Top Tips for Managing Procurement Talent

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The perception of Procurement as a bureaucratic function and an undynamic career choice with limited opportunities is a common challenge. The role and importance of the procurement function are not generally understood beyond those working in the profession nor are there defined career paths or opportunities for learning.  For these reasons, Procurement is generally not considered to be a long-term career option by graduates in the millennial generation.

A recent research report shows that companies in the South-East Asia region are still encountering stiff competition to recruit skilled and experienced talent. At the ProcureCon Asia Conference taking place in Singapore in July, Talent Management will take centre stage when Graham Crawshaw, Content Director of CASME, will host an Oxford-style debate on how to combat the talent shortage. As digital skills become more essential, it’s vital that Procurement is able to attract, retain and develop the best people. CASME shares some tips and soundbites, from its members in the Asia-Pacific region, on attracting the best procurement professionals and the future skills they will need.

Creating the Procurement Brand

Procurement is still perceived negatively in some organisations, with the department regarded as a cost centre that does not add value to the business.  To change this to a positive perception, procurement professionals and managers need to establish the brand image of Procurement within both the organisation and the wider business world.  To attract graduates and mid-career professionals, greater awareness needs to be created regarding how the procurement function delivers strategic value.  The fact that Procurement works across the business, and interacts with stakeholders in all departments, needs to be publicised to establish greater interest in a career in Procurement.

One approach suggested by CASME members is for Procurement to unite across different companies and industries to collaborate and market Procurement as an attractive career choice.  Instead of promoting Procurement individually, multiple organisations could combine their efforts into a roadshow or series of careers events at universities or colleges.  Providing educational information regarding potential career opportunities will help to attract candidates.  Undoubtedly, Procurement's profile needs to be raised to appear alongside the perception of other professional functions such as Finance or Marketing.

“In my experience, employees working in our Asian operations tend to think more highly of Procurement than their colleagues working in some other parts of the world,” said Chris Kuchel, lndirect Purchasing and Strategy Director, Ford Motor Company.  “Procurement is highly valued in China and India, for example.  Perhaps not as highly as some technology jobs, but it’s certainly valued in the broader marketplace.”

Investing time and resources in internal recruitment is an effective strategy to encourage talented people from other departments to join Procurement.  In some companies, employees are educated on Procurement’s role and contribution to the business, and internal mobility into and out of Procurement is regarded positively and actively encouraged.  This approach helps to increase knowledge of Procurement within the business, especially when people who have had some experience within Procurement move to other business units and become advocates for the department.

Procurement professionals are working hard to change the negative perception of Procurement within their organisations by engaging with stakeholders, as well as understanding and fulfilling their needs.  This helps to create visibility and demonstrate that Procurement adds value to the business and the bottom line.  Positive feedback from stakeholders can effectively promote Procurement within a company and change negative perceptions.  In recent years, some companies have successfully transformed the perception of Procurement by publicising the value it delivers through improved efficiencies and increased effectiveness, as well as cost savings.  In these particular companies, there is no shortage of talented candidates interested in joining Procurement.

Other tips suggested by CASME members for attracting talented individuals into Procurement include:

  • Providing internship opportunities, or part-time work, to give undergraduates experience in Procurement
  • Establishing two-way communication channels with talented candidates
  • Highlighting potential career paths and compensation plans
  • Working in close partnership with HR recruitment teams
  • Recruiting existing talent from within the organisation.

The talent management strategy needs to accommodate current employment trends and practices, especially important for attracting the millennial generation to join procurement. Expectations within this demographic include an increasing work/life balance with flexible options to work from home, travel opportunities and a company culture with which they can identify, as well as an attractive salary and associated benefits.

Future Procurement Skills

Procurement's talent management strategy should include consideration of the variations in business practices and structures, in order to develop a pool of talent and appropriately allocate individuals with the relevant skills and competencies to sourcing, category management or shared services teams.  Each individual should be assessed on their qualifications and skills, as well as their expertise, experience and potential.

Although selection is based on soft skills, various hard skills, such as category knowledge and analytical capabilities are beneficial for procurement professionals.  Essential soft skills include effective communication, leadership and stakeholder management, as well as influencing, facilitating and problem-solving capabilities.  The ability to learn and adapt, and a positive attitude to change, are particularly desired attributes for procurement professionals.  Soft skills are necessary for high-level value-added activities such as business partnering, business development, innovation and supplier relationship management (SRM).

Kai-Yang Lee, Head of Indirect Procurement (Southeast and South Asia), AkzoNobel commented: “The one distinct skill set that Procurement brings to the table is a proactive commercial capability to identify opportunities in the marketplace for the benefit of the organisation.” He pointed out that procurement professionals should:

  • Possess proficient financial modelling abilities to conduct a thorough total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and evaluation of proposals between tenders
  • Draft and sign contracts that protect the organisation against risk
  • Incentivise and align the suppliers to achieve the organisation’s objectives. 

“Ultimately, Procurement needs to have strong commercial acumen and an ability to engage and influence, which is the additional value they bring to the table. Otherwise their existence is not needed other than to take care of administrative duties,” added Kai-Yang-Lee.

“The number one skill requirement from my perspective, both now and in the future, is business acumen,” agreed Chris Kuchel.  “While understanding that business is likely to become more complex over time, commercial acumen is the over-riding skill which enables the procurement professional to understand the needs of the business, where to focus their efforts, and how to leverage new technologies to make better buys. Next is adaptability, and the ability to harness change rather than be negatively impacted by it. Finally, honed analytical skills are important; not to spend forever understanding every detail, but being able to focus on what’s important for achieving the best cost outcome.”

“The role of the procurement professionals has changed drastically from processing purchase orders to delivering true value to the organisation,” continued Kai-Yang Lee.  “For that to happen, Procurement must be a superb connector between the business and its stakeholders to steer them to a distinctly better outcome.  Manoeuvring the internal organisation amidst bureaucracy, emotions and egos is often far more challenging than engaging the external supply market.  Procurement professionals must possess the grit to complete any sourcing project from start to finish.”

As technological innovations, digital transformations and other changes in business continue to affect Procurement, in order to be successful, procurement professionals of the future will need to anticipate these changes and take a collaborative, flexible and innovative approach.  Recruitment should be based on the potential of individuals, together with their interpersonal skills, and procurement leaders should focus on nurturing the practical abilities of their personnel to develop and maintain a robust, functional department.

ProcureCon Asia takes place on 9-11 July in Singapore. CASME members can gain 15% discount off the prevailing rates. Contact our team for more information. 


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