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The purchasing and supply management profession is continuing to grow and expand its influence. There has never been a better time to join this exciting and ever-changing profession and experts are in high demand.

Opportunities in procurement and supply are always available but following the swing from a supplier-controlled industry to one that is increasingly becoming more buyer-controlled, employers are finding that pool of talented people is small.

There are great opportunities out there for talented and motivated people. Are you one of them?

In business, a greater emphasis is now being placed on buying the right products and services to fit the longer term needs of the business, with the expectation of best value, and total cost solutions thrown in. A simple quick, price-focused fit is no longer enough. Procurement not only has to understand the needs and wants of its own internal customers, but also has to face the challenge of responding to today’s constantly changing business environment.

A range of factors are at play, including new customer requirements, changing regulations and different ways of working. There is a constant battle for buyers and suppliers to understand each other’s needs and expectations, and to work together to develop the best possible relationships that will deliver those successful business outcomes for both.

The traditional purchasing skills, such as financial management, contract management, cost reduction and basic negotiation are still important, but they are largely ‘learned’ skills which can be acquired by most people through the right training and education programmes. To succeed in today’s more ‘strategic’ environment, relationship management and softer skills are crucial.

Relationship management

Today’s relationship between buyers and suppliers is unlike the traditional adversarial one where the buyer pits one supplier against another, and focuses entirely on unit cost in order to get the best price. In a strategic procurement environment, both companies view each other as relatively equal in terms of the relationship and work collaboratively to share information, training, support, technical input and ideas, to reduce costs and improve processes.

At the same time the purchaser works closely with internal customers so their needs are met, sometimes ‘selling’ the idea of procurement to gain their buy-in to the process. The most successful procurement professionals understand just how important it is to develop these softer social skills such as: listening, understanding, communicating, empathy, and selling not telling.

To better understand internal customers’ needs, buyers often find themselves either leading or working in cross functional and cross cultural teams to help influence change or deliver procurement targets. Working across a number of teams helps the purchaser understand the motivations of such a diverse group of people who have their own expectations and motivations.

Technology

The use of technology is also playing an increasingly important role helping businesses to become more competitive and implementing new working practices.

E-procurement for instance is designed to help a business gain control over, and simplify, the process of purchasing goods and services from multiple suppliers.

Consolidating supplier information in a single e-platform, providing online contract negotiation and easy access to management information for supplier analysis, gives purchasing managers and senior executives the ability to better manage their vendors and the approval and transaction processes.

Keeping an eye out for developments in technology is an important procurement and business tool and another skill to learn and develop.

Academic requirements

There are undergraduate degrees specialising in purchasing and supply management, but the majority of graduates come to the profession through general business degrees, some of which have modules that focus on purchasing and supply.

Though there is no specific degree requirement to find a job in purchasing, business related degrees are more likely to contain the right elements to equip you as a post grad in your first role. Also many business degrees may contain elements that will offer you exemptions from the CIPS qualification.

Financial skills

If you’re no good with numbers then to be quite frank – this may not be the career for you. An ability to manage budgets is core to this profession as you could be responsible for managing a budget of billions.

Languages

This all depends on the kind of role you’re looking for. Not essential, but speaking a second or third language will help if you plan to work for a multi-national company based in different global locations.

Differentiate

If you are considering a career in the purchasing and supply field there is no better way to help you decide if it’s the profession for you than by gaining experience. It also looks good on the CV. Internships and work experience can be invaluable in setting you apart from others. Even if you are doing a holiday job or part time work, ask the organisation if it has a purchasing department and go along and ask questions.

Even your university should have a dedicated purchasing function so go and ask if you can spend some time finding out more about what they do.

The procurement and supply chain profession has undergone a major transformation over the last few years. It offers the right career path for graduates who want to have a real impact on their organisation, the local community and even the country. However, don’t expect to walk into a purchasing role and have all of the above skills in your personal toolkit – some of them will take a substantial amount of time to build up and develop, but it’s well worth it.

What is important however, is being aware of where your own specific skills gaps are so that you can work with your manager and team to develop them, whether through formal training programmes or through a continuing professional development route. Also, take time to understand the organisation you work in; what’s the culture like and where does purchasing sit in the grand scheme of things? This will help you shape future opportunities and make suggestions for improvements.

Understanding what makes a proficient and successful procurement professional at an early stage will help you build your own successful team in the future.

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