Assessing the profession: Practitioner perspectives on procurement certifications
Efforts to improve government performance frequently depend upon the exemplary performance of individual employees, and these dedicated public servants have few options when seeking ways to improve their job effectiveness and develop their careers. Colleges and universities can help by providing broader perspectives and professional degrees, but professional associations are often best able to address the needs of in-service professionals struggling with day-to-day challenges.
Associations focusing on procurement are especially important because improved procurement performance is essential to many high priority government reforms, such as reengineering government processes, cutting red tape and managing costs. The support these associations offer takes many forms, but intensive training and certifications are their most important link with individual practitioners. This article examines data from 1,591 survey respondents who reported public procurement experience, and many of these respondents reported membership in more than one association.
How is this working out? We seek to answer this question using data from a survey sent to members of the seven charter procurement associations of the National Council of Public Procurement and Contracting (NCPPC) earlier in 2009. The association memberships include: California Association of Public Purchasing Officers, Florida Association of Public Purchasing Officers, National Association of Educational Procurement, National Association of State Procurement Officials, National Contract Management Association, National Institute of Governmental Purchasing and National Purchasing Institute.
Member assessments of certification benefits
Successful professionalization must combine the provision of task-appropriate knowledge and skills with opportunities for career growth, and the survey findings allow us to examine the outcomes certifications produced in both of these areas — from the perspective of association members. Questions that addressed knowledge and skills asked respondents whether public procurement certification increased self-confidence, improved knowledge and skills, encouraged ethical behavior and/or improved their credibility with the supplier community.
Each of the knowledge and skill items on the survey had five response options ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” These four items were summed, and the score was transformed into an index with possible scores ranging from 20 to 100. (Four strongly agree responses produced a score of 100, and four strongly disagree responses produced a score of 20.)
We also followed this procedure for four items that focused on career growth. These four items addressed whether certification produced career benefits, such as improved credibility with senior management, increased opportunities for career advancement, increased signature authority, and increased opportunities for agency-funded continued education.
Figure 1 displays the findings for these two indices. The mean score on the knowledge and skills index was 80 out of 100, which indicates that the average response was “agree” on this set of four items. The mean score on the career growth item was 72.
While the scores were somewhat lower for the career growth items, a majority of the respondents (57 percent) agreed that certification has been a factor in advancing their own career. In addition, the responses for both indexes were higher when we excluded those respondents who had not indicated that they possessed a certification at the time of the survey. The average score on the knowledge and skills index was 75 for respondents with no certification and rose to 85 for those with two or more. The career growth index increased from 69 to 74 for those same categories. These differences were statistically significant.
Certification bottom line
The survey also asked respondents directly about the benefits of certification where they worked. That is, what is in it for them? As Figure 2 shows, employers seldom reward the attainment of procurement certifications with increased pay. Professional development funding was the most common benefit; 44 percent of the respondents reported that this benefit was available where they worked. A bonus at hire for certification holders was the least likely benefit, and this was reported by only two percent of the respondents.
Continued professionalization of the procurement function is essential to effective government, and this survey offers some insights into where this effort stands today. The results show an average response of “agree” with a set of items asking whether public procurement certification improved knowledge and skills, and this is a positive finding. Professional associations are the primary source of systematic procurement knowledge, and these findings suggest that associations are successfully transmitting this knowledge to practicing procurement professionals.
The findings are also positive for certification contributions to career growth, but this is clearly an area where further progress is needed, especially considering that the bottom-line benefits of certification are not impressive. Most survey respondents did not report any (direct) monetary benefits associated with professional procurement certification where they worked. There is evidence that the indirect benefits do exceed the direct benefits, from the perspective of the survey respondents, but we do not know exactly how this happens.
Efforts to build a profession of public procurement are still under way, and the professional associations included in this survey are producing results. Our bad economic times are certainly going to hinder the development of additional certification incentive systems over the short term, but such efforts should certainly continue.
About the authors
Greg Streib is a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University, focusing on State and Local Governance, E-government, Policy Analysis and Evaluation, and Public Budgeting and Finance. Hyunghoon Kim is a doctoral student in public policy at Georgia State University and at Georgia Institute of Technology.