather than developing that capacity in-house.
When designing education and training resources, companies could attain real value by thinking in terms of what skills are required for real deep dives into supply chains, to identify and remediate the big challenges. One webinar participant commented that much of this could all be collaborated on in an efficient and cost-effective manner if it could be regarded as a pre-competitive area.
Does certification remain relevant?
A further point made was that there is still too much of a tick-box approach to data collection, and a lack of appreciation that every farm and community is different –recognising this and accepting that what’s relevant can change over a very short spatial area requires specific skills that are often lacking. In other words, there is a talent shortage in the auditing sector.
In the survey, we had asked participants to name some of the innovations that are driving sustainable procurement. Way down the list of responses was use of certification, but what did emerge was a desire for greater clarity on what best practice for measurement and success looks like. During the webinar discussion the point was made that certification, and standards more generally, are a key part of the process of measuring success – it’s a challenge to do this without monitoring and verification systems in place.
There is a real challenge in driving for standardised data while also accepting that there needs to be the flexibility that recognises difference. Taking a tailor-made approach can really help – it is easy to forget that behind every data point or dot on a map there is a producer, smallholder or SME with specific circumstances.
Risks, and regenerative opportunities
The survey had some questions around the key risks participants were watching for over the coming month. The challenge presented by the economic crisis was the most popular response, closely followed by climate change related risks. What was most striking perhaps, though, was the lack of responses in the survey linking to biodiversity loss – a point that a number of webinar participants highlighted.
The potential for regenerative agriculture, which has biodiversity and climate change impacts, was a key point of discussion in the webinar. Linking with the comments on attracting and retaining the right talent, the point was made that to really develop a regenerative agricultural approach thought beyond just carbon is required. To achieve long term resilience, expertise in soil health, water stewardship, farm livelihoods and social impacts are required alongside a forensic approach to climate mitigation.
What’s clear, though, is that there has been a significant shift towards an acceptance of a regenerative approach as the future of farming. This needs to be followed up with the resources – the finances and also the necessary expertise – to enable success at scale.
The full recording of the webinar discussing the survey results is available here. Look out for Innovation Forum’s next subscriber survey later in the spring. Click here to get in touch for more details.