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Untangling Supply Chains – Planning for 2022 and Beyond

Supply chain issues aren’t going to go away overnight, according to the most recent “Fiber for Breakfast” webinar speaker. Every company needs to be prepared to understand their role in it, from suppliers to manufacturers and service providers.

“The biggest thing to remember is at one time the supply chain was pretty easy to identify. Everything was produced locally. If you had an issue, you went next door, you went down the street, and you solved the problem,” said Finley Engineering Company Vice President, Dean Mischke, P.E. “Fast forward to today and it has become almost impossible to track where everything comes from, from its original raw resources, through every process, for every step through every transportation leg, every hand that’s touched it until it finally arrives at your doorstep. You’re actually part of that chain because what you’re going to do is take that raw product and incorporate it into something much larger and deliver it to someone else.”

Mischke said companies need a long-term strategic plan for supply chain management to be able to forecast material needs and look forward. “If you’re looking at simply planning for next year, that’s probably a little short,” he said. “You need to be looking beyond next year and start setting up a much larger five-year plan with specific goals and elements in mind. You’re going to need to accomplish those goals and be prepared.”

Shipping traffic, extensively covered in recent news coverage, is less plagued by an actual shortage of containers, but by the fact that the industry didn’t have a chance to catch up with the backlog of goods, upsetting pre-COVID balances and flows of existing ships and containers. Higher prices for shipping have resulted in larger bulk ships being pressed into service, as container ships move containers around faster. But, this will impact bulk shipping of goods in and out of the country at some point in the future.

More ships trying to move goods into the United States has overloaded existing port capacity while not alleviating delays. This has shifted the value of what goes into a shipping container, with companies now favoring smaller, high-value items. “If you’re trying to buy things that take up a lot of space and are relatively low cost, that item is not making it,” Mischke said, citing an example of Sony Playstations and the latest smartphones displacing bulky and less profitable Tonka Trucks.

Workforce management and social media are also of concern for companies in the larger supply chain picture. Mischke sees the workforce affected by three different elements as companies try to hire today while employees leave or stay home. Boomers are reaching the end of their careers but “COVID kind of took the fun out of it,” he said. Parents who had to stay home with their children during lockdown realized “it’s really not so bad to be involved in your kid’s life and actually watching the progress move forward,” and Gen Z workers are finding out that work “really wasn’t what they thought it would be. The problems are harder than they were in school. And it’s not a free flow, do as you want” environment. Gen Z-ers are taking a break, traveling or “learning how to be the next social media star.”

Meanwhile, social media is part of a larger generational shift from when people got news from trusted news sources and written media. If someone was upset, they would sit down and write a letter or make a phone call, having time to cool down and consider their actions. Younger generations use social media as their “go-to” for information, with every opinion counting, and the ability to hide.

“If you dealt with the bully at school, when you went home that bully went away,” said Mischke. “Today, the bully never disappears. They are always there…social media has actually become social warfare. If we look at what has happened with social media, it has pushed everyone to the edge. It’s almost impossible to find someone that exists in the middle because they’re not getting any coverage.”

Mischke says proactive communication is important for both customers and employees. “Where are they getting their information from?” he said. “Are you providing them a balanced report of what you’re doing? Are they simply looking at the extremes in the marketplace to find out who you are?”

Hear the full discussion with Dean Mischke, P.E., on the Fiber for Breakfast Podcast.