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Attracting the right talent – procurement’s image problem

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Expert Opinion
June 29, 2020

Effective procurement is vital to the success of every business, from start-ups to a multinational, but as a profession it has faced a challenge in attracting the best talent. It’s not just that bright graduates don’t want to work in procurement; it’s not even on their radar.

At a recent roundtable with industry thought leaders, one CPO said that just using the word ‘Procurement’ turns people off as a career option. Often, people perceive it as just as pen-pushers focussing on sourcing or purchasing process rather than strategic elements such as building robust supply chains and helping to deliver complex projects. Procurement is not just about saving cost, it’s about building collaborative working relationships, and reducing supply chain risk to ensure the enduring success of the business.

In short, when it comes to attracting talent, procurement has an image problem.

It’s all about image

Presently, the importance of procurement and robust supply chains are taking centre stage in the current pandemic.  From ensuring that Personal Protective Equipment reaches our key workers on the front line to ensuring that manufacturing can rapidly build and deploy ventilators, procurement is in the news.

Procurement has gone from being an unseen function to the centre of political debates, opprobrium and scrutiny.  Daily questions from the media and politicians focus on the role of procurement in ensuring we have the goods and services to fight Covid-19.

For consumers, the importance of robust supply chains and good procurement has become visible in our everyday lives. Whilst giants like Amazon decried the challenge of the current situation as being like ‘Christmas shopping season every day’, consumers have suddenly discovered the relevance of procurement in their lives as they struggle to find toilet roll or hand sanitiser.

In turn this presents a significant opportunity for the industry to highlight the real value that procurement presents not just as a career but as a means to support society as a whole. Ultimately it is procurement that will help protect healthcare professionals and ensure that we continue to get food and medicine in this extraordinary time.

The participants at our roundtable all agreed that the millennial and generation Z workforce want to work for organisations that have strong values, aligned with their own. The best candidates seek companies that have a strong corporate purpose, act responsibly with a range of stakeholders and have a positive impact on society and the environment.

While recent changes may prove useful for highlighting the existence and value of procurement, there is still a lack of understanding of it as a profession rather than merely a “job”.

Changing the approach

One approach is to recruit from across other functions and divisions within a business and to send people back into the business from the function. Jet2 has had real success ‘importing’ people into procurement from other functions, and then ‘exporting’ them back a few years later. With the experience they gain, they become strong advocates for the department, which in turn helps the function to build its network and influence.

Another effective route to the talent pipeline is to get procurement included on the graduate rotation, where graduates work across a wide range of functions. Most graduates soon learn that procurement is different to what most people imagine, and it can provide a unique perspective on the real “guts” of an organisation. This is exactly how I got into the profession, having had little to no awareness of it prior to my graduate scheme.

There is a lot to be learned

The gap between the perceived image and the skills you develop from a career in Procurement & Supply Chain is vast. The function allows one to gain an understanding of many different industries very quickly. Furthermore, critical skills such as senior stakeholder management, commercial and contractual intelligence, understanding of critical operations, and change management are developed, all of which are highly transferable and applicable to a multitude of careers.

It is a career which allows you to make a significant contribution to an organisation’s purpose and a real difference to the bottom line. The modern procurement function has a great deal to offer and like all sourcing challenges, it needs to secure the best quality product – in this case, people. It needs to think creatively and look at new ways of ‘importing’ talent.

With procurement now firmly in the headlines, there may never be a better time to attract the best people.

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