Make purchasing attractive

30 November 2009

3 December 2009 | News focus, Carly Chynoweth 

The latest SM100 poll reveals how procurement is failing to appeal to potential entrants. The profession needs to work on its image, reports Carly Chynoweth

From a young age, most kids aspire to become racing car drivers or ballerinas, perhaps doctors. But how many dream of a career in procurement?

Adam Smith, purchasing and logistics manager at Morgan Technical Ceramics, knows one. But that child is his six-year-old. “Apart from my son, who is still young enough to think his dad’s job is amazing, I have never heard any youngsters aspire to be purchasers when they grow up,” says Smith, who is one of the 35 stars of purchasing highlighted in this issue.

This lack of appeal to young people underpins the results of the latest SM100 poll, which found two-thirds of buyers believe the profession is poor at attracting talent. So, just what should it be doing to address this?

The first step is acknowledging the huge strides already made, says Andrew Daley, director of specialist procurement consultancy Edbury Daley. “Ten years ago the profession had a much lower profile, but the rise of CIPS qualifications and other specialist courses have helped show people it is a career that offers significant development,” he says.

While ambitious graduates want to move up the corporate ladder, they also look for careers that are challenging, interesting and aligned with their values. Highlighting procurement’s increasing influence in tackling environmental issues through sustainable purchasing and CSR would help here, says Saj Jetha, managing director of graduate recruitment marketing consultancy The Smarty Train.

Daley thinks big corporates should draw attention to the purchasing elements of their general management traineeships. “In the past, if you wanted to do something like marketing you found out about it through these big companies’ training programmes, but then looked at other opportunities in the field as well.” This could work just as well with procurement, he says.

But graduates are not the only option – purchasing could also poach staff from disciplines such as finance or sales, which could help strengthen its commercial savvy. But Paul Baker, senior procurement manager at O2, argues this may devalue the profession, because it implies that anyone can do it.

On the flip side, procurement can provide a foot in the door to other commercial and leadership positions – a factor the profession would do well to advertise to prospective entrants.

According to many respondents, promoting purchasing as a career should start much earlier. CIPS is leading the way by developing a curriculum for youngsters, but Mandy Newman, consultant and education representative on the CIPS council, says the onus is on existing professionals to “provide the stimulus, sparking their imagination and encouraging them to take up those opportunities”.

Failing all else, there’s always the lure of television. Daley suggests getting a procurement professional onto BBC’s The Apprentice. “A bright young thing from purchasing could do very well and show just how much business knowledge they have,” he says.

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