Industry November 2013

Changing Landscape of Supply Chain Recruitment

Robust economy drives demand for highly skilled candidates

• China remains Japan’s top trading partner
• Healthcare industry is a hotbed for growth
• Manufacturing shifting to other parts of Asia

As competitive pressures rise and supply chains become increasingly global and complex, efficient and proactive supply chain management has transformed from an operations and back-office concern to a critical factor in business success.

Japan’s manufacturing and logistics industries continue to evolve, reflecting the increasingly dynamic economic environment.

While growth in Asia’s emerging markets has declined from recent cyclical peaks, the Japanese economy has rebounded strongly, on the back of Abenomics. As a result, different skills are being required of today’s supply chain professionals.

China, despite its slowed economic growth, remains Japan’s largest trading partner, accounting for almost one-fifth of Japan’s total trading volume.

Thus, employers hiring supply chain staff in Japan increasingly demand not only regional experience, but knowledge of the China market in particular. Recruits fluent in English and Chinese are hot commodities in this labour market.

Demand for highly skilled professionals in third-party logistics remains robust. It has grown 5–10% for professionals able to manage warehousing projects, distribution services and labour.

In part due to Japan’s ageing society and the growing healthcare industry, hiring in the medical devices, pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors is increasing significantly.

As firms in the healthcare industry continue to expand and launch new products for the Japanese market, they have greater need for specialised and bilingual supply chain professionals.

Candidates with backgrounds in demand and supply planning, forecasting and procurement are highly sought after. Meanwhile, despite the candidate-short market, firms are also insisting on candidates with industry- and product-specific experience.

Given the effects on firms’ profits of the high cost of doing business and the weaker yen, we have seen an increase of more than 20% in hiring for indirect procurement functional roles across a range of industries.

A number of these positions require that an indirect procurement function be set up for the Japanese business in question.

This function includes long-term strategy planning and educating a firm’s major stakeholders about the benefits of centralised indirect cost management. We believe this will continue to be a strong trend going into 2014.

To mitigate the impact of future economic disruptions, a mounting number of firms are diversifying their supply chains and moving manufacturing facilities to other parts of Asia.

To ensure that new suppliers are operating at sufficiently high technical standards, demand is also growing for quality professionals in the areas of management and analysis. This is particularly true of the automotive, equipment and heavy machinery industries.

In addition, we have seen a 10% YoY increase in team leader and manager-level positions, for which Six Sigma and lean manufacturing certification have been specified.

Although several new issues are influencing supply chain recruitment in Japan, the critical shortage of English-speaking professionals continues to be the most significant challenge facing employers.

Over 95% of the supply chain positions for which we recruit require strong English language skills; the ability to merely read and write English is not enough.

Candidates must be able to speak English fluently to communicate with teams and management personnel overseas. This is particularly true for those in purchasing roles, where fluency is crucial in negotiations with international suppliers and partners.

Many firms recognise that their success or failure in business often depends on the efficacy of their supply chain.

Competition for the best supply chain talent is expected to intensify as businesses in Japan adapt to domestic and global forces.

These include the influence of key growth economies such as China, and the increased need for business continuity planning since the triple disaster of 11 March 2011.

To successfully attract top supply chain talent, employers must have compelling strategies that ensure their firms’ stability, as well as opportunities for career growth.

The most talented professionals will only consider moving to firms with strong employer brands that can offer a stable working environment as well as opportunities for long-term career progression.