Procurement talent trends during COVID-19

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Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Nick Lazzara, Practice Director at MRA Global Sourcing.

In so many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has turned our world upside down. We are in uncharted waters from an economic, social and employment perspective. As such, it felt appropriate to share some interesting things we have observed on the procurement front during these past couple of months.

Hiring has slowed, but is stronger in procurement than other fields

It would be fair to state that hiring has taken a significant hit in early 2020, as we’re at record numbers of jobless claims, with well over 20 million from mid-March through mid-April. Those numbers are sure to rise as many companies are faced with the difficult decisions to either furlough or lay off workers just to keep the lights on. While some industries have been dealt a devastating blow, hiring in certain sectors has remained steady, with recruitment in supply chain outpacing other functions.

With most of the corporate world thrust into a telework setup, employers have ramped up purchases on necessary hardware (webcams, monitors and wireless accessories), collaboration software (Zoom, Slack, etc.) and enhanced network capabilities for their people. Food and alcohol grocery sales by consumers have skyrocketed, as have delivery services like DoorDash that are helping restaurants stay afloat. Toilet paper is a precious commodity, and quarantine entertainment essentials like Netflix and HBO are flourishing.

Without strong supply chain and procurement programs, companies benefitting from these demands would miss out on the opportunity for immense success.

While hiring slows and open positions are being put on hold, procurement and supply chains are more prone to be insulated from these hiring swings due to their importance to company continuity, like getting their materials to manufacturing sites and products to consumers. This also means ensuring they have the technology and services needed to operate. Companies providing essential needs in the grocery, pharma and CPG arenas like Kroger, Unilever, GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Philips have dozens of procurement openings. According to a Wall Street Journal article, big tech continues to hire at a rapid rate, scooping up talent from other companies on standby. Even companies in affected industries, including airlines, are in need of temporary and permanent hire sourcing help to mitigate risks and drive savings.

Prior to the pandemic, while the economy was thriving, we were in a historic, candidate-driven market within procurement — with many more openings out there than qualified, active jobseekers. Demand for talent has leveled out and will continue to drop. But we can take solace in knowing that urgent procurement positions are still out there; practitioners just need to look in the right places.

Employers seeking risk-savvy skillsets during pandemic

With the constant mentions of “supply chain” in daily pressers from top political brass, financial pundits and healthcare authorities, it’s never been a better time to be in this field. You may have noticed the newfound clout at the dinner table or Google Hangout circuit with friends and family, who previously didn’t understand (or care) what you did, peppering you with questions about your job. Crises like this provide procurement with an opportunity to offer incredible value and protection to their employers, and in some high-impact arenas like healthcare and pharma, take measures that save lives. We have observed a renewed effort from procurement groups to focus on risk response and mitigation due to the pandemic, thus affecting their hiring habits.

Here are a few of the most emphasized risk management skills we’re seeing companies seek out in new hires and existing resources at this time:

Supply chain transparency

One question every CPO has scrambled to answer, with some facing more difficulty than others, is “how is COVID-19 affecting our supply network?” Particularly, with a focus on lower-tier suppliers. Companies that had previously invested in obtaining a deeper transparency across their supply chain were ahead of the curve in knowing which suppliers, materials and sites were affected early into the outbreak. However, according to Harvard Business Review, 70% of survey respondents noted they were still in manual data collection and assessment mode to determine which suppliers had sites in locked-down areas in China in late January and early February. While expensive, supply network mapping is a top priority for many companies and there is a critical need for resources to build out or bolster these programs.

Contract management

To be expected, thousands of suppliers have made “force majeure” declarations due to crippling business conditions over the past few months. Procurement and legal teams are rushing to review contracts to seek relief in protections thought to be built in, but many are finding challenges in differing governing law globally and lack of detail in clauses. There is a major push to rewrite and renegotiate contracts to include verbiage adding additional protection surrounding business disruption caused specifically by pandemics. In speaking with an airline procurement contact of ours, this is the No. 1 priority of their team, followed by extending payment terms to desperately hold onto cash. As such, they’re hiring an army of contract management SMEs to lead these efforts.

Supplier risk technology know-how

Another area of emphasis for procurement organizations is increased adoption of supplier risk management technology, as they keep a close eye on their key vendors from a business continuity and financial solvency perspective. Visibility into supplier health down the supply chain is mission-critical at this time, with policies being adjusted that will dictate current behavior and future responses to similar events. Software is constantly updating with data and guidance to react and stay ahead of disruptions. According to Deloitte’s 2019 CPO Survey, “most CPOs are often not satisfied with the results of their digital technologies, especially when managing supply chain risk and supplier relationships.” Being able to navigate the supplier risk technology landscape is a skillset that will be in high demand for many groups to add to the roster.

Unprecedented opportunity to connect with talent

One silver lining provided by our new normal is that employers are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to connect with top talent.

Professionals can speak freely from their homes and may be more open to exploring positions given these times of uncertainty. Not to mention, there is a much larger talent pool of available individuals who, through no fault of their own, find themselves back in the job market.

Generally speaking, now may be the time to get proactive about interviewing and hiring. It may seem counterintuitive, but we could be looking at an ultra-competitive hiring landscape later this year once we’ve better contained the virus and our economy hopefully begins to bounce back. Getting to great talent now better positions employers moving forward when other companies are sprinting to staff up, especially since the interview process can typically take months to conclude.

Despite social distancing guidelines posing challenges, companies have the tools at hand to march forward with hiring. We have reinforced over these past few months just how effective video can be, which is why companies are utilizing Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams meetings in lieu of otherwise impossible on-site interviews. Leading-edge employers have adjusted on the fly to incorporate video to pull together interview teams, keep processes moving forward and efficiently onboard those who start new roles while their offices remain closed. Where in-person meetings are ideal, other effective tools like assessments, case studies and reference checks (some also conducted via video) have been increasingly used to add supplementary data points to justify hiring decisions.

In spite of a general slowdown in hiring, there is still a focus on acquiring procurement talent. As made evident during the 2008 downturn, a world-class procurement function can help companies drive savings, deliver ROI on precious dollars spent and lessen supply chain risk in panicked times. Companies can use talented supply chain practitioners now more than ever, especially in high-impact industries, where we have seen hiring in this field remain steady. Plus, this forced remote setup presents a chance to get ahead of the curve and speak with a more readily accessible talent pool than we have seen in years past. As the C-suite turns to the supply management function to help adapt to our new normal, procurement practitioners are in the spotlight to lead the way.

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