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Businesses must address weak links in supply chain to boost productivity

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Large employers can boost their productivity levels by improving the management and leadership skills across their supply chain, according to a new report launched today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

The evaluation report outlines the findings from a series of productivity projects, run as part of the UK Futures Programme, and led by prominent UK employers from the construction, legal and manufacturing sectors, which focused on boosting overall productivity levels across their supply chains. The projects encouraged small supply chain businesses to improve their management and leadership capabilities through a range of innovative approaches.  They included varied activities such as coaching and mentoring support to improve management practices across firms to creating bespoke online leadership networks to training,.

The evaluation report highlights that there is significant scope for supply chain leads and intermediary organisations to engage and motivate their suppliers towards better management skills and practices. By capitalising on their unique positions, these businesses found that they can persuade their supply chains to develop their management and leadership capabilities with early evidence of improved business performance within businesses and across supply chains. Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director of Programmes and Support at BAE Systems and UKCES Commissioner said:

“I believe that a business is only as strong as its weakest link in its supply chain.  I think these projects are great examples of organisations stepping up and taking responsibility for using their existing networks to boost productivity for all, across a number of industries. Giving employers the opportunity to develop their own solutions is crucial, as we believe the people who experience these skills deficiencies first hand are the best people to develop the solutions to workplace problems.”

These employer-led initiatives followed findings which put the UK’s management skills behind its global competitors, such as the US and France. This is due to the “long tail” of poorly managed businesses. David Woodhead, Managing Director of Robert Woodhead, one of the companies taking part in the projects, comments that: “We have had great feedback from our training programme and have learned as much about how to work with our supply chain as they have learned about how to work with us.  

We are on a journey to improve our systems and methods of working to improve our efficiencies. I am sure that our supply chain will reciprocate. And this greater understanding will increase trust, and trust will be the foundation of the future”. Jon West, Director, Manufacturing HR & Employee Relations at Jaguar Land Rover, another employer involved in the initiative states: “This project has made a significant contribution to our relationships with suppliers.  We are delighted with the impact it is having on their capability to respond in quantity and quality to the needs of Jaguar Land Rover’s continuing growth.”

UKCES published findings from the initiative which demonstrate: Management and leadership skill development programmes, which are tailored to the needs of managers in supply chain businesses, are preferred to a ‘one size fits all’ training; Benefits to supply chain businesses come not just from direct training, mentoring or coaching, but from the increased contact, especially face-to-face contact, with managers from the prime organisation and other supply chain businesses; Running a skills diagnostic to identify areas for improvement allows for clear measurement of the success of initiatives, as well as building a strong business case for change. By delivering these pilots, primes and supply chain businesses have reflected on their own needs and come to realise that they are often greater than realised at first. Whilst capability has grown, so too has awareness of the level of need.

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