The recent survey by Deloitte of 300 South African companies, “National Remuneration Guide 2007”, established that there is a shortage of qualified and experienced staff in many professions, with particular emphasis on the shortage of AA candidates. Elaine Porteous, a specialist in Procurement Organisational design tells Smartprocurement that: “The procurement function is certainly not exempt from this pervasive issue. It is clear that the skills shortage in key functional areas, including strategic procurement, is an international one and we are equally exposed to it.”

What to do about the skills squeeze ?

Does your Company have a focused strategy to address this problem?

“With strong competition for the best people it is necessary to have measures in place that ensure that you firstly recruit the right people, then provide the necessary training and educational opportunities to develop them further, and lastly have a retention strategy to keep them.

Procurement managers would be advised to take ownership of this challenge and develop practical solutions to ensure that there is no negative impact on the company’s bottom line.”

Recruit the right people

“Making a mistake when hiring new staff is really expensive and time consuming! Specific competencies should be identified for each procurement job role and ideally 70% – 80% of the required skills should be present.

It has been noted that functional and subject expertise in sourcing commodities is more important than having extensive experience in applying the sourcing process, which can be learnt quite quickly. So should we think laterally? Let’s hire internally from the expert user groups!

Where there is competition for scarce skills it is necessary to provide market related salaries and benefits and to act quickly when hiring staff. If you snooze, you lose!”

Provide development opportunities

“Many staff may have limited experience but a lot of potential. Budget needs to be provided to increase the skill levels both in strategic sourcing methodology and in procurement operations. Project management is a key competency for commodity managers and procurement professionals working in strategic sourcing. It is also a skill that can be used in other roles in an organization and people are usually keen to develop their marketable skills.

As it is really necessary to be able to influence people, especially those stakeholders in senior roles, opportunities should be available to employees to gain more experience and confidence in face-to-face presentations and develop better verbal and written communication skills.”

Retention strategies

“Employers must understand what motivates the employee besides pay and provide it. Employees have a need for time flexibility in their work life – some employers are slow to grasp this issue. Another key area is to provide career path options and outline their next steps (hopefully upward) in the organization. Other attractions are further educational opportunities, formal training and providing personal coaching and mentoring options.

Success has been achieved by providing more varied career path options for people entering the procurement function. In world class procurement organizations a wider range of job types provides more scope for advancement. Low staff turnover sends the right message to the marketplace making hiring and retention of staff easier.”

What can we do?

“Procurement departments and organizations need to elevate the profile of the function and raise the visibility of it as a profession working with academic institutions and training service providers. We need to do more to raise awareness of procurement as a career option at school and university level, providing bursaries where appropriate.

This is beginning to happen in South Africa and developing relationships with international bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply in the UK (CIPS) is moving in the right direction.”

The author: Elaine Porteous can be contacted  on 082 412 5831 or at dugport@icon.co.za