The future of procurement
There will be minimal overall employment growth for the public-sector procurement profession during the next decade. However, the impending retirement of baby boomers in the profession will prompt many agencies to post “help wanted” signs—but “paper pushers” need not apply. Meanwhile, obtaining professional certification and continuing education credits will become more important than ever.
These are a few of the predictions of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and other experts, who talked to Government Procurement about the future of the public-sector procurement profession.
Looking at the entire public- and private-sector purchasing employment universe, the bureau’s 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook asserts that among purchasing managers, buyers and purchasing agents in all industries, “employment is projected to have little or no job growth” from 2006 through 2016. According to the bureau’s definition, “little or no job growth” means that the change in employment numbers is projected to range from a 2 percent decrease to a 2 percent increase during the time frame.
The BLS drills down further to predict that total employment of public- and private-sector purchasing managers during the next decade will grow by 3.4 percent—from 69,526 jobs in 2006 to 71,910 in 2016. According to the bureau‘s definition of “purchasing manager” in its Standard Occupational Classification, purchasing managers: “Plan, direct or coordinate the activities of buyers, purchasing officers and related workers involved in purchasing materials, products and services. Include wholesale or retail trade merchandising managers and procurement managers.”
In the eyes of the BLS, the 3.4 percent increase in the employment of public- and private-sector purchasing managers falls into the category of growth that is progressing “more slowly than average.”
The projections for the public sector are even less promising. While local governments’ hiring of purchasing managers is projected to grow by 1.1 percent, employment of purchasing managers in federal and state government agencies is expected to decline over that same period.
According to BLS estimates:
- Local governments’ employment of purchasing managers will climb from 2,346 jobs in 2006 to 2,372 in 2016. Special-district forms of government are included in local government totals.
- Employment of purchasing managers in federal agencies (excluding the U.S. Postal Service) will drop by 512 jobs—from 3,433 in 2006 to 2,921 in 2016. Defense Department purchasing managers are included in the federal government tabulations.
- State government agencies will employ an estimated 672 purchasing managers, down from the 685 who were employed in 2006.
The BLS uses data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program to develop forecasts that appear in its occupational handbook. As part of the program, some 200,000 employers are asked twice a year to provide employment and wage estimates for more than 800
BLS predicts 10 percent job growth
To put the employment numbers for the procurement profession in perspective, the BLS predicts that total employment in the United States during the next decade will increase by 10 percent, or 15.6 million jobs.
For the 1996-2006 decade, the bureau projected a 12 percent employment growth rate.
According to Doug Braddock, supervisory economist at the BLS’ Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, advances in purchasing automation and information technology are the likely causes of slower employment growth in the public-sector purchasing work force.
“The use of the Internet to conduct electronic commerce has made information easier to obtain, thus increasing the productivity of purchasing managers. The Internet also allows both large and small companies to bid on contracts,” Braddock said. “Exclusive supply contracts and long-term contracting have allowed organizations to negotiate with fewer suppliers less frequently.”
Some readers may question the low number of purchasing managers, especially within state government. According to Braddock, the relatively low number of purchasing managers in state governments may be connected to the Standard Occupational Classification definition of “purchasing manager.”
“Employers are given the definitions and are asked how many are employed in that capacity,” Braddock said. “Presumably, by the definition, there just aren’t that many purchasing managers in state governments.”
Michael Soloy, a BLS economist in the Occupational Employment Statistics program, added that the bureau’s definition of manager “is fairly strict within our coding structure.”
“Some people might call themselves a manager, but then, according to our definition, they wouldn’t be, because they don’t have that level of supervision,” Soloy said. “So state governments might have a lot of purchasing agents, but maybe they might not report to an actual purchasing manager; they might report to a general manager, or finance director, or something like that.”
‘True procurement managers’ wanted
While the overall employment outlook calls for minimal growth in the number of public-sector purchasing professionals, there could be opportunities for those in the purchasing field to grow professionally in the years ahead, according to Don Buffum, CPPO, who is director, procurement and contracts, at Mississippi State University. Buffum is a former chairman of the Universal Public Purchasing Certification Council (UPPCC) and is a current advisory member of the UPPCC.
“Automation and increased information technology (IT) will continue to decrease the need for purchasing clerks and paper pushers,” Buffum told Government Procurement. “The need for true procurement managers will increase as we move away from a task-oriented operation to a strategic operation where the managers are reviewing new data, making decisions, planning, etc.
“Increasingly complex IT and service procurements will require highly trained managers to work on teams with the departments as well as develop new and innovative techniques.”
In the eyes of Buffum, future procurement managers will be involved in more intensive contract administration as well as lengthier contract negotiations.
According to Tina Borger, CPPO, director of research at the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) and a former public purchasing official for 31 years in Loudoun County, Va., automation only can go so far in helping purchasing professionals do their jobs.
“While technology helps with small and routine purchases, you can’t use technology to handle the complex purchases that we’ve always had, and which continue to grow even more complex,” Borger said, adding that complicated procurements require a great deal of analysis.
“The job skills that governments are looking for and that we are seeing on our NIGP survey results include negotiation skills, spec writing, how to buy construction, contract management and evaluating supplier performance,” Borger said. “Automation can assist with the clerical side of the task, but you have to have knowledgeable procurement professionals in the seats to do that level of work.”
The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) also sees a changing role on the horizon for purchasing professionals.
