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How to become your company’s competitive weapon


“Find me candidates who have more than the standard resume with dot points listing their previous jobs. Find me someone who is preparing for future world of work in procurement.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard statements like above, or similar, from my clients I could retire.
On the other side of the coin, candidates say to me: “How do I stand out and get the management roles?” and “How do I progress past the job I’ve been doing for the past couple of years?”
As someone who has been placing and sourcing procurement professionals in Australia for some time, the answer for both stakeholders is easy – up-skilling and looking past technical skills.

Gone are the days when a candidate will be placed based on the previous experience or technical skills. Now companies require a strong combination of technical skills that sees the candidate carry out day-to-day abilities and a diverse mix of soft skills like relationship management, negotiation skills, communication skills, empathy and influencing skills.

In the past, it was ‘desirable’ to have a degree or masters qualification, but more important was the experience the individual had from previous roles.
Over the past six months, the majority of my clients requested candidates to have a degree or a CIPS qualification as a prerequisite, coupled with strong experience in areas outside of the technical skills required for the role.

They have favoured candidates who could show a continued learning path and a thirst to expand their skills. University of Melbourne professor Danny Samson has been researching and lecturing on this topic for 15 years and says “a procurement professional with both technical and soft skills is a competitive weapon for an organisation”.
“It is an opportunity that needs to be seized by individuals,” he adds. “Ultimately personal development is an individual’s responsibility, but that development needs to be not just technical skills, but soft skills too.”
“In the past 10-15 years, the whole function of procurement has matured and the profession is providing a stronger and more strategic contribution within organisations, but there is still a long way to go. We need to focus on lifting the skill-sets of our profession.”

As the industry pushes for procurement standards to be set and perhaps even for it to become a licensed profession like accountants, doctors and engineers, roles will become more competitive with employers expecting more from their employees than just their technical skills.
Samson says: “I’m not in favour of a revolution as they rarely work. I’m in favour of a rapid evolution towards a licensed and regulated profession, which will definitely involve people keeping up-to-date with new trends and undertaking continuous learning and improving.”

Stephen Rowe, group general manager of procurement at Spotless Group has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry and is MCIPS qualified.
“People in procurement need to realise when you get into procurement that technical skills represent only 40 per cent of what you do,” says Rowe.
“I haven’t run a tender for a number of years, my role has become more about creating possibilities for the procurement team to go in on the ground and get the savings.”
He adds: “You need to have the soft skills, such as the ability to read a room and body language, how to negotiate and have empathy and influencing skills. I always put my team in a series of courses, within the industry and out. The value comes from them implementing the learning to their day-to-day work.  While they are undertaking further studies, I get them involved in projects at work to enhance their learning that they are undertaking.”
Applying the learning as you go embeds it in your mind and it becomes a habit.”

So what courses should procurement employees be looking to complete?

If you are not already degree qualified or CIPS accredited then start there. There are also related qualifications like Master of supply chain management from the University of Melbourne.

If you have already acquired something in this area look at attending courses that will enhance your soft skills such as effective negotiation, building relationships, effective communication skills, emotional intelligence and, most definitely, stakeholder engagement.

On my clients behalf, as I continue to source procurement professionals, I will be focusing heavily on education, qualifications and continued learning coupled with experience in order to provide my clients the best ’competitive weapons’ for their businesses.

The answer lies first in the 10 most powerful two letter words in the English language – “If it is to be, it is up to me”.

We all need to start asking ourselves: “What am I doing to become a competitive weapon for my future employers?”

Written by Dee Clarke this article was originally published in Supply Management April 2016.

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