Alcott Global’s Fei Yu on which IT employment trends are prevalent in supply chain

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The turbocharged digitalisation of the logistics and supply chain sector seen post-pandemic has been such that some companies in the field now even refer to themselves as tech firms. In light of this trend, Trans.INFO has sought to determine to what extent the employment and recruitment trends prevalent in the tech sector are also visible in supply chain.

To find out, we sat down for a chat with Alcott Global’s Managing Director for Europe, Fei Yu, an expert in talent acquisition who is currently recruiting top executives in the supply chain, technology & logistics space.

Our conversation began with the recent hype over Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, and how the changes he is implementing at the social media giant may influence the tech sector in general, and thus tech-heavy supply chain companies.

A significant number of employees have of course left Twitter in recent weeks, either due to layoffs or as a result of resigning over Musk’s “hardcore” work culture.

At one point, there was even discussion as to whether Twitter would be able to function, such was the scale of the departures.

However, besides a few issues here and there, the social media website is still up and running. That has led to some in the business world speculating that other major companies might believe they can also maintain their service levels while downsizing their workforce, whether it be via automation or other efficiency savings.

In Fei’s opinion, the trends of increased automation, as well as an added drive to lower labour costs, are prevalent in the supply chain and manufacturing sector.

Alcott Global’s Managing Director for Europe told Trans.INFO:

“It doesn’t sound very positive saying it now, but he [Musk] does have a great track record of being successful as a disrupter.

In the supply chain world, we work across sectors, including a lot of manufacturing-based companies, FMCG companies, industrial companies, ecommerce companies and pharma companies.

We talk a lot with them, and everybody’s talking about transformation. Digitisation is actually one big topic. Once things are automated, less people will be needed – that’s a fact we need to face.

When it comes to reshaping operations, there are two areas. One is driving efficiency to make the supply chain more efficient and more resilient to disruption so that the business side can deliver. Second is actually saving costs. The efficiency also ties into this as once you become efficient, you need less people.

We’ve actually seen a lot of low cost centres in areas like procurement, logistics, HR, finance and IT. They may be based in India or China in Asia. In Europe, it may be Poland, Czech Republic, Romania or Spain.

Moreover, in the USA, moving to Mexico is getting really big now. Unilever, Mondelez, Novartis, Philip Morris – they all have shared service centres there.

That means developed countries have less positions that can be replaced by efficiency. So it’s difficult to say if companies are simply reducing their workforce or replacing them with staff hired in centres abroad.”

One big topic that grew legs in 2022 in the business world was the concept of “quiet quitting”, which, as described by Harvard Business Review, refers to “opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work.”

The heavily discussed “quiet quitting” trend follows on from the “great resignation” debate that blew up last year after many employees decided to quit their jobs in search of something new.

Are the supply chain and logistics sectors immune from these trends? According to Fei, it appears not. When asked about whether there has been noticeable quitting and ‘quiet quitting’ in the sector, Fei told Trans.INFO:

“It definitely is happening. We talk a lot to executives in the market, and when we ask them about the top three-five challenges for them, finding talent is always top three.

One reason people are quitting is due to too much pressure; they can’t take it anymore. Every company is losing talent. The second factor is upskilling. Employees feel the need to change and to do that they need new skills.

Yes, there are a lot of quiet quitters.

Also, since employees are working from home, they have time to reflect, they have time to attend online interviews, they have time to scout for opportunities and reconnect with people on their network and find opportunities.

On the executive side, every discussion is going in two directions. One question is how they can build the right team and upskill their team? The other is whether there is anything in it for themselves; it always goes both ways, they might be quiet quitting too.”

In the last couple of months or so, however, the economic outlook and business headlines have arguably not been conducive to resigning or quiet quitting.

This has been particularly true in the tech sector, where significant layoffs at Microsoft, Meta and Twitter have all attracted widespread media attention.

Does this mean that supply chain companies, many of whom are technological in nature, will follow suit? In Fei’s opinion, the sector is less likely to make layoffs on the same scale as the outright tech firms:

“I think the layoffs mostly concern IT companies, maybe they have too much money and they were just not thinking about planning. In supply chain and manufacturing-based companies, I think hiring is more cautious because you need to look at your costs a lot. So I think that massive hiring is not the norm here. Neither are massive layoffs – unless you close a factory and you have a lot of people there,” the Alcott Global talent expert told Trans.INFO.

Finally, another recruitment aspect we were keen to quiz Fei on concerns how the employee vs employer bargaining power pendulum has swung over the last couple of years.

Drawing from her experience as a head recruiter, Fei told Trans.INFO that supply chain headhunters can expect the current economic downturn to bring the market closer to employers again:

“I think your question about the employer versus employee market is very interesting, because I was a head recruiter for 4 years before joining Alcott Global.

When COVID started, we had so many candidates, so we could really choose from a massive pool of candidates. Then you could be very strict with the criteria, but by around the end of 2020, the economy, particularly in the US, started to grow unexpectedly. I just couldn’t find any candidate because it had become an employee’s market. This was dramatic and unexpected, so we had to use a lot of help from headhunters.

Then, in 2022, we started to hear of some companies laying off employees because they were feeling the pain of having so much inventory, and the economy hadn’t grown as well as they’d expected.

Those layoffs meant we started to see more candidates again, so the employee market has been changing fast every year in a way I have never seen before.

Quiet quitting has probably emerged over the last two years. However, as a recession is coming, I would expect headhunters to say we will have an employer market again.

In addition, although some people may be confident about their skills, companies are also investing a lot in digitisation and AI to replace manpower.”

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