Wednesday 24 September 2014

Real World Sourcing Series: Procurement Skills & Careers – The Next 10 years

By Scott Farrance

Last Wednesday, an eclectic mix of the Procurement Industry’s finest gathered in the delightful setting of The Don restaurant for the latest round of the Real World Sourcing Series, based around Procurement Skills and Careers over the next 10 years.

Presented by the mercurial Peter Smith of Spend Matters, the session looked back over the last 10 years of the profession and imagined where we may be in 10 years time.

How time flies in such an evolving and constantly growing speciality such as Procurement. Peter’s first stop was a trip down memory lane, all the way back to where we were 30 years ago. A few wry smiles appeared in the room when Carbon Copy Orders where mentioned. Filing, remember that? Peter noted, in agreement with those who were around all that time ago, that the main skills required of a buyer was writing with the correct level of pressure on an order pad... It’s remarkable to think that a job which has the same basic output (buying goods, works or services) has changed fundamentally in what is the career time of many present. On a larger scale, procurement professionals spent a lot of their time on transactional processing – writing orders, sending them, and filing. There was not a lot of time left for much else. Data was hard to come by and even harder to analyses, would you fancy analysing data only available in hard copy? In terms of Supply Chain, most supply was from local or national suppliers. The market was not quite the global place it is today back in 1984.

A conclusion of the buyers themselves was that skills were heavily process related, the physical action of doing the job opposed to analysis, management of suppliers and contracts etc. There was little thought of Strategic Sourcing, analytic skills were still valued – but mental arithmetic was probably the most useful skill around. And like the Purchase Order and analysis process, negotiation was rather unsophisticated, it still existed and was a vital skill, but what went on in those board rooms would probably pass as grounds for dismissal in the 21st Century!

Career progression was something very different to today’s fast moving job market, progression was linear at best. You started at the bottom, earned your stripes and worked your way up the company. The idea of job hopping, or skipping steps due to ability, or taking sideways moves just weren’t a thought for people. How many young professionals today would have the temperament and patience to progress in such a manner?

Bring the clocks forward 30 years. Looking back, we can all see how much things have changed in the workplace, and therefore the skills needed to keep up to pace with the industry have also changed. However, do not think we’re there yet. There is no reason to think that there won’t be just as much change in the future. There is already groundbreaking technology in other sectors which could revolutionise the way anyone with a PC and internet works – this will arrive at our desks I can assure you.

As advanced as we may have become, there is still large areas of uncertainty around what really matters and how the job should be done. We may have been working in this fashion for a few decades, but it’s still a relatively young profession. There is no ‘Guide to Procurement’, no right and wrong way. How to work effectively is open to much deliberation and every CEO and CPO will have a different idea about how their staff should work.

In the next instalment of this two part blog series, I will be running through some of the current models and thinking around the role of a "procurement professional".

Download the slides from this briefing

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