The Challenge of Making Procurement Careers Enticing

Over the next few weeks undergraduates across the country will be sitting their finals and setting themselves up for the next stage of their lives with careers in differing fields. A few may become Procurement professionals but it is doubtful that many would have considered it as their career of choice. Indeed it seems that the old mantra for Procurement careers still holds true – it is very much something that people fall in to.

Clearly there is more to be done to market ourselves to students across the country. After all although Procurement may not have quite the same allure to it as Investment Banking, salaries are on par with functions such as finance and HR and the level of exposure possible to young graduates is well beyond the norm, helped by the quick progression of procurement up the value chain.

CEOs expect far more of procurement than they did 5 years ago. They have challenges on their agenda such as raw material price volatility, pressure on profits, increasing risks and a need to innovate and become more sustainable. Procurement is well placed to lead on these challenges and CPOs are being asked to generate cash whilst minimizing supply chain risk and leapfrogging competition.

As a result a fresh-faced procurement professional can expect to be thrown in at the deep end, with high levels of responsibility and expectation as well as the pathway for progression that such experience affords.

There are downsides to this increased level of exposure. Procurement is often in the press as an object of derision concerning issues such as payment terms, supplier treatment, working conditions and general money wasting. We have to be careful here. Procurement can’t get into a position where it takes the rap for things when they go wrong but isn’t considered as a strategically important internal function – that most definitely wouldn’t be appealing!

So what can Procurement do to move from a career choice of the desperately undecided to one which is a wilful choice?  I think the answer is twofold.

Firstly, and most importantly, Procurement has to build on the momentum gained over the last few years and truly progress from a tactical function to one with a clear position in the Boardroom and beyond that offer a true path through from entry level graduate to CEO.

There is definitely not the recognition currently that CPOs can progress on to the top role and I think it is primarily because procurement is seen as being far too risk averse. “Taking a risk, having a punt, having a go”, virtues extolled by UK PM David Cameron on his recent campaign trail, may seem slightly tacky, but are necessary for anyone wanting to make the step up to the top job. Procurement in general should adopt more of this attitude. Hiding behind process and what has gone before is limiting the perception of what Procurement can achieve.

Inwardly then Procurement still has quite a lot of headroom for improvement however we are on the right trajectory. The second challenge comes in selling ourselves to the vast swathes of students who are currently taking their skills elsewhere.

There’s no easy answer here but the fact there are only a handful of bachelor’s or master’s degrees available to students in the UK and US can’t be helping matters. It is CIPS long stated aim to licence Procurement and in the long term, if this aim is realized, I believe that will help legitimize the profession and act as a platform for change.

The time frame for such licensing is hazy though and implementing it also has its complications. In the meantime we should look to enforce the view that procurement is an integral, strategic part solving the wide challenges a business may face.

The view that procurement is simply just buying does not marry up with the function in the 21st century. The tests a buyer faces are broad and complex. From ethical dilemmas through to commercial appraisals, stakeholder conflicts and game theory the basis of being a good buyer will set you in good stead for a comprehensive range of senior roles – this is the message we need to be selling.

This is a guest post by David Hodge, a procurement consultant with a wide array of experience across numerous industries.  If you’re interested in sharing your knowledge with Procurement Sense readers please contact us.

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