Buying bad at selling the job

29 November 2009

3 December 2009 | Carly Chynoweth

Two-thirds of buyers believe the procurement profession is poor at getting the brightest and best to work in purchasing and supply chain management.

Asked whether the function does a good job of attracting talent, 67 per cent of respondents to the latest SM100 poll said “no”.

A major barrier is that young people do not know what procurement is or what a purchasing career involves, said many buyers, including Nigel Coghlan, purchasing manager at Itron Metering Solutions UK.

“People think of it as placing orders and chasing suppliers for deliveries. When I explain that I travel all over the world and have a strong influencing role in multimillion pound deals they are amazed,” he said.

Lack of awareness of procurement among graduates filters down from the common misconceptions of the role of buyers within companies. “Despite all the rhetoric, procurement is still seen as a secondary function within the vast majority of organisations, so it fails miserably when it comes to attracting the best candidates,” one buyer commented.

Another said: “Will procurement ever be a popular career for graduates? For most firms, almost certainly not. Until organisations realise how an effective procurement department can show positive methods of increasing profitability, no graduates should even consider a move into procurement.”

Failing to attract high-calibre candidates “means we will face a broad skills shortage in the future”, said Martin Toomey, commercial manager at the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce. While positions may not be left unfilled, it is about the quality of the candidates applying, he added.

Prospective procurement professionals may be put off by the jargon, said Steve Taylor, purchaser at JMC Aquatics.

“Anyone wishing to consider our field as a career would need to take a week’s training course on ‘buyer speak’ just so they could understand what we were on about,” he said. “No wonder we complain that other departments don’t consider what we have to say – either they can’t understand us or we have bored them to sleep!”

But not all respondents were quite so gloomy. Procurement can and does attract the right talent – as long as it offers pay and grade schemes in line with the finance and legal professions, one buyer said.

Another was equally positive. “One of the reasons procurement is able to attract talent is because salaries are now attractive for graduates and there are a number of board-level roles for ambitious individuals to aspire to, as well as the potential to travel to exotic locations on supplier visits,” she said.

Prashant Bhojani, IT procurement manager at spread betting firm IG Index, agreed that the profession draws top candidates, but said there is room for purchasing to “sell itself” even more.

“The main issue is that we are portrayed only as price negotiators, and in general anyone can negotiate an improvement on price if there is a capacity for it,” he said. “Procurement needs to sell the added benefits we bring to the table.”  

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