When it comes to choosing a career, Purchasing (or Procurement) and Supply may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, this fast-growing and well-paid sector has got a lot going for it as Liz Lees, PR manager for the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), is keen to explain. ‘It opens the door to so many different careers because you can basically buy so many different things. People always think, “Procurement, oh, office supplies such as stationary and paper clips,” but it’s not like that at all. We’ve got people all over the world buying advertising, giving variation and excitement.’
Procurement and Supply (or P & S) is, on a basic level, the acquisition of goods and/or services at the best possible cost, and of the right quantity and quality, at the right time. The reason for people’s misconceptions about this sector is that it has traditionally been lumped together with Transport and Logistics. Although there is some overlap, they are very different and distinct careers. ‘Students don’t necessarily think of us first because we are not high profile,’ says Lees. ‘Many people will tell you they fell into it, or when they started a graduate scheme P & S was one of the modules and they liked it so much they stayed in it.’
Now CIPS is actively promoting careers in P & S and more and more universities, such as Glamorgan, are offering specific P & S degrees. Apparently, there is a move on at present to get more graduates to enter P & S in the creative industries, such as marketing and PR, and also in HR and IT. Also hot are the charity sector and, more importantly, the public sector. Lees explains: ‘People want public money to be spent well, they hate seeing it wasted. There’s been a recent government efficiency drive, and procurement has played a huge part in it because they’ve realised if they are to hit their savings target of £25.1 billion, they have to involve P & S.’ What the sector needs is good talent coming in and rejuvenating P & S departments by streamlining systems and making it slicker. You need good technical skills such as buying, negotiating, and understanding legalities and sustainability considerations, but just as important are your soft skills. ‘Communication, integrity and presentation are all key,’ says Lees. ‘Also, as new markets in India, China, and South America emerge, you’ll need an understanding of different cultures because you’ll have to work within their boundaries.’ Having a second or a third language will give you even more opportunities to work abroad. If you think you’ve got what it takes, now is a great time to enter this sector as it is growing massively. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (third quarter 2007) there are 39,577 Purchasing Managers, and 64,443 Buyers and Purchasing Officers in the UK. As companies as varied as Sainsbury’s, GlaxoSmithKline, Cadbury and Rolls-Royce all now offer specific P & S training courses, these figures are set to increase.
You can progress up the career ladder rapidly, with new graduates earning between £18,000 and £22,000; these figures rise to £80,000 or even £90,000 at the top end, although Lees says many positions command six figure salaries. Going on to postgraduate study in P & S (such as CIPS qualifications) is hard work, but more and more companies are asking for it as it shows a commitment to the job. In the meantime, if you feel this could be the career for you, the best piece of advice Liz Lees gives is to get some work experience – it really is invaluable.