Approaching Talent Challenges Through a Sustainability Lens

When people talk about “sustainable manufacturing,” they typically focus on the products being made and the processes used to make them. Not surprising given that the standard definition of sustainable manufacturing is “the creation of manufactured products that use processes that are non-polluting, conserve energy and natural resources, and are economically sound and safe for employees, communities and consumers.”

But there’s an equally important sustainability component: the people who design and make those products and who develop and execute those processes. Having a strategy in place to ensure your company can recruit, develop and retain highly skilled employees is critical.

Fortunately, there’s a proven strategy designed to help employers build scalable, sustainable pipelines of talent that uses tools and methods already familiar to manufacturers. It’s called Talent Pipeline Management (TPM).

Not Your Father’s TPM

Not to be confused with Total Productive Maintenance, which is a holistic approach to equipment maintenance that emphasizes proactive and preventative upkeep, this TPM applies a traditional supply chain management approach to create and strengthen sustainable flows of talent for individual or groups of employers.

This new TPM, first developed in 2014 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and continually improved since then, provides a framework, strategies, tools and even curriculum and training for addressing talent issues through building sustainable talent supply chains.

Talent as a Supply Chain

For a more complete exploration of Talent Pipeline Management than we have room for in this article, visit But let’s briefly dive into approaching talent and the “skills gap” from a supply chain management frame of reference.

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Every company that makes and/or sells a product is part of a supply chain that starts at the point of obtaining something in its raw, undeveloped state and ends with something that has been transformed through one or more value-adding processes.

Successful manufacturers spend a good deal of time and internal resources identifying and building relationships with suppliers they can rely on to obtain the production inputs they need, in the quantities and timeframes needed, and at the best possible price. The best of the best have strong supplier development programs to work collaboratively with their most critical suppliers to improve those suppliers’ capabilities.

Compare that to the approach employers have historically taken to finding talented people to hire. Job fairs, classified ads and traditional staffing services have their place but relying solely on them is the equivalent of placing ads that say “Needed: Steel and Aluminum” and praying that someone responds.

Where to Begin?

The diagram on page 20 lays out a template for re- envisioning talent as a “value stream.” This value stream map progresses from left to right, with organizations and programs that provide career awareness, exploration, preparation and training as suppliers. The employer also has defined roles but the diagram also indicates that the employer’s responsibilities extend back into the supplier roles, through direct engagement with the suppliers, their programs and the individuals they’re serving.

So where can you start? As with many journeys, start by asking some questions. Do you have critical jobs that are hard to fill? Think about your current great employees in those positions. Where did they come from? What educational/training programs gave them the skillsets that make them a great fit for your company’s needs? Do you have a direct relationship with those programs? Can you work with them to build a strong supplier relationship?

And once you’ve added those “Tier 1 suppliers” to your talent supplier network, it’s time to ask where are they getting the best and brightest individuals who are enrolling in the programs relevant to you? Rinse and repeat…and, before you know it, your company will have a scalable, flexible talent supply chain.


Bill RaylBill Rayl
Executive Director of Workforce Solutions
Call 517-487-8513