“The field of purchasing is transitioning to a more strategic role than ever before,” ISM Public Relations Manager Jean McHale said. “The role of the purchasing manager has expanded beyond traditional tactical and administrative functions. Purchasing automation and advanced information technology have indeed contributed to this shift in the perceptions of the profession and the role of the purchasing manager to seek out and execute new techniques, methods, skills and capabilities.”
The growing importance of certification
In the 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook, BLS analysts assert that professional certification “is becoming increasingly important, especially for those just entering the occupation.” BLS analysts also note that continuing education “is essential for advancement.”
Jeff Holden, president of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) and director of the Office of Procurement Management for the state of South Dakota, agreed that certification “is extremely valuable in the current job market.”
“If faced with a decision of hiring an individual who is trained and competent in public procurement versus an individual who has no training or experience, the procurement manager’s decision is much easier when there is a certified applicant,” Holden said.
Mississippi State University’s Buffum concurred.
“The CPPO certification shows that a candidate has not only completed the required classroom (theory) education, but also has an appropriate number of years of on-the-job training and expertise,” Buffum said. “In addition, by successfully passing the exam, the candidate shows that [he or she has] mastered the body of knowledge that is required in professional public procurement. The hiring entity is assured of getting a new employee who knows and understands the many complex aspects of public procurement and the trends that are changing the profession.”
David Gragan, CPPO, chief procurement officer of the District of Columbia’s Office of Contracting and Procurement, asserted that certifications “are without question to the prospective employee’s advantage,” particularly in today’s competitive job market.
“As a hiring authority, and the CPO of a large government, if two candidates present with essentially the same abilities and promise, yet one has a certification related to the profession of purchasing and particularly public procurement, I would be inclined to hire the certified person,” Gragan said.
According to Gragan, “The certification means several things: a) mastery of a commonly accepted body of knowledge in this profession; b) indication that the person who attained it takes this business seriously, and sees it as more than a job; c) indication that the certified person is motivated to excel in whatever he or she does (a general personality trait that is of value to me in my personnel); and d) an indication that the person has invested for the long term—in other words, is likely to aspire to leadership positions.”
Gragan added: “That last one increases the likelihood that an employee is a good, hard-working and contributing member of the procurement team.”
The ISM also sings the praises of relevant and meaningful certification for purchasing professionals.
“Earning a professional certification after college is another way ISM encourages professionals to develop their careers and get noticed by prospective employers,” McHale said. “ISM’s newest professional credential, the certified professional in supply management (CPSM), was developed to address the expanded education, skills and experience needed to be a successful supply management professional.”
Recruiting the next generation
No question about it: There’s a steady stream of veteran purchasing professionals heading for the exits after distinguished careers. According to a new NASPO research brief, “An estimated 40 percent of state procurement officials [are] eligible for retirement within the next five years.”
The NASPO brief—titled “Responding to an Aging and Changing Workforce: Attracting, Retaining and Developing New Procurement Professionals”—noted that many retirements are on the horizon at federal agencies as well. As much as “16.2 percent of the federal work force is expected to retire in the [fiscal year] 2006-2010 period,” the brief explains, citing Office of Personnel Management data.
The ISM has a number of resources to woo the next generation. The ISM publication “Supply IN Demand” provides a host of information on careers in supply management. In addition, the ISM maintains an online directory of universities and other institutions that offer programs and curriculum in supply management.
Unlimited opportunity may be this profession’s biggest selling point.
“ISM encourages young people to consider supply management as a career because it offers the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities and play a strategic and boundary-spanning role within an organization,” McHale said. “Professional duties may expand beyond the acquisition of materials, services and equipment into such areas as planning and policy making, motivation, evaluation, product development and control.”
In the view of South Dakota’s Holden, public purchasing internships could be the answer.
“Government procurement offices need to be the catalysts for opportunities for young people to gain experience in the public procurement arena,” Holden said. “Government purchasing organizations must work to create internships that provide real-world procurement experiences for young people interested in this type of public service. By doing so, we can cultivate a valuable resource of public procurement professionals to help ensure the quality and integrity of the public procurement process and profession for the future.”
Buffum and Gragan suggested that students interested in getting their feet wet in public purchasing apply for governor and mayoral fellowship programs as well as for paid or unpaid summer intern jobs in central procurement settings.
Young people should know about this career perk: Public purchasing is becoming a more dynamic profession.
“Those considering entering this field can expect a rapidly changing environment, which I find exciting,” said Greg Smith, administrator in the state of Nevada’s Department of Administration, Purchasing Division. “The private sector already has recognized the vital role procurement and supply management has with respect to the bottom line. The public sector is slow to follow for a variety of reasons.”
The NIGP is taking steps to spread the word about public purchasing career opportunities.
“In the next three months or so, we’ll begin distributing a career kit to universities,” NIGP Marketing Director Brent Maas told Government Procurement.
Plans call for sending the kit to university career centers as well as to college academic departments, particularly public administration, business and supply-chain management departments.
“With the contents of the kit, we really intend to provide an overview of what the profession’s all about, the opportunity that is there in the profession and certainly some information about NIGP as well,” Maas said.
About the author
Michael Keating is online content editor for Penton Media’s Government Product News, Government Procurement and New Equipment Digest. Keating has written articles on the government market for more than 100 publications, including USA Today, Sanitary Maintenance, Industry Week and the Costco Connection. He can be reached at [email protected].