How clear is the path towards a career in procurement?

Published: 18 August 2014

With the A level results released this week it took me back to the time in my life when exam results meant the world me; feeling like your whole career and future happiness hinged on that letter dropping through the letterbox. Thankfully with age comes experience and I know all those students this week, whether their grades are slightly better than they expected or indeed not quite what they were hoping for, will all find a path in life.

I was however wondering how many will find a path into a career in procurement? I recall several years ago listening to the then CIPS President Peter Rushton telling a story about how his son’s class were having a careers guidance discussion and the question went up asking the students what their parents did – upon answering that his father was a Procurement Director, he then had to explain to the careers guidance officer what procurement was?

Herein lies the challenge our profession faces; how can we make our profession more visible, to ensure we are capturing the raw talent capable of becoming tomorrow’s next CPO?

Having embarked on a career in recruitment 13 years ago and by chance at the same time specialising in procurement and supply chain management, I joined a market with manufacturing still enjoying a relatively buoyant period. Manufacturing and in particular automotive, has developed a number of Best Practice tools and techniques that are used widely within the procurement community to this very day. We also had the tech boom around the millennium with a number of electronic based manufacturing businesses dotted throughout the country. All of these businesses had significant procurement teams all taking on board graduates straight into a defined procurement programme. Procurement within manufacturing, unlike in the service sector, is far more crucial and engrained as a business critical function. I would be willing to wager that a significant number of CPOs today have a manufacturing background.

Whilst we are seeing a small renaissance in British manufacturing, particularly on the hi-tech side and one or two other high profile examples, Jaguar Land Rover for example; a significant number of business have downsized, departed the UK or even gone under. While this is part of an ever changing competitive world, it has, as a consequence, slashed the number of graduates entering our profession via the manufacturing route. 

We have however seen the service sector progress dramatically over the past decade or so, but questions still remain over the overall perception of procurement in the service sector – should it remain in house or just be outsourced - something that would be largely unheard of in production purchasing.

At a recent round table discussion I attended with a dozen or so CPOs, a key concern for them in the next 12-18 months was talent management. With the economic outlook looking more positive, we are seeing a rise in recruitment activity; which is refreshing to see given the past 4-5 years, however the market is still candidate shy, and like the well-publicised shortage of qualified engineers, I feel our profession could well be heading in the same direction.

I know the CIPS are trying to address this point it’s something that David Noble has spoken about, however we all bear a certain degree of responsibility to help publicise our profession to those about to embark on a career. This reminded me of a great quote I saw on Linkedin early this month, by the likeable American actor, writer and director Kevin Spacey: I feel it's a responsibility for anyone who breaks through a certain ceiling ... to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift”.

Procurement is a fantastic career option – how many other roles within a business have such wide reaching, commercial exposure within a company. The ability to travel, engage with stakeholders at various levels within an organisation, undertake negotiations with business critical suppliers, award multi-million pound contracts and work with the suppliers to reduce risk and develop new innovative products  – surely this is far more exciting and stimulating that some other professions that we compete with at a graduate level?

We all need to, dare I say it, SELL our profession more to those 20-somethings.

Richard Guest is a Consultant in the Supply Chain & Procurement Practice at Berwick Partners

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