If your background includes a four-year business or science degree, you have strong technical skills and you have worked away in sub-Saharan Africa, you have a head start. Add to that, solid experience in construction or engineering, and you can speak Portuguese or French, your future is secure. If you lack any or all of these, don’t worry, just read on.
A three-year business degree is a standard requirement, even for an entry-level position. Many companies support professional qualifications such as MCIPS, either instead of a degree or in addition to it. Now’s the time to get a qualification if you don’t have one.
Senior positions require 8 to 10 years’ experience in procurement or supply chain, often in their specific industry as well as a strong degree. Construction, mining and oil-and-gas companies usually ask for this. At this level, many ask for an MBA or equivalent.
All candidates, in whatever role, are expected to have at least an intermediate level of ability in MS Office applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Depending on the role, some level of experience will be required in the particular ERP/P2P system in place at the employer.
The job title problem
The job market for procurement professionals suffers from a lack of clarity in job titles. The terms “procurement” and “purchasing”, and even “sourcing” and “buying” are used interchangeably, which confuses both recruiters and applicants. A senior buyer in an engineering company can have the same requirements as a commodity specialist in an FMCG company.
Technical talent in short supply
There is a need for technical buyers in engineering and manufacturing companies. Recruiters advise that some roles are particularly difficult to fill. Not all of them require many years of experience, just specific expertise in one or more technical area. Some of these are:
• Commodity specialists in I.T, telecoms, sponsorship and advertising.
• Sourcing specialists in cross border logistics and export procedures.
• Capital purchasing specialists to manage high-value technical commodities.
• Contracts managers with FIDIC and NEC experience.
• Analysts with strong numerate ability to study cost drivers and spend.
Looking for broader experience
Hiring managers are specifically looking for candidates with working experience in African countries and who understand low-cost sourcing from emerging markets. Understanding varying cultural norms and behaviours in diverse countries is a prized skill that will set you apart from other candidates.
Mobility is a real issue; candidates need to commit to being able to travel, both regionally and internationally. Language ability in either Portuguese or French will help secure a key role in a global company, especially in the oil and gas, engineering and retail sectors.
Non-technical skills are needed too
• Communication skills
Nearly all job advertisements ask for superior communication skills. What does this mean? Besides the basics of being able to converse clearly in English, both verbally and in writing, what they want is to see the ability to work with people. Working with internal stakeholders and developing sustainable supplier relationships are key to managing a successful business.
• Innovative thinking
Although cost saving is always a priority, employers want their procurement people to encourage value-adding behaviours and continual improvement ideas from top suppliers. From there, they must direct the ideas proactively to where they are most needed in the business.
• Negotiation skills
Employers want their procurement people to challenge user needs and specifications with end-users. This is becoming more widespread – and to do this well requires a level of confidence and in-house knowledge. Supplier negotiations are now less confrontational; however, persuasion and influencing skills are still needed.
Candidates with aspirations to become the CPO in the future could do well to review requirements that appear on some well-known executive job boards like Michael Page and Robert Walters:
• Ability to excel in unstructured environments.
• Strong self-management.
• High level of personal energy and strong bias for action.
• Absolute personal and professional integrity.
• Resilience and tenacity.
• Demonstrate cross-functional leadership.
• High degree of problem-solving and decision-making ability.
There are also work opportunities for senior people who do not have corporate ambitions or wish to have flexibility and variety. Interim management, on a contract, where you move in to fill a temporary operational gap, is another growth area. The pay is better but there is a risk of you not always having paid work. Whichever route you take in the procurement field, there will always be a job for you.