Formal procurement learning to be recognised

Initiatives Education.jpgEconomies in southern Africa will need skilled professionals to continue their growth. Andrew Hillman, Director of Commerce Edge Academy, tells SmartProcurement how purchasers can sustain their career development in the region.

Post-secondary education in developing countries is going through rapid changes in the wake of economic reforms. These reforms have led to an increased demand for a highly qualified and well trained labour force to take up the challenge posed by the progress of technology worldwide. However, demand for this is not yet matched by an increase in business skills, especially in the Procurement and Supply profession.

Andrew C Hillman_090709.JPGPurchasing and Supply professionals have been left behind in their career development, despite efforts in both the public and private sectors to rectify this problem. Buyers in southern Africa (and the rest of the world) have not been afforded the recognition and status they deserve for far too long, despite the profession’s role in improving private business enterprises, government departments and non-governmental organisations.

The continued emphasis that both the World Bank and African Development Bank are placing on assisting developing countries in reviewing and revising their procurement systems is a measure of the fact that improvements are needed, particularly in the public procurement sphere. Improved purchasing has a direct and beneficial impact on the overall economic situation of the region.

The same applies to purchasing in private sector organisations, which can also deliver savings and improve on bottom-line performance with enhanced systems and more professional procurement practitioners contributing to organisational operating profit.

Increasing the professionalism of the procurement fraternity and the development of procurement certification programmes are fundamental to elevating the status of purchasing in southern Africa. New approaches to building a professional career and defining the necessary requirements and benchmarks linked to promotion, pay and job security are intrinsic to maintaining knowledge and skills.

Training options

Links with traditional institutions such as universities, colleges and other professional development institutions should be explored to develop procurement capacity. But the purchasing community needs to contribute to and help design appropriate content for these institutions to create the right programmes relating to the skills buyers really need.

The focus of a professional procurement qualification should ensure competence in the work environment. Practical exercises given during teaching should relate directly to the learners specific work environment. Learners should be able to apply the knowledge and skills they obtain during their study immediately to their role.

In southern Africa there are a few noteworthy initiatives, such as the establishment of a dedicated institute for the region by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing ans Supply (CIPS), contributing to the elevation of the purchasing profession. These aim to raise the visibility of procurement by ensuring buyers have the right credentials, knowledge and skills to contribute to the success of the profession.

Some South African state-owned enterprises, such as the transport organisation Transnet and power company Eskom, as well as private companies such as the telecoms firm MTN, have embarked on professional procurement development programmes in an attempt to elevate the status of their purchasing functions by ensuring all buyers achieve an internationally recognised procurement qualification from CIPS.

Another example is the joint venture by the South Africa National Treasury and the Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy (Palama). The academy has been set up by the National Treasury to build capacity and help develop careers in the public sector. It provides management and development training for the public servants who work in national, provincial and municipal government. Palama works with the National Treasury and external training providers to ensure those working in government procurement get the best and most relevant training for their roles.

Qualification routes

To be an effective purchaser you need to be able to deliver the necessary value by strategically positioning the procurement function to improve spend management, select the best suppliers and improve vendor performance. Buyers should also work on optimising supplier relationships and improving risk management and procurement processes. To do this you need to exploit your use of technology, conduct meaningful benchmarking, make your purchasing operations more efficient and implement and utilise a strategic procurement plan.

Training delivery issues which commonly affect many countries, not only those in southern Africa, include old-fashioned education systems, internet connectivity and a lack of resources. Online training where possible, however, allows for an easily accessible way to improve skills and professional credentials. E-learning also allows the capture of data relating to the learning time, effort and progress and can be easily updated as the learning system matures and develops.

Employees who have professional procurement skills should be given the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their professional capacity and have access to mentors. Learning should be grounded in reality, so what is learnt can be immediately applied in the workplace.

As a certified procurement practitioner you can boast enhanced purchasing skills alongside the ability to think creatively and innovatively in solving supply-related problems and to effectively deal with complex and unpredictable challenges. If you are a qualified professional you also send out a message to both internal and external stakeholders you are professional in your dealings and can competently take care of the spend of your organisation.

The procurement landscape in southern Africa is changing and the region is moving in the right direction towards increasing the profile of procurement and in increasing the competence of those in the profession through appropriate skills development and career planning.

Soon, procurement will be on par with the likes of chartered accountants, marketing professionals and actuaries.

For more information on Commerce Edge Academy‘s CIPS qualification offering, please contact the Commerce Edge Academy Registrar on

This article first appeared in the 29 April edition of Supply Management.

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