Transferable Skills in Procurement

Hiring strategies often dictate that new additions to the team should come from a specific sector or background. It makes logical sense – hiring from within the same sector is a safe bet. By working in a similar environment the candidate will know the industry, have strong product knowledge, awareness of common challenges present within the market, good methods and practices and will often have a network of relevant contacts beneficial to the business. Within the current uncertain economic climate businesses can be less willing to take a gamble and many take solace in a closed recruitment strategy.

Particularly within engineering and manufacturing it is undisputable that many occupations require very specific skillsets or acute technical market knowledge which requires an experienced expert within the field. Additionally, 64% of energy CEOs are concerned about the availability of industry relevant technical skills. With fewer STEM qualified candidates entering the workforce, the market is incredibly competitive with niche skill sets in high demand and low supply, pushing the level of expected salaries up and demanding companies be more competitive in remuneration and benefit packages.

By restricting your target talent pool to candidates within the same industry you will be potentially be paying a considerably higher price and subsequently missing out on skills and practices that could bring a fresh outlook to your existing processes. Having a diverse range of backgrounds, opinions and ideas within your company culture is the recipe for innovation. The phrase “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” holds a strong presence in the discussion on how transferable many skills really are across sectors. If the business is stagnating and “this is the way we have always done it” is a common refrain, then maybe it’s time to broaden the search and recruit from other industries.

An individual will change careers on average 5-7 times in their working lifetime. In procurement particularly, very rarely do candidates stay within the same niche sector for the entirety of their careers. The beauty of procurement is that many of the fundamental and core skills and abilities such as negotiation, relationship management, supplier evaluation, stakeholder and contract management are highly transferable and applicable across sectors. With the right training and support complemented with a willingness to learn, individuals can adapt quickly to a new market, especially when the core fundamentals­ are essentially the same.

Procurement strategy within both public and private sector works towards the same result – securing the right supplier to obtain the required goods or services. It must be acknowledged, however, that due to differing levels of regulation, financial resource, management, motivations and business goals, procurement processes within public and private sector organisations are significantly different and each are faced with their own unique challenges. Despite requiring similar skill sets and shared goals, transitioning from one sector to another, such as private to public, electronics to packaging or food to pharma, will be a potentially steep learning curve for any procurement specialist looking to take the leap.

It all comes down to the needs and capabilities of the business alongside the available talent pool. Business-critical requirements mandate an industry expert that will hit the ground running, so playing the long game for that perfect candidate may be the most appropriate option as there is no use trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you have the capacity, however, to train new candidates on industry-specific processes and jargon, cross-sector hiring may offer your business more in the long run. Although being perceived as low risk, closed recruitment practices, particularly for occupations with an abundance of cross-sector transferable skills, can be an adverse hiring strategy overall, reducing the diversity and inclusivity of your workforce. In a society where businesses aspire to continuously improve and move forward yet always hire the same people from the same competitors with the same skill set, can you expect significant growth?