The need to attract young people into procurement is more important than ever, but the profession still has room for improvement when it comes to its appeal
While the trend of people falling into procurement is changing – the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2021 says 49% of professionals actively chose to work in procurement last year – more needs to be done to demonstrate how the profession aligns with younger people’s attitudes to work-life balance, and interest in careers that make a difference in the world.
Supply Management spoke to young leaders to ask what steps can procurement take to attract talent.
'Share successes and opportunities'
Winner of the CIPS UK Young Talent award 2020, Cael Sendell-Price, is head of strategic procurement at Buckinghamshire Council, UK, and an active local magistrate, demonstrating the opportunities the profession provides the ambitious starter. However, while his journey is exemplary, his entry into the profession is far from exceptional, as he admits to “falling into procurement” after originally training as a lawyer.
Further, Sendell-Price says he wasn’t even aware of the profession while at school or university, an all too common concern today’s leaders will have to overturn. “It wasn’t something that was mentioned by career advisors when I was growing up,” he says. “We had information on jobs, like accountants or lawyers, but nothing on procurement”.
Now enjoying a rewarding career, Sendell-Price says more needs to be done to showcase success stories such as his as well demonstrating the opportunities that exist. “I was working on multi-million-pound contracts when I was 22 or 23, and I never thought I would do that when I was growing up,” he says. For Sendell-Price, the allure of procurement lies in the sheer range of its remit, spanning any industry of interest, but also the potential for professional growth and personal reward.
“I can be dealing with anything from adult social care to a highways contract, and being able to jump from one thing to another means I’m not likely to get bored,” he says. “There’s also the opportunity to deal with significant issues that have real meaning. I could be working on a contract for drugs and alcohol rehabilitation, knowing that it could save lives.”
'Re-evaluate outdated ways of working'
In stark contrast, CIPS Australasia Young Talent award winner 2020, Alice Bray, sought out a role in the profession. Now senior procurement advisor, sustainable procurement at the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency in New Zealand, she joined the profession through a government graduate trainee scheme. “What attracted me to procurement was how fundamental it is as a function to achieve good commercial outcomes, while also having the ability to create meaningful positive social and sustainable impact – you don’t have that opportunity across a lot of other sectors,” she says. “We get to be professional problem-solvers, value creators and outcome-seekers.”
Though Bray has a passion for the profession, she shares a word of caution for talent-hunters. She believes organisations need to adapt their approaches to ensure those from younger generations who enter the corporate world are not disappointed. “What I’ve seen, and also feel myself, is that a lot of people early on in their careers come into the workplace with an open mind and open heart and find the corporate world a very rigid, slow, transactional and process-heavy place,” she says.
“Flexibility and opportunities for development and challenge are critical. This is not just a procurement issue; it’s how procurement in each of our organisations aligns with shifts in global ways of working.” She urges businesses to look closely at their culture, and ask whether they are truly flexible and in-tune with evolving lifestyle needs, or whether there is a culture of working unpaid overtime - a powerful deterrent for Millennials and Gen Z.
'Aligning roles with rewarding values'
“I was in the most cliché Millennial job I could have landed: avocado buyer,” says Laura Marsden Payne, who works as a consultant at Efficio. For Payne, a broader interest in food and not procurement led to her first job, which she landed via a retailer’s graduate scheme. But once embedded in the profession, it became apparent that the opportunity to make a real difference in the world was the most enticing part about working in procurement.
“The motivating force for many Millennials is the potential to make a difference and enact change,” she says. “Procurement is uniquely placed to offer younger generations the opportunity to make a difference, through its role in selecting products and suppliers that comply with policies on sustainability, biodegradable packaging, waste, carbon emissions, fair pay, modern slavery, corruption and other issues.”
