Is it time to stop talking about talent supply chains and start talking about supplier communities?

Pam Sands Pam Sands Vice President, Strategy and Partnerships, Kelly

I participated in a sales presentation a couple of weeks ago, and the talk turned to talent supply chains. Our competitors described access to suppliers, delivery, supply chain management – table stakes stuff. What I talked about was people: the individuals suppliers are sourcing, candidate engagement, how suppliers convey organizational strategy and goals, how they assess culture fit. We may be offering an MSP (managed service provider) solution but, ultimately, it’s about getting the right people in the right place and ensuring they have the skills and values to succeed personally while supporting the goals of an organization. Many organizations and industries have required standards that must be met, and one wrong hire can lead to serious risks. In this, and any contingent workforce solution, the people being engaged matter, and the conversation has to start there.

When we think about supply chains, we often envision them in a linear way – materials or widgets being processed and moved from A to B, one link of the chain after another. But when you try and look at people supply chains through this narrow procurement lens, it doesn’t work. An MSP program is an intersection of client, solution provider, and suppliers with their own goals and challenges and sitting in a complex ecosystem shaped by local and global markets. To view this as a simple chain is to miss out on huge strategic opportunities and access to sought-after skills. Every entity in this community has a unique part to play, but suppliers’ roles are often underestimated. They are not just a mechanism for bringing skills into a supply chain, they are influential talent partners, and a lack of supplier focus can have painful consequences for both solutions providers and organizations.

The 2023 Kelly Global Re:work Report found 46% of executives say that difficulty sourcing talent is leading to missed business opportunities, and this is what’s at stake when suppliers are seen as distant vendors. It’s not easy right now for leaders to source the people they need; without the right supplier relationships and focus, it’s even tougher.

I believe it’s time to lift the lid on talent supply chains and create supplier communities where strategic partnerships flourish.

Creating a sense of community

What if, instead of seeing talent supply chains as a mechanism for moving skills from A to Z, we began to think of them as communities? If solutions providers and organizations actively engaged and supported suppliers across their supply chain it would ensure they understand the organization they are serving, see how the talent they bring impacts the business, and have a strong knowledge of company goals, culture, and values. This type of highly engaged supplier is going to go out to bat for top talent rather than spraying and praying with resumes in the hope that something sticks somewhere. At KellyOCG, we have a designated group for supplier engagement; this acts as an enterprise-level commitment to our global suppliers and is reflected in the high levels of supplier focus across our teams at program level. This community approach engages client stakeholders, Kelly experts, and supplier representatives in an ongoing conversation about program success.

Building strategic links

Often, the organizational relationship with an MSP partner – and, by extension, program suppliers – is with a very small group of business stakeholders – procurement, HR, talent acquisition. Very rarely do operational leaders take part in these discussions. But the most successful MSP programs bring a much wider variety of stakeholder viewpoints to the table, aligning strategic business goals with MSP strategy. This level of transparency and inclusion empowers suppliers to perform better because they understand the bigger picture. Regular supplier summits that provide a window into where an organization is today and where it’s headed can help suppliers move from vendors to true strategic partners.

Mentoring supplier partners

Supplier relationships shouldn’t stand still, and regular feedback and mentoring are key to developing a strong supplier community. This approach is essential for organizations looking to grow diversity across their supply chain. It makes no sense to bring on diverse suppliers – often who have a smaller footprint and margins – and put them on 120-day payment terms, giving them close to no support in navigating a complex program. I’m incredibly proud of our commitment to supporting diverse suppliers at KellyOCG – our 2022 diverse supplier spend was $1.8B. Last year, we identified two high-potential suppliers from each of the five diversity categories – African American, Latin American, veteran, LGBTQ+, and disabled – and put together a comprehensive development program. Seven of those not only made it through the program but attended our supplier forum in Phoenix for award winners and preferred suppliers, giving them access to resources and expertise they otherwise have been several years away from unlocking. Diversity helps a supply chain be stronger – not just through altruism but by encouraging longevity, depth of talent, and innovation.

Choosing a supplier-focused contingent workforce partner

Whether you’re looking for a first or second-gen MSP partner, you want to ensure that you’re working with someone who understands how to nurture an effective supplier community around your business. Providers should be focused on what’s best for the organization they serve, not cherry picking the best supplier opportunities for their staffing arm or implementing the same supplier model they use everywhere else. It’s essential for potential buyers to ask questions, to understand a potential partner’s supplier ethos, and to ensure that they trust in a solution provider’s ability to deliver.

The term supply chain probably isn’t going anywhere fast – but I do believe there is a growing demand from organizational leaders to work with suppliers who understand their culture, who share their sustainability and diversity goals, and who can more effectively source the flexible talent that will power their business today and into the future. At Kelly, our noble purpose is to connect people to work in ways that enrich their lives; robust and engaged supplier communities make that possible. Leaders who embrace this approach and value strategic supplier partnerships will accelerate access to sought-after skills and meet their people and business goals faster.


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