We must attract young talent and future-proof their skill sets

12 October 2018

There's work to do to show how far you can go in procurement

The results of the Supply Management CPO careers survey are a great guide for ambitious young procurement professionals with aspirations to progress into leadership roles. Getting a breadth and depth of experience and skills both within and outside procurement will make you stand out from the crowd when you are ready to take that step into management. It comes as no surprise that 79% of the CPOs surveyed have worked outside procurement, and 35% of those within general management roles. This certainly reflects my own experience. 

Personally, I feel that the time spent early on in my career both on the shop floor and with customers, as well as general management experience later on, made the move into leadership roles much more credible. My first job was in manufacturing, which gave me a real insight into the importance of procurement and supply. Throughout my 11 years at Mars I had a variety of roles in procurement, sales and logistics; I learnt a tremendous amount about how different departments interconnect, how to build relationships with stakeholders and where procurement can add the most value. Experience outside procurement gives you a wider perspective on the business and greater credibility with your peers. I would highly recommend anyone to take up opportunities to work in another function, even if a secondment.

Hopefully businesses will continue to see the benefit of moving people around to gain experience elsewhere in the business. Graduate rotations are common, but it would be good to see more of these at all levels as part of an employee’s professional development plan.

What is clear from the survey is that procurement-specific skills are not a recruitment or development issue for procurement leaders, but the softer skills which are gained more effectively from working in other departments are still the hardest to find. 

I saw this issue over 25 years ago when I left Mars, so it’s certainly not a new problem, and some have cracked it. Giving your team the space to spend time with other departments and explore the wider business will certainly help hone those influencing and communication skills. Our survey revealed that the senior management roles were the hardest to recruit (51% said very hard) making the development opportunities at this level even more important.

With 99% of respondents saying that if necessary they would recruit from outside the profession, it is crucial that we attract young talent into procurement at an entry level, and set out a development plan for them that will future-proof their skill sets to be tomorrow’s leaders. 

Procurement is a great grounding for any graduate or apprentice wanting to get into business without being sure where to specialise. I was astounded as a young man working in procurement, being responsible for multi-million pound contracts and working with just about every department in the company. Anecdotally we hear that most people fall into procurement and our results of this survey reinforce that – hopefully this is starting to change. CIPS has worked hard over the past six years with the Profession of Choice campaign encouraging young people to consider procurement as a career choice, rather than stumbling upon it. 

The #ibuy website features case studies of young people in charge of large budgets buying interesting things for interesting organisations. The team at CIPS have developed mini-workshops, competitions and presentations for CIPS members to engage with young people. Volunteers across the globe have downloaded our student resources and gone into schools to inspire the next generation of procurement professionals. We have also run campaigns with careers advisors whose knowledge of the profession can often be quite limited.

I would urge you all to download a pack from the website and get in touch with a school in your area to enlighten young people about the exciting career opportunities that procurement can bring. 

I would also like to personally thank the CPOs and procurement leaders who gave up their time to complete the survey. I am sure you have helped to inspire our leaders of the future.

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