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How procurement can attract people with different skills

Hiring talent from non-procurement backgrounds is essential to enrich and advance the profession, but how do you target – and then integrate – staff from other disciplines?

A talent shortage has been hovering over the procurement and supply chain profession for years, and shows no signs of abating. Fewer applicants and a need for new skills has ramped up competition for talent – so what can hiring managers do? Demand for high-quality candidates has grown as geopolitics, weather events, tariffs, transportation and inflation are adversely impacting and challenging every organisation, says Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University in the US.

This skills gap is increasing the rate at which companies are recruiting beyond their own field, particularly for professionals with engineering, procurement and analytical skills. “In addition to these skill sets, organisations are struggling to find experienced supply chain professionals to fill open positions,” Penfield adds.This is an issue in the UK where competition has become fierce due to a lack of top talent during a period of heavy investment, according to Jayna Kalyan, associate director of the supply chain and procurement team at recruiter Vertical Advantage.

“A lack of continuous talent coming to the UK from mainland Europe has meant hiring managers have had to be more open to less ‘traditional’ procurement candidates and are having to look more at transferable skillsets,” she says. “Most businesses are looking to transform their supply chains to be more efficient, with the costs of running businesses going up they are being squeezed to deliver bigger cost savings.”

Managers need to facilitate integration

Richard Jamison, head of procurement at accountancy firm Grant Thornton, is a powerful example of an outsider successfully transitioning into the procurement and supply chain space. He built his career in data and through other tech roles at PSA Peugeot Citroen, before moving into procurement at JLR, another car manufacturer. The move was desirable because the role of software procurement manager required specific negotiation skills, which Jamison had previously developed during his time spent in sales.

“I happened to have the right skills to be able to transfer into procurement,” says Jamison. “They wanted negotiation skills and emerging markets knowledge. I’d spent a few years in sales and had been travelling to India quite a lot, which fitted the emerging markets piece. So those skills allowed me to jump across.”

The tech element in Jamison’s skillset came later at JLR, with the result of enhancing his value and providing a wider perspective on different areas of business. “I ended up procuring complex software systems, which I could do as I’d been a programmer for three years and worked in data centres for two years. Now I’ve got a skillset that allows me to have a level conversation with those on the other side of the table,” he says.

What to consider when hiring in

Recruiting from outside of procurement can be challenging. When it comes to hiring from within an organisation, Kalyan recommends internal secondments where employees can move into a different sector to give them a holistic view of the business. “For example, someone from finance may move into supply chain for a maternity cover contract and end up staying there,” she says.

Targeting candidates from other industries is easier when employees are at the beginning of their careers but seen as less so at the more senior level, says Kalyan. “Employers could start by communicating they would be open to seeing candidates from different industries in job adverts, or post on specialist job boards, eg. finance,” she suggests.

To grab the attention of outsiders, they need to hear how compelling a career in the sector can be; it starts with job adverts which need to break away from their prescriptive nature to be more relevant to a wider pool. “Companies need to be more open to candidates who have transferable skills, with less bias when it comes to recruiting – through blind interviews, or considering candidates who don’t have a university degree,” Kalyan adds.

Penfield expands on the idea of really selling the value of working in procurement, saying this should be highly achievable given that “many current presidents and CEOs started their careers in supply”. “Articles, trade shows, podcasts, videos and recruitment efforts are all ways to overcome these challenges in bringing more people into this sector,” he says.

Hays UK&I procurement engagement director Scott Dance has seen clients develop a variety of creative ways to forge relationships with outsiders. “To find people outside of the profession, it is a case of working with a number of different partnerships, from charity partners through to colleges, and educating them on what the procurement industry is about and what a career in procurement could look like,” he says.

Jamison recommends keeping an open-minded perspective when casting a net to find candidates from beyond the sector. He says he is most focused on “the person, rather than the skills. For example, I’d rather employ somebody with communication skills than negotiation skills because I can teach negotiation skills. It’s far harder to teach communication skills”.

When it comes to integrating people from outside the sector, there are recognisable challenges. “Effectively it comes down to training, development, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policies to be more inclusive and effective communication across the business – ensuring all employees are included – whether they are working at home or in the office,” says Kalyan.

The key to successful assimilation

A powerful way of ensuring non-traditional starters are effectively integrated is to have multi-disciplinary teams working closely together as often as possible, Penfield says. “I am a proponent of having quality engineering, finance, marketing and supply chain professionals working together on a plan that works for all areas of the organisation and cascades into the larger goals and objectives of an organisation,” he says.

Nick Jenkinson, CPO of high street bank Santander UK, says in his experience, successful integration requires a number of key building blocks and enablers to be put in place. There needs to be a very clear strategy and vision that is communicated and well understood, he stresses, which should “not be open to ambiguity as this leads to interpretation – which, depending on your background and experience, can differ greatly”.

“You need to really understand the strengths and profiles you have within the team and how to get the best out of them,” he adds. “There are a variety of tools to assist this such as MBTI and Insights, but the critical element is that once you understand this, how do you divide the team into balanced groups in order to maximise the strengths available?

“Also, how do you ensure the communication approach and ways of working differ depending on the needs of personality types, such as visual people and data-driven individuals?”

Jenkinson says it’s important to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach as what has worked in one business may not work for another, and that it is critical to adapt to the culture of the organisation. “All of the above needs to be thought about and actively driven from the outset, so building them into operating models, resourcing plans and onboarding,” he says.

Ultimately, a leader’s soft skills may be brought to bear to ensure unconventional hires can be effectively recruited, assimilated and able to operate in an environment that puts their much-needed skills to best use.

There’s no harm in reaffirming that person’s worth from time to time, says Dance. “If somebody comes into the team who isn’t from a procurement background and you’re trying to integrate them, it’s about reiterating why you hired them. “For example, someone from a military background may be a bit nervous about going into a corporate procurement team – they are organised and resilient, so it is worth emphasising their qualities.”

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