Looking for new pastures

Gurjit Degun
11 August 2014

14 August 2014 | Gurjit Degun

With a predicted upturn in the job market, now could be the time to consider switching sectors, finds Gurjit Degun.

As the economy  
recovers from the recession, the job market also begins to see more movement. Research from recruiter Robert Walters last month found permanent procurement and supply chain jobs could be set to increase, as 63 per cent of surveyed employers say they are prioritising such positions.

Such results hint there will be more activity in the private sector over the coming months. Rupert Gaster, director at recruiter Procurement Heads, believes austerity in the public sector is driving people to consider private sector roles. “It’s fairly common that people who approach me from the public sector say that they would like to consider something in the private sector,” he says.

“I think the austerity measures of the last few years have made it a tough place to be but also a number of the people in the public sector probably came from private sector backgrounds and as that working environment has become tougher, the perception is that the grass is greener in the private sector.”

One buyer, who has moved back to the private sector after being made redundant from the NHS, adds: “I think it’s gone back to more jobs being offered in the private sector now. We are perhaps coming out of the downturn and procurement skills are valued whereas in the public sector there’s been the need to make cuts and that’s perhaps hit procurement departments indiscriminately.”

John Belza, commercial adviser at the Department for International Development (DFID), who moved into the public sector in 2000, explains it’s common for people to move between the sectors in times of hardship.

“There are those who move to the public sector at times of less procurement work in the private sector,” he says. “This was very noticeable during the recession when there appeared to be a number of people coming in from the banking sector and others from large retail organisations who may not normally have considered joining the public sector.”

An example of this is Henry Swan, head of procurement at Kent County Council. He took on his current role around three years ago because “the construction industry was crashing through the floor and I could see it wasn’t going to be a happy few years ahead”.

He also believes that the best public sector organisations will be investing in procurement to help with cost-cutting measures. “People do go where the opportunities are,” he explains. “The market is a bit more buoyant so I think some people will be moving back to the private sector, but I also think that even though councils are going through a hard time the clever ones are realising that procurement is something they should invest in to generate savings so they’re prepared to keep people in.”

This is something that Louise Gapp, senior business manager/brand manager at Reed Procurement and Supply Chain, has noticed. She says the public sector is “trying to get skills from the private sector”. “The vision has changed to ‘we need fresh blood’,” 
she explains. “I think 
they are looking to liven things up and bring in 
some new skills.”

Linda Todd, business manager for Hays, has also picked up on the trend. She says there is a “large increase” in people moving to the public sector, compared with three to five years ago.

“The public sector is reaching out to the private sector to attract commercial talent that can add strength and diversify the skill set of procurement teams,” she says. Todd adds that the most “in demand” candidates are those with a mixture of private and public sector experience.

So a move either way is beneficial, but it can be difficult to get into a new sector. For example, a private sector candidate may have little or no experience of working with the EU procurement directives.

“Joining the public sector was a cultural change and, if I am honest, it was a shock to the system,” explains Belza. “It took me months to understand the EU procurement directives had to be applied to public sector procurements. You have to ensure public sector work is non-discriminatory, does not hinder freedom of establishment and has to be totally transparent.”

But Swan says a lack of knowledge of the EU rules need not be a hindrance. “There’s a lot of grey within those rules, and it’s about understanding them and perhaps pushing them a little bit,” he says.

“A lot of people are breaking the rules on a regular basis and don’t even know they are doing so. It almost makes it easier because once you’ve learnt them, that’s it, they only change now and then.”

Gapp believes this is the mindset more public sector employers are taking on. She says that the public sector is becoming more flexible and open to training people on 
EU laws.

Neil Morgan, manager of procurement recruitment at Robert Walters, believes that moving into the private sector can prove to be a greater challenge. “It is still difficult if you work in the public sector to make that change into the private sector,” he says. “Companies have become more specific in what they want in terms of a candidate for a specific role.

“I think where people can transfer is where it all comes down to the person. If you’ve got someone who’s got a very strong transformation background and has driven processes before, then it probably gives them a bit more of an edge.”

The anonymous private sector buyer adds the accuracy in which public sector practitioners are required to work can be very valuable to the private sector. 
“To be able to bring the rigour of constructing an argument and the weighted criteria and put that back into the private sector, works very well,” he says. “That is something which I hadn’t done in my previous private sector roles.”

When recruiting in the private sector, he says if he comes across someone with a purely public sector background he looks for “some evidence they have some drive and intellectual curiosity of their own, that they look beyond simply knowing how to do the job and executing it legally”.

Swan adds the private sector could also benefit from the experience public sector candidates have with e-sourcing.

“They need to show they are not just about EU laws, know about strategy and the latest technologies,” he explains. “In some things, the public sector is more advanced because they use e-sourcing a lot more than in the private sector and it’s about looking at those strengths.”

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