In collaboration with the University of Tennessee and subject matter experts Kate Vitasek, Bonnie Keith, and Emmanuel Cambresy, APQC surveyed 205 procurement professionals and conducted focus groups and interviews with procurement professionals, to identify the skills that future procurement professionals will need, and evaluate approaches to procurement talent development. The overall finding is that procurement talent development is not adequate, and must be overhauled to prepare for the future.
APQC examined skills across four categories: job-specific skills distinct to the function, business skills relevant to and beyond procurement, social skills involved in collaboration and managing change, and deep work skills involved in cognitively demanding work. Overall, business, social, and deep work skills were rated as more important than job-specific skills. This reflects the need for procurement to build more collaborative relationships with suppliers, and the business and make difficult judgement calls to mitigate risks to reputation and profitability. The top five skills (none of which is job-specific) follow.
Most organizations’ procurement talent-development programs are not aligned with the skills that future professionals need most. APQC found a double-digit gap between importance and effectiveness for each of the top five skills. For example, almost 60% of survey respondents rated business ethics as critical, but only one-third said they were effectively developing this skill. Three of the top five skills are social skills (communication, stakeholder management, relationship building), yet only 12% of organizations said their development programs emphasize social skills.
The consequences of not addressing the talent gap are huge. If organizations cannot develop these skills in-house, they will be forced to secure them through external hires or consultants, dramatically increasing the function’s costs. The only other option is to not develop these skills — and that’s even more dangerous. When experienced procurement professionals retire, the function will be in the hands of people who never learned how to lead, think critically, or act ethically, and who have never built relationships with key suppliers and internal stakeholders.
Procurement leaders must work with HR, executives, professional associations, and certification programs to develop the next generation of procurement talent. In so doing, they should remember that the most in-demand skills — business ethics, communication, relationship building, and critical thinking — all take time to develop, and are impossible to fully acquire without real-life, practical experience. Expect mentoring, job rotations, and other on-the-job learning approaches to play a major role in the future of procurement talent development.
Mercy Harper is a writer and analyst at APQC.
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