A company is only as good as its employees, but finding good talent has gotten harder and harder.
Staffing has emerged as a serious issue for the fashion industry and its supply chain partners. Not only has the labor market evolved, but hiring managers need to find more creative and compelling ways to recruit, and retain, the next generation of industry leaders.
In “What’s Going on with Talent and Staffing,” presented at Sourcing Journal’s Global Outlook Conference, Angelica Leung, head of consumer products, Invest Hong Kong; Tracy Mok, associate professor, Institute of Textiles and Clothing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and Craig Rowley, senior client partner, global consulting firm Korn Ferry, dug deep into the why’s and what now’s of talent and staffing shortages in a panel discussion moderated by Rebecca Goldberg, vice president, strategy and business development, Sourcing Journal.
The pandemic created the perfect staffing storm. Many retailers that cut staff in 2020 are now scrambling to fill jobs (retail sales surged 14 percent in 2021 compared to the usual 4 or 5 percent), while those with current jobs are restless. “Over 50 percent of people in our research are willing to change jobs,” said Korn Kerry’s Rowley, noting that remote work has expanded job options exponentially. “That has had tremendous impact on facilitating the Great Resignation, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.”
The pandemic’s push into e-commerce has also created a skill disconnect. While e-comm was 10 percent of retail revenue in 2010, it’s now 21 percent, with some retailers selling as much as 35 to 50 percent of their products online. That means overhauling online design, systems, fulfillment and analytics, then finding employees with matching skill sets for both today and tomorrow.
To help, Hong Kong Polytechnic University just launched a secondary major for all undergraduate programs, where students, regardless of their major in fashion, engineering, business, arts or design, can choose additional training in AI, data analytics and entrepreneurship. “This reflects the needs from the student as well as the industry,” said Mok, who adds that students are not only taking more initiative to learn, but are ready to use the new technology to contribute to the industry in a creative way.”
Invest Hong Kong’s Leung sees the shift into digital fabrics and digital showrooms, even heading into the Metaverse or NFT fashion, as exciting opportunities for new and traditional skills. “Hong Kong has a whole ecosystem of university students being trained in digital fashion, but there’s also a talent pool containing factory experience, QC experience, production line experience. That offers an advantage,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot more activity in the digital side in the last one or two years, but the whole range is important.”
‘A strong sense of purpose’
Job applicants want to contribute to the industry in a meaningful way, and companies should spell out how they can. Take the rise in 3D technology, for example. While interesting and creative, skilled applicants need to know they’re also helping a company speed up product development and create more sustainably and economically. “Young applicants are checking on a company’s initiative and investment in this area,” Mok said. “The whole generation has a very strong sense of purpose.”
To attract the conscious employee, companies need to ask themselves, What’s my employment brand? How do we handle diversity and sustainability? “This is all very important to these applicants, who are checking out your social responsibility page after your job listings page,” Crowley said.
With such fierce competition to find, hire and keep the best and brightest talent, companies must think outside the box. Leung encourages Hong Kong sourcing companies not just to hire from the market, but rather to build in-house training programs that rotate student graduates through different parts of the sourcing and supply chain.
Another solution is to search beyond the industry. “Look for those in computer science, advanced materials, engineering, nanotechnologies,” she said. “Sourcing companies need to sell themselves a bit more to present themselves as an attractive career. Do they help make food waste into textiles? Do they specialize in garment-to-garment recycling? There’s a whole ecosystem in sourcing, textiles and supply chain that young people are not thinking about.”