Public sector procurement should be open to private sector skills

Paul Vincent is a friend of mine - a very experienced and capable senior procurement guy.  He has blogged here for Supply Management (and got a record number of comments) about his experience of testing out some advertised public sector roles in terms of their openness to private sector applicants.  In four out of four cases, the recruiter told him that they would only consider people with previous public sector experience.

However, there may just be jobs and occasions where I can sympathise with recruiters a little.  If it is a small organisation, and the role is very much delivering EU type procurements, and there is an urgent need to deliver that quickly... well, maybe there is an excuse. But even there, I reckon I could sit down and with an intensive day of coaching get someone up to speed so they could happily work within the public regulations.

I spoke to Paul last week and asked him whether he agreed there might be a good reason to reject private sector folk in the case of hands-on roles.  He agreed to asome extent but pointed out that the roles he was talking about "weren't junior level roles".  "Middle to senior leadership positions," as he put it.

Which seems crazy on several levels. For a start, there are many examples of excellent procurement people in the public sector who came in from the private.  And we need more real commercial expertise in the public sector, not less.

I've interviewed many people (as a line manager and consultant) who wanted to move from private to public sector.  I would always check that they showed a genuine interest and some knowledge of the public sector - I want to see that they have done some homework and show some understanding of the issues.   I also don't like anyone who has an arrogant,  "I'm private sector, so the public sector will be easy for me," approach.  Asking them "how do you think it will be different to what you're used to?"  is a good question to test whether they've thought things through and whether there is any latent arrogance.

One very bright and capable young lady was perhaps a little too honest when she answered that she was working very long hours in her private sector role and wanted something a bit more 9 to 5.  I knew what she meant but it probably wasn't the thing to say to the Head of Procurement in a public sector organisation!

Anyway, back to Paul's findings.  If you ever find yourself coming up against the same thing, my advice would be to escalate it - if it is a recruitment firm, try and get to the actual client.  Contact the Procurement Head or even the Chief Executive or equivalent of the recruiting organisation.  Ask them if they feel this way and why?  I guess it might not get you that job, but if we think this approach is wrong, then someone has to make a fuss about it!

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Voices (3)

  1. Aardvark:

    Peter one has only to read the nonsense that Paul’s thoughtful article has generated on the SM website to see why ‘recruit private sector talent’ is not necessarily top of anyone’s list in the public sector. The combination of ignorance, unevidenced assumption, condescension and arrogance is breathtaking. Any fool can achieve a superficial understanding of ‘the regs’ in a couple of days – the difficult bit is achieving innovation and value for money within the constraints.

    Show me that you have thought about the differences between public and private sector, have a real rationale for joining the public sector, will be able to communicate with senior stakeholders outside procurement (who don’t speak the language of ‘business’) and can modify the techniques you’ve learnt in the private sector to work in a new context and I’ll consider your application seriously.

    I’ve recruited some great process change people from the private sector; I’ve yet to interview a really convincing category manager.

  2. Christine Morton:

    75% of local government hires are from other areas of local government. This statistic is from the Employers’ Organisation / IDEA.

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