Skills for the future of procurement

January 13, 2020

Anyone in procurement can produce a list of the requisite skills that would be ideal for a procurement professional to possess. Typically, this list will include requests that procurement members exhibit leadership qualities, demonstrate great communication skills, and that they excel at building relationships both within the organization and also with the vendors they interact with externally.

Yet, as procurement enters a new decade, the commonly recited list of skills is insufficient to ensure success in the modern procurement landscape, and procurement professionals possessing only those skills would desperately need to acquire additional skills in order to be of value to their organizations.

While unveiling the findings of the APQR report that identified these shortcomings in procurement skillsets, Forbes Magazine also separated the skills that the next generation of procurement professionals will require into four categories: job-specific, general business, social, and deep work.

Job-specific skills

Job-specific skills refer to the technical skills required to perform procurement-based tasks. This category leans heavily on the use of data, specifically spend analytics and risk analysis skills for identifying the best and most capable suppliers. Unmentioned by the article, but still foundational to this category of skills, is general comfortability with technology, and the ability to capably handle the specific procurement software systems upon which businesses are becoming increasingly reliant. Therefore, workers whose technical skills are lacking should take advantage of the myriad means for improving their technical and analytical skills and take every opportunity to become more proficient with handling procurement software.

General business skills

Within the context of the APQR survey, general business skills were considered to be even more important than job-specific skills when it comes to performing procurement-related activities in the workplace. General business skills involve managing partnerships with suppliers, and having the ability to hammer out mutually beneficial solutions as allies rather than regarding them as antagonists.

Soft skills

The category of general business skills overlaps considerably with the soft skills category, which includes abilities like time management, stress management, and conflict management. These are areas in which some employees may excel naturally, while others will need to be made cognizant of individual limitations in these areas and challenge themselves to improve. However, the soft skills category also includes change management concepts, with the fundamental concern being that failing to tactfully manage changes in the workplace often creates problems that might otherwise have been avoided, and which may also result in company resources being needlessly drained.

Deep work skills

Deep work skills are highlighted for being of critical importance, particularly because automation is eliminating the need for employees to perform the rudimentary tasks they were once obligated to execute for hours on end. These mundane tasks are referred to as “shallow work” by Cal Newport, the Georgetown University professor who coined the term “deep work” to refer to cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve. While shallow work tasks like sending emails leave employees feeling busy but generally unproductive, deep work skills mandate the leveraging of meaningful training to generate substantive results and strives for continuous improvement in the quality of the work produced.

Business ethics

From there, the APQR report addressed different facets of business ethics. As expected, it keyed in on ethical lapses that have unfortunately become common in procurement practices, like accepting bribes or other favors from vendors in exchange for securing contracts. However, it also explored overlooked areas of business in which an ethical foundation might play a role. Examples included the use of procurement functions to shape company attitudes toward sustainability practices, or community-minded endeavors that could build goodwill between the businesses and the residents the neighborhoods they reside in and serve.

While this may be the first time you have seen these skill sets grouped in such a manner, the aforementioned skills and attitudes have always been advantageous for procurement personnel to possess, but the surging wave of automation has shoved the most valuable of these skills to the forefront. Fortunately, steps can be made on both the individual and organizational levels to develop skills in all of these areas.

On an organizational level, programs can be developed to train employees to become competent in the technical skills necessary to complete their work. Similarly, training measures of a different sort can be initiated to increase employee cognizance of soft skill sets and to increase the emotional IQ that accompanies them. Moreover, in areas requiring education that can’t be doled out on company time, business resources can potentially be allocated to continuing-education programs outside of the workplace for the purpose of retraining otherwise competent personnel to prepare them for new roles in the modern procurement workforce.

Ultimately, in situations where internally driven educational opportunities are scarce, self-aware employees should be encouraged and empowered to take matters into their own hands and develop themselves by whatever ethical means they can find. In doing so, they will make themselves more valuable to their organizations, and they will simultaneously make their companies that much more competitive.

Expert procurement and supply-chain tips sent straight to your inbox.