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December 14, 2017
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Procurement Priorities

Talent supply issue nags at procurement

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Procurement leaders are used to dealing with supply shortages. But here's one that's proving to be particularly challenging: the shortage of procurement talent.

Many CPOs and other executives involved in procurement are concerned about a lack of talent. They believe that there are not enough skilled professionals to fill changing roles within their organizations. In fact, according to Bill Michels, CEO at Aripart Consulting, the talent shortage was one of the five big procurement worries discussed at the consulting company Ardent Partners' CPO Rising 2016 event held recently in Boston.

Most likely CPOs are worried about a lack of talent because they are also thinking about managing cost and quality; supply chain risk (another of their big concerns, according to Michels); innovation; and collaborating with internal stakeholders to source complex service categories like human resources (HR) benefits, marketing, and legal services, among other things. They need people on staff who have skills that can help address these challenges. But procurement leaders—in fact, 62 percent of them, according to the Deloitte Global CPO Survey 2016—don't think their teams have the skills needed to execute on strategy.

The procurement job description has evolved in the past 30 years, thanks in part to the Internet and the rise of e-procurement and other tools that now take care of procurement's tactical duties. Additionally there is a growing recognition by CEOs of procurement's ability to manage cost and contribute innovative ideas through their relationships with suppliers. Now more than ever before, CPOs need individuals with a new skill set, including the ability to influence others in the company to work with preferred suppliers and to execute on a procurement strategy that aligns with the overall corporation's.

CPOs should be encouraged, however, by the classes graduating this spring from colleges and universities with programs in procurement and supply chain management. Schools like Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., among others, are turning out students who have studied economics, global sourcing and international trade, corporate social responsibility, information technology, statistics, and operations management. These programs are also focused on developing their students' writing abilities, character, and leadership skills. In addition, the students have valuable experience from special projects, co-ops, and internships.

As companies compete for their talent, recruiting these well-prepared young procurement professionals can be a challenge. To help better identify and develop potential candidates, CPOs are working closely with local schools, becoming involved in mentoring and internship programs. They are also looking to organizations that offer help connecting promising students to procurement teams at corporations, such as the Sourcing Industry Group (SIG), which has a Student Talent Outreach program. Some of these efforts reach beyond the college or even the high school level. For example, Michigan State University professors and students are taking a more long-term view and are building awareness of procurement as a profession by visiting middle schools and speaking with students about career opportunities they probably would not consider.

Of course, it takes more than recruiting to ease CPOs' concerns about talent management. They also need to continue to develop and grow their own internal talent. CPOs need to partner with colleagues in HR to regularly assess their team members' skills, learn where gaps in knowledge and experience exist, and actively ensure they receive the training they need to succeed. There are many firms founded by former procurement practitioners that can help with such assessments and training.

And CPOs and procurement executives should not ignore their own education and development. It's critical for team leaders to be on top of the latest research in procurement, such as The Hackett Group's Key Procurement Issues Study, so that they can anticipate trends and plan future initiatives. Networking through attending professional events and other gatherings is another way to share information on trends in procurement and connect with others in the field. Social media can also be a valuable source; joining Twitter to follow analysts, suppliers, schools, and competitors can help CPOs stay on top of news and information and find procurement talent.

Maybe talent management will always be a concern for procurement, as well it should. But it is a concern that can be alleviated with strategic thinking and good planning, which also may help mitigate the CPO's other worries as the procurement team puts its skills to use to execute on strategy.

Susan Avery is a business journalist with 30 years of experience covering the procurement profession.

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