How to Keep Millennials in Procurement

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Running a leading procurement organization is no longer just about attracting younger workers to supply chain and procurement careers. It’s about keeping them there.

Millennials are now the largest living generation, totaling 75 million, even overtaking baby boomers in size. By 2020, they are expected to represent 50% of the global workforce, too. But millennials, like all generations, have different characteristics and values than their predecessors, and these differences are forcing businesses to rethink not just how they attract but, more importantly, how they engage and retain millennial employees.

For supply chain and procurement organizations, this may mean making some cultural changes. According M.L. Peck, senior vice president of programs and product development at ISM, companies should be focusing on retaining millennials, if they are not already. Millennials will need to fill the increasing number of supply chain and procurement jobs left open by retiring baby boomers.

“I would say companies are worried about keeping this generation in the field, and frankly, they have to be,” she said, adding that retaining millennials will mean actively engaging them in procurement and supply chain work.

Programs like ISM and ThomasNet’s 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars Recognition program have demonstrated why supply chain and procurement careers are attractive to millennials. The jobs allow them to build and grow new relationships with suppliers, regularly challenge them to find the best vendor and best price and allow them to contribute to a company’s bottom line.

Research has also shown, however, that millennials are less likely to follow a traditional career path. They may switch jobs more often, try a new field or take longer career breaks. One report by ManpowerGroup, a workforce solution company, showed 67% of millennials plan to take significant breaks in their career, and not just to have children or take care of families. Many see themselves taking breaks to travel, relax or pursue a hobby. Another report shows millennials are always looking for a better opportunity and better pay, with more than a third of millennials in a recent survey saying they would leave a job for a salary bump of just $1,000.

All of this may not be the best news for organizations that aim for a level of consistency and continuity. What will help to keep millennials around, according to experts, is focusing on a few key aspects of business culture that this generation finds important. Things like communication, use of technology and flexibility rank high.

Communication and Collaboration

Millennials are naturally collaborative and approach tasks at work in a collaborative manner. They like communication, too, Peck said. For instance, they are not afraid to pick up the phone and call a supplier if they have a question or concern. This social nature is innate in them.

Millennials demand a certain level of communication from their employers, as well. They want regular feedback from their bosses and to know they are providing a unique value to the organization. For managers, this means more than giving their millennial employees a pat on the back once in awhile — they need to be more specific with their feedback. It means, for example, communicating how the employee helped the organization meet a certain goal, like increasing supplier diversity 5% year-over-year, according to Peck.

Desire for Change, Personal Growth

Another differentiating characteristic about millennials is that they are not as interested as previous generations in climbing the traditional career ladder, going from a junior buyer to a senior buyer, to a manager and on to procurement director, Peck said. They can be happy with lateral career moves that spark change in their daily routine or challenge them in a new way.

Career training, too, is highly valued among millennials — something Peck pointed out was a huge positive for procurement and supply chain organizations. In her experience, Peck said it can be “like pulling teeth” to encourage other generations of employees to take training courses or continue their education. With millennials, however, this isn’t a problem.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” she said, when millennials come to her to ask about a taking a training course or buying an industry book to learn more about the profession. These millennials are not seeking these opportunities solely for selfish reasons, either, she said, but to increase their value to the company they work for.

The research by Manpower Group showed how interested millennials are in professional development. Ninety-five percent of millennials surveyed said they would spend their own time or money on further career training. Forty-five percent believe improving their skills and qualifications is what it takes to reach the next job level in their career, while just 15% said it took “staying around long enough.” Additionally, the survey stated 72% of millennials said the opportunity to learn new skills was a top factor when considering a new job.

A PwC report also stated millennials highly valued the opportunity to work with coaches and mentors. Nearly 30% of millennials identified this as the top training and development opportunity they value from an employer. Collaborating with colleagues on key projects also ranked high.

Impacts on Technology

The fact that millennials are more comfortable with technology than previous generations will likely serve procurement and supply chain organizations well. But it also introduces a new set of demands to an organization, such as the demand to speed up technology adoption phases. According to Mickey North Rizza, vice president of strategic services at procurement technology solution company BravoSolution, millennials are not going to stand for an ERP implementation that takes years to complete, for example. Millennials are not looking to reinvent the spreadsheet, she said, and they don’t want to have to dig through loads of data to find the information they are looking for. They want a technology solution that instantly provides the information they need to do their job well.

“They want to get to it, they don’t want to wait for that information,” North Rizza said.

Their technology standards are higher than previous generations, and they grew up in an “on-demand world,” she added. This means millennials will likely feel bogged down by normal business practices that drag out over months. They want to be able to get something done, “bigger, faster, greater,” she said, and both technology providers and procurement and supply chain organizations need to realize this in order to respond to the demands of millennial employees.

Millennial Values

Procurement and supply chain technology should ideally automate many of the daily business processes so millennial employees of the organization can focus on the things about their job that connects more closely with their values. Having a technology solution that largely automates procurement functions allows the talent to spend their time on supplier relationships, supply chain sustainability or risk management, for instance, North Rizza said.

Peck from ISM said, in her opinion, no other business function matches millennials’ values more than procurement and supply chain. The job allows millennials to address sustainability, corporate social responsibility, grants them the ability work with multiple cultures and businesses from around the globe — all things millennials have shown interest in. In Peck’s eyes, the supply chain and procurement field is a perfect fit for millennials.

“No other function delivers what we can,” she said.

First Voice

  1. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    As a millennial myself I can resonate with some of these points. The most pertinent is the comment about technology. We’ve grown up in the age of the iPhone. I want to be able to take technology out the box, turn it on and for it to immediately make an impact. No training manuals, no having to search for ages to find menus etc, and certainly not some antiquated Y2000 interface. Sadly most procurement technology is lacking in this regard, which is partly why I jointly set up Market Dojo. I guess that’s another way to keep millennials in the industry, start their own procurement services company!

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