Procurement talent trends during COVID-19, Part Two

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

As a follow up to our previously published article in late April on the trends happening within the procurement workforce industry after COVID-19, we thought it would be prudent to provide a refreshed view of the procurement talent landscape a few months later. A lot has changed since then.

We have seen things open up from a state-mandated lockdown (and return to lockdown again in some areas), stock market volatility and recovery, and civil unrest all while leading up to an impending presidential election, to name a few highlights. From a procurement talent perspective, we have also seen significant shifts in a handful of areas and would like to share a few of our findings.

Procurement hiring uptick

Unemployment remains high. Still, it is trending in the right direction, having retreated from as high as 14.7% in April back down to 10.2% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest job report. While we expect more data to arise in the coming months, the eye test and conversations with dozens of CPOs (as well as our recent dramatic increase in procurement recruitment projects) suggest that the procurement hiring boom experienced before the pandemic is slowly but surely returning to form. An influx of procurement openings posted in July and August on Procurement Spark, a niche procurement job board, are further evidence to this point.

It is unreasonable to suggest we're at or near pre-COVID-19 levels with millions in impacted industries that remain displaced. As companies begin to receive the green light from the CFO to hire again, it seems supply chain (and particularly strategic sourcing) jobs are high in the pecking order. This makes sense, as the C-suite can use talented procurement professionals as they move from disaster response to setting up a sustainable risk-ready sourcing organization and keep a close eye on expenditures.

With indicators showing growth in manufacturing, like Institute for Supply Management's Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) displaying dramatic current improvements in demand and consumption from the lowest readings in over a decade in May, many companies have elevated confidence to begin hiring and returning employees from furlough. Industries like technology, grocery and home improvement retail, food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and various consumer goods leaders are experiencing continued success, and many require polished procurement professionals.

Rise of remote work will change the look of procurement organizations

One of the most exciting aspects to monitor during the pandemic has been the forced rise of remote working among white-collar workers, and how employers and employees have responded to this unique set of circumstances. Generally speaking, employer sentiment has been positive as a surprisingly large number of employees have been as productive, if not more, than before COVID-19.

Replacing travel and on-site interaction with video-collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom seemed a risky proposition at first. Instead, it has provided a seamless transition to virtual supplier reviews, stakeholder meetings and internal strategy sessions with global team members — with a more alert, non-jet-lagged team to boot!

According to a Boston Consulting Group study on the future of remote work, its findings suggest that more companies will adopt a hybrid, far less office-centric work structure with "87% of employers … prioritizing tech and digital infrastructure investments that support sustained remote work."

As this relates to procurement talent, a flexible structure can create a win-win model. Employers can leverage a larger candidate pool to truly seek out the best person for the position, which is great for nabbing highly specialized, commodity subject matter experts who otherwise wouldn't be able to relocate to company headquarters. Jobseekers will have the ability to scan the entire U.S. market for opportunities and focus on the right fit with location out of the equation.

Procurement organizations can look at strategically shaping their teams to be based near key supplier hubs, so if in-person interaction is necessary, they don't have to fly and can easily travel in their vehicles, like hiring a marketing sourcing manager in Chicago or New York — two major agency hubs.

Renewed focus on supplier diversity programs

In the wake of recent events putting racial equity into laser-focus on a national scale, the business world also has activated some much-needed reform. The current climate has caused companies to reflect inward on the make-up of their organizations. From a general hiring perspective, we see more of a renewed push for inclusion, especially at the middle and senior levels, which is a positive development. This is of specific importance as the previously noted unemployment numbers are even higher in minority communities.

As a part of this self-reflection, companies are not just assessing their diversity but also extending it to their suppliers. Creating opportunities and combating racial injustice is a noble cause and the right thing to do. Your procurement group and company can reap many rewards from having a robust supplier diversity program, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article.

By widening your potential pool of partners, you promote competition, which as we know, can improve quality and bring costs down. Additional sourcing options create a more agile supply chain — a criticality in times like these. Furthermore, it helps with hiring more than half of applicants surveyed, and the article states those who want to work for companies with a supplier diversity program in place. This is an area where we anticipate increased hiring as more companies place well-deserved attention on it.

Hiring leadership to improve supply chain resiliency

Amid a global trade war with China and aftershocks of the shutdown a few months ago, there has been a push for reshoring manufacturing. While this may work in some industries and supply base diversification is critical, reshoring production and drastically reducing dependence on suppliers in China as a reaction to the pandemic may be a simplistic approach to increasing supply chain resiliency.

Rather, it's more likely to see procurement organizations evaluate their supply chain's weak links by mapping them and running stress tests and shaping their "supply chain of the future" accordingly.

Evaluating and quickly understanding your supply chain's vulnerabilities can make you an asset to any company in these tumultuous times. And as expected, more companies are bolstering their procurement and supply chain center of excellence groups with leaders dedicated to supply chain resiliency.

The procurement talent market seems to be picking back up, as more CPOs are receiving approval to hire. Wisely so, in our opinion, because a strong procurement team can be a guiding beacon of light to navigate these unprecedented, risk-heavy times.

The increased effectiveness of remote teams may lend itself to a departure from centralized and center-led sourcing models, instead of building micro-hubs based on supplier locations, or disregarding location completely in a quest to hire the best talent.

This talent will surely include professionals focused on the architecture of more resilient, diversified, stress-tested supply chains. Also, there will likely be a greater emphasis on PMO/CoE roles centered around supplier diversity as a positive consequence of today's societal turmoil.

As we prepare to transition into a post-COVID-19 world (hopefully sooner rather than later), tomorrow's procurement teams may look different than we remember them. What will not change is how critical procurement's role will continue to be as it leads the charge in its company's recovery efforts.

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