CIPS President makes (probably futile) call for more “entry-level” procurement roles

David Smith is now just over half of the way through his period as CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply) President. He’s been the most active and impactful (in my view) for many years, speaking all over the UK and more widely, including the Middle East and Africa, and promoting his Presidential theme around encouraging new people into the profession.

Depending which way you look at it, his timing is either spot on or awful! Spot on, in that we’re in a global marketplace for talent now, and getting the best and brightest into our profession must be vital for the success of the profession in the future. And when economic times are hard, we need to support young people, or those who want to transfer into procurement, more actively than ever.

On the other hand, when the economies of most countries look so weak, it’s a tough time to be talking about new jobs, re-skilling and recruitment. And that frustration came though somewhat in Smith’s comments in Supply Management last week. He called for more “entry level” jobs in procurement.

David Smith - CIPS President

“What we’ve tended not to have as a profession is enough entry-level jobs,” he said. “We have roles that are above entry-level and that brings an expectation of either experience or some form of educational qualification, that acts as a barrier.”

He wants those without degrees to be able to enter the profession, and focus on vocational learning (CIPS or other) to develop their skills and knowledge.  But in the same article, Guy Strafford of Proxima talked about implementing higher academic standards to drive up the quality of people in the profession. No conclusions were drawn in the article about who was right, so let’s consider that now. And in classic fence-sitting style, I’ll say – both.

We all know some people with top degrees who you wouldn’t trust to photocopy an important contract, let alone negotiate it. I'd far rather have a street-smart and practically experienced person without the degree. Yet at the same time, of course we want the best and the brightest to consider procurement as a career, and that would mean over time inevitably having more people with high academic qualifications in the profession.

And the two aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to have entry routes for the bright school leaver who doesn’t want to go to Uni. Equally, we want the Cambridge double-first to consider procurement as an alternative to consultancy, the City or the Bar.

But neither are easy to achieve. And I fear that in the current economic climate, it’s particularly hard for those entry-level jobs David talks about. When times are tough, it’s easier for firms to take on someone who can hit the ground running, and who has been trained at the expense of another firm. We’ve also got two other problems – which may both be permanent,  rather than the temporary (we hope) economic issues.

Firstly, the public sector has traditionally been a great training ground for procurement, and wasn’t averse to taking in youngsters and investing in training. There are some real stars of public sector procurement who didn’t go to university. But recruitment has collapsed, certainly in the UK, because of the financial situation, and we’re also seeing outsourcing of procurement (as we wrote about recently). So there will be less opportunity here.

Secondly,  automation is affecting procurement as it does every part of business. Those entry level jobs used to involve tasks such as process management of tender documents, filing and amending physical contract documents, processing low value requisitions, manually calculating order or call-offs, or even counting stock in warehouses and working out replenishment levels with your Casio calculator...

Pretty much all automated away now, in the vast majority of organisations at least. We don’t need a lot of that relatively low-skill work, which was a perfect way for new entrants, whatever their academic level, to get started and learn the nuts and bolts of the procurement and supply chain world.

So I offer no answers today to David Smith’s plea, other than to warn him he may be doomed to disappointment in the near future at least - economic recovery would obviously help somewhat. But readers' views as always gratefully received.

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