On a personal level, the ability to see the impact of her work, such as delivering tangible benefits in generating savings, became another powerful driver to remain within the profession. And this interest in tying job satisfaction to direct achievement and social value initiatives is ever-increasing in popularity with younger generations. It’s clear supply management and procurement teams, leaders and outreach programmes have more to do if they are to encourage people to choose the profession at a younger age, to promote the prominent career options and, crucially, the opportunities to make a difference at scale.
Six steps to attract young talent into procurement:
1. Build relationships and sell the organisation
Professor Richard Wilding OBE, chair of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management, believes organisations need to accept that they are in a battle for talent. They cannot expect candidates to vye for their vacancies while they remain passive, and must compete for their interest: “I know of graduates who will pull out of a selection process after the first interview because they don’t like the company.” Companies need to sell their organisation, particularly around values relating to environmental and social responsibility. It’s not uncommon for organisations to work hard at building relationships with prospective employees as the nature of the relationship has never been so important.”
2. Create clear career paths
Procurement can suffer compared with other careers by not having defined career paths, believes Payne. “In law or finance, there are clearer expectations of where one can expect to be after a given number of years, but in procurement this is less clear-cut,” she says. “Among Millennials there is often a fear of stagnating or being trapped in an unfulfilling role, so organisations need to be quite vocal in highlighting the potential for progression and the associated benefits. Young people should understand what they need to do to reach the next rung of the ladder, with key milestones, training and regular progress touchpoints in place to maintain momentum and interest.” She also advocates people engaging with other parts of the business, both horizontally across other functions but also vertically, so they have exposure to people further on in their careers. “In addition to leading to a successful procurement function, this provides young people with greater exposure across the business, including different people and departments,” she says.
3. Offer meaningful work
“In my experience, younger generations seek purpose from their work rather than just a salary,” says Zoë Wilson, head of operations at consultancy Augmentas Group. “They enjoy challenge and choice and are not afraid of change. They want meaningful work and an upwards learning curve. As the first tech-savvy generation, they seek team- based working environments and are achievement-orientated. They demand feedback and benefit from mentoring.”
4. Ensure it’s a compelling package
Salaries in procurement are generally higher than average with the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2021 citing pay rises of 5% in the past year, which is 0.8% above the UK national average. While this itself is attractive, complementing it with bonuses and targeted benefits is crucial for younger people. Home and flexible working are now seen as standard practice not benefits, and pensions, medical cover and career development are the most sought after by far, outstripping common offerings including a company car, life assurance and holiday exchange. Offering scalable benefits for workers to personalise their package to their interests and current lifestyle helps ensure packages remain rewarding.
5. Have a defined company purpose
Strong corporate social responsibility (CSR), as well as environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials, are vital to attracting Millennials and Gen Z, according to Marc Goldberg, vice-president, financial shared services, and the former global head of sourcing and procurement at Dun & Bradstreet. “We know that Millennials and junior members of the team want change,” he says.
“If organisations aren’t purpose- driven with strong CSR and ESG policies, then switched-on Millennials could potentially leave or not join the organisation in the first place. “If organisations turn their backs on these driven, focused aged groups, they’ll miss out on a whole generation of talent. This extends to other policies such as modern day slavery, diversity and inclusion, and pro-bono work.” Goldberg suggests involving young people in helping to shape policy around such topics, and enabling them to become part of the solution and future- looking strategies.
6. Target the next generation
“We work with a charity that has done research around this, and 11-to 14-year-olds can only name an average of 10 jobs, and they have never even heard of procurement or supply chain,” says Neil Clark, an interim procurement manager who heads up education liaison for CIPS South of England branch. In the longer term, procurement needs to raise its profile among younger people, he says, and “the best way to do this is to get in front of them and tell them what we do”.
When this happens, there is interest, he says, such as during a session in a local further education college. “There were 30 people and at the end of the session three people came up to talk to us,” he says. But the issue is that there is a shortage of professionals willing to take on such exercises. Clark recommends that in order to overturn a reliance on people falling into the profession, organisations and individuals need to actively push procurement to graduates, students and much younger people as part of a consistent and long-term campaign to sell the appeal of the profession.