Prepared for a test of motor skills

27 April 2005
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28 April 2005

With so many jobs lost at Rover, David Arminas asks how the company's purchasers can find positions in other sectors that will value their experience

Around 100 purchasers at MG Rover face an uncertain future as they hunt for employment after the collapse of the Midlands carmaker.

The job market itself looks bleak, and the losses come as something of a double whammy as dozens of Rover suppliers are also shedding staff because of the closure.

Where can they go, the purchasers ask, when nobody wants their skills, which they claim are not easily transferable?

Bryan Duggan, head of recruitment at consultancy PMMS, says companies in the services sector will not take people with only experience of production buying. "You cannot get firms to accept that the switch can be made."

Duggan adds MG Rover training is among the best in the UK. In addition, its employees worked in all areas and all categories - not just in production - so they are very well rounded employees.

However, manufacturing in general is shrinking in the UK. "The consequence is that the labour market is already over-populated with product buyers. One hundred purchasers on the market is a lot at any time. If they have only been doing production purchasing, they are going to be the ones who might struggle."

He adds there has been a lot of growth in the services sector, where purchasing can be more complex.

"When you are buying a product component it is straightforward to see if it is up to standard or not. But if you are buying a service such as management consultancy, how do you assess it as a buyer? If they have had experience of services buying they should be able to slip into a job in any industry."

There are, however, examples of buyers making the switch. David Loseby, commercial director at Zenith Vehicle Contracts, a fleet management firm, says companies looking for purchasers should not automatically exclude those with only manufacturing category experience.

He agrees switching sectors is less a problem for indirect goods buyers. A category buying background in manufacturing can be a problem if they have been there a long time.

"But even in category buying, purchasers should be able to construct an analysis around data and derive options and strategies

for buying," he says. "These skills are transferable to any purchasing function. But the purchasers must ensure they keep their skills up to date, especially around general communication and change management."

It worked for Zenith, he says. A year ago, the company took on two automotive category buyers from Ford and Nissan - they are now purchasing managers. One had been a category buyer for 12 years and both were in their early to mid-30s.

He says the time for buyers to move on is when they are thinking more about their company's rules, processes and policies and less about why they are buying something.

"The women we hired knew that if they stayed in the same job any longer they would be dinosaurs."

But David Foster, senior buyer at Bentley Motors and a former MG Rover purchaser, is less positive: "You'll find jobs in IT and other sorts of services buying but traditional production buying jobs are becoming more and more scarce.

"The chances of the MG Rover purchasing staff finding a full-time job in the automotive sector are, I would say, fairly low because there are no vacancies. They may get work in contract purchasing though."

There are still a lot of transitional jobs out there in all sectors, says Bob Gregson, formerly UK purchasing manager at Swedish mining and quarry equipment manufacturer Svedla. People in these low-level roles don't usually get time off to go to a college. And their company may not pay for any tuition.

"What's needed is a CIPS-accredited, internet-based self-taught programme that teaches low-level purchasers to think analytically," says Gregson, now a business relationship manager at regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.

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