Managing the 'knowledge supply chain'

To meet the challenge of finding qualified workers in a tight labor market, companies need to manage the "knowledge supply chain," John Alden told the National Alliance of Business recently.

Alden, vice chairman of UPS, says the principles of the knowledge supply chain are similar to physical supply chains, but they're involved with developing people.

When managed properly, the knowledge supply chain will deliver "just-in-time" employees, he says. This supply chain is made up of employers, colleges, trade schools, trainers, community groups and government agencies, among others.

Alden quantified the tightness of the labor market by pointing out that the demand for labor is up 10.6% since 1992, while the supply of labor has grown only 7.3%. He added that seven of every 10 companies report that skill shortages are a barrier to company growth. Packaging World has been reporting on this challenge in our special report, "The Staffing Struggle" (see PW, Oct. '98, p. 87, and this issue, p. 80).

According to Alden, employers need to become partners with educators and trainers to ensure that students will be prepared to meet the needs of employers (for one example, see p. 94). The knowledge supply chain process changes the labor market from one where educators push people into the work world to one where employers pull people out of schools or training programs with the skills they need. Alden went on to describe UPS partnerships with high schools, welfare-to-work programs and the company's investment of $300 million/yr in technology training and education programs.

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