Once viewed as a largely administrative, operational role, procurement is now more commonly seen as a strategic function that has a significant impact on an organisation’s bottom line.
Consequently, companies are increasingly realising the true value of the profession and looking to recruit and retain the best people. But without universal, well-established, career paths to senior level, hirers may struggle to build the teams that they desire.
Succession planning is a topic often discussed but rarely implemented. Development plans don’t necessarily lead to advancement into existing roles. Studies have predicted staff turnover in the UK will increase to 18 per cent by 2018. The reality we must all accept is that people will come and go, more so than at any other time in history. The key is to seize the inevitable changes, minimise the risks surrounding them, and maximise the opportunity.
Over the past five years the trend has been to hire experience, and the procurement discipline needs to start thinking about how to attract brand new talent. By bringing in professionals at a junior level, leaders can develop specific skills and best practice approaches to future-proofing their team through considered succession planning.
Decision makers can lower turnover by not only ensuring salaries are competitive in the market, but also providing opportunities for their team to genuinely take on more responsibility and develop.
Advances in best practice and an emphasis on total cost of ownership, have not only impacted skill sets, but have also emphasised a need for some experience in the specific sector that a business operates in. Innovation is also more important than ever before. An innovative procurement team enables the businesses to focus on core competencies, leverage external exposure and work with greater technological complexity.
In a complex, fast-changing environment, contracting and relationships can be important at different times – and top procurement professionals understand which lever is appropriate in any given situation. With this in mind, hirers must look not only at technical ability, but also emotional intelligence, if they are to truly source the best talent.
I think it is fair to say procurement hasn’t previously been a ‘chosen’ career path and the transition into the role is usually an organic one. Professionals typically move from a complementary discipline such as finance or commercial, but this is beginning to change.
An increase in higher education courses designed to meet the needs of the sector, such as the MSc in Strategic Procurement Management offered by the University of South Wales and the University of Birmingham’s MBA in Strategy and Procurement Management - are indicative of the ‘professionalisation’ of the sector.
But while these programmes will no-doubt assist in developing best practice, it is essential that leaders spot star talent at junior level - and invest in developing these people to pipeline our future leaders. Training and development opportunities such as the short courses offered by CIPS, as well as parallel training in areas such as branding and psychology could be used as tools when succession planning.
An organisation’s profitability can hinge on the decisions of procurement professionals, and increasingly sophisticated models of procurement have raised the bar for the talent necessary to sustain growth. The profession is evolving, and senior leaders must adapt quickly to ensure they build effective and efficient teams for the future.
☛ Paul Young is a specialist in procurement at Capita Professional Recruitment