Sometimes a job traditionally overlooked by many can be turned on its head due to the political, economic or social narrative of the day.
In finance, the financial crisis meant that after years of traders running the show, it was the compliance officers’ turn to become the rock stars of the corporate world. Demand from investment banks soared as their practices came under the microscope of law enforcement and regulators and compliance officers’ pay was frequently cited as among the fastest growing across the board, with some reportedly being offered $1 million base salaries.
Now, in retail — as well as in a plethora of other industries — it looks like it could be sourcing professionals’ turn in the spotlight thanks to the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.
While searching for manufacturers around the world has always been an integral part of retail and brand building, those jobs have not always been the most sought after or talked about as companies plowed millions of dollars into their digital strategies in the Amazon-era and started to promote those involved in that side of the business to the c-suite.
In the last few months, that has begun to change as the U.S. under President Donald Trump is increasingly using tariffs to assert its power on the world stage, sending retailers in a tailspin as they attempt to reconfigure their supply chains and reduce their decades-long dependence on China in order to shelter themselves from soaring costs.
As a result, many major publicly listed companies have been forced to address levies and supply chains in earnings calls. Even those that don’t have much China exposure can’t relax as Trump threatens a raft of other countries, including Vietnam and Mexico, with increased duties, meaning the importance of supply chain officers has skyrocketed.
“In many organizations these have not necessarily been top-of-mind jobs and that may be changing,” said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at job site Indeed.
“It’s similar to in D.C. where for a really long time if you told someone that you work in trade or trade policy or sourcing then we just kind of look at you and say, ‘That’s so boring.’ And then over the last few years that’s looked a little different.”
The increased interest in sourcing professionals is already showing up in the jobs data. Indeed found that the number of postings for sourcing or supply jobs across all industries has increased by 15 percent this year, compared to the averages in 2018 and 2017, as the administration’s rhetoric has gotten stronger.
In addition to supply chain jobs, there’s also been more postings for jobs like trade analyst or tariff compliance.
“That speaks to the ways in which companies are really starting to staff up for this long-term management of trade tensions,” Gimbel added.
She thinks the change has come in the past few months after a deterioration in U.S.-China relations forced businesses to take the trade threat more seriously.
At the beginning of the year, many had thought that China and the U.S. would have settled their differences by now, but talks fell apart in May, and the two sides unleashed more tariffs on each other.
And while the U.S. has put its proposed tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese imports on hold as it once again restarts negotiations with China, some bystanders have warned that it’s likely they could be put back on the table in the next few months as neither side has indicated willingness to provide major concessions.
The U.S. has also widened its threat beyond China, eyeing Europe, as well as Mexico and Vietnam, when it last week released an additional list of European items it intends to target. That list did not include apparel and footwear — at least for now.
“What’s really interesting here is these conversations aren’t new. We’ve been hearing this rhetoric for a while now, but I think many of us have this sense that something has shifted in the last few months and we’re certainly seeing that in how companies are starting to hire,” said Gimbel.
But, according to Mary Gallagher, an associate at recruitment firm Martens & Heads, it’s not just trade spats that are driving the change.
She told WWD that consumers’ increased focus on sustainability has also ratcheted up the pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains are environmentally friendly and socially conscious.
“It’s from an economic point of view, but it’s also from a social point of view because brands are having to really up their game on sustainability and transparency and that is something that used to be only about margins or quotas,” she said.
“It’s now what’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds. The need for a new supply chain or adding to your supply chain has been shifted by more than just the margins and the quotas and really by who is making my clothes. How much are they getting paid, are their working conditions safe, is it sustainable, ethical and is it transparent?”
As for whether this increase in demand will result in big salary gains like it did for compliance officers, sourcing professionals may not want to put a down payment on that mansion just yet.
“I think it’s way too soon to tell where sourcing professionals salaries are going to go,” concluded Indeed’s Gimbel.