Time to get certified
A 2003 Inspector General’s Report in Florida pointed to a need for “additional oversight and accountability to ensure [that] Florida taxpayers receive a fair return on their tax dollars.” The report also pinpointed the need for a “statewide system to train or certify agency contracting personnel [and] incentives to encourage professional development.” The audit findings were the impetus for development of an ambitious statewide training program for Florida public purchasing professionals. In the several years since, Florida has developed an extensive certification program, building on well-known national certifications such as the Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO), Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB), Project Management Professional (PMP) and adding four Florida-specific certifications.
There was no structured training program in Florida for procurement professionals before 2004, so the program started from ground zero. “We created the program for state agencies based on the audit report, but we opened it up to any governmental entity, including cities, counties, special districts and school systems,” said Charles Covington, director of state purchasing, Florida Department of Management Services. “Many have taken advantage of it.”
In the current challenging economic climate, certification of procurement professionals is a critical tool for agencies all over the country as they watch every dollar and look to maximize value, which well-trained professionals are better-equipped to do. For procurement employees, and for those in the market for a job, certifications can provide an edge when applying for an open position or looking to be promoted. A certification might even make a difference in whether an employee is laid off, says Norma Hall, program manager, Training and Strategic Planning, South Carolina Materials Management Office. She is Governing Board Chair of the Universal Public Purchasing Certification Council (UPPCC), which awards CCPO and CPPB certifications. For the profession as a whole, certification boosts recognition of the specialized skills involved in procurement. “It lets people know we aren’t just paper-pushers,” says Hall. “You can’t just hire people off the street to do this job. If you have a certification, it proves you have the skill set, which is an edge over someone else applying for the position.”
The Florida program, and programs in other states, builds on the certification program of the UPPCC, which awards Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO) and Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) certifications to procurement professionals nationwide. UPPCC, created from a partnership between the National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) and the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP), is an independent council that administers the certification programs as a third party. A governing board oversees their work, and a separate board of examiners creates and oversees the testing, which is provided at sites nationwide by Prometric. Certifications are awarded based on a combination of higher education, specific coursework related to the field and experience (number of years on the job). For example, someone with a higher education degree would require fewer years of job experience to achieve certification. (See page 30 for information on the latest round of testing, and page 29 for a list of those recently certified.)
Looking to understand how CPPO and CPPB certifications can reflect changing job requirements, UPPCC in 2007 surveyed 2,000 procurement professionals from across seven of the largest organizations in public procurement, covering various job levels from beginner to director. The survey identified 92 total tasks and 108 knowledge statements involved in procurement. The survey confirmed how well the 10 Domain Areas in the UPPCC Body of Knowledge apply both to the CPPO and CPPB certifications. One finding of the survey, for example, was that warehousing is becoming a less important topic because of the growth of just-in-time (JIT) contracting or timed contracts.
The survey uncovered other information about the impact of certifications:
Thirty percent of respondents said that certain positions within their organizations require certification.
Thirty-four percent of respondents said certification affects starting salary.
Thirty-four percent said salary increases are tied to certification.
Twenty-five percent said higher salaries are paid to purchasing directors with CPPO certification.
Thirty-seven percent of agencies require procurement directors to have the CPPO certification before they are hired.
Thirty-four percent of agencies require a director hired without a CPPO certification to obtain it; and purchasing managers earn 11 percent more in salary if they hold the CPPO.
Florida’s certification efforts
Many states are offering additional certifications to build on the benefits of the CPPO and CPPB. In Florida, four state-specific certifications are the Florida Certified Purchasing Agent, Florida Certified Purchasing Manager, Florida Certified Contract Manager and Florida Certified Contract Negotiator.
The Florida Certified Purchasing Agent requires a CPPB or CPPO certification; a certificate of completion of the Public Purchasing in Florida seminar offered by state purchasing; and 12 months’ experience in a full-time purchasing position in Florida or one of its political subdivisions. The Florida Certified Purchasing Manager requires a CPPB or CPPO certification; a certificate of completion of the Public Purchasing in Florida seminar offered by state purchasing; and a minimum of three years’ experience in a full-time purchasing position for Florida or one of its political subdivisions, with one year in a Florida public purchasing management position.
The third certification, Florida Certified Contract Manager, requires a certificate of completion of the NIGP Contract Management or Contract Administration seminar; a certificate of completion of the Contract Management in Florida and Best Practices for Contract and Grant Management in Florida seminars; and a minimum of 12 months in a full-time purchasing position for the state of Florida or one of its political subdivisions, or managing one or more contracts for Florida or one of its political subdivisions.
The fourth certification, Florida Certified Contract Negotiator, is offered in conjunction with the Project Management Professional certification through the Project Management Institute and was put into law by the state legislature in 2006. In Florida Statute 287.057(17)(b), “when the value of a contract is in excess of $1 million in any fiscal year, at least one of the persons conducting negotiations must be certified as a contract negotiator” and “if the value of a contract is in excess of $10 million in any fiscal year, at least one of the persons conducting negotiations must be a Project Management Professional, as certified by the Project Management Institute.”
Covington says a driving force in the emergence of Florida certifications was concern over outsourcing and the need to ensure the use of effective solicitation and negotiation of any service that would displace state workers. The Florida Certified Contract Negotiator requires certificates of completion of the NIGP General Public Procurement or Sourcing in the Public Sector seminars, and the ESI/George Washington University Negotiation Strategies and Techniques seminar; a certificate of completion of the Negotiation in Florida seminar offered by state purchasing; must have led a team through at least one procurement through negotiation or served on at least three federal, state or local government negotiation teams; and must have worked a minimum of 12 months in a related full-time position.
Even in tough economic times, the Florida Legislature allotted $250,000 to provide professional training in project management and negotiations, enough money to train 50 contract negotiators and 60 project management professionals a year and to pay for part of their continuing education units to keep their certifications current.
In addition to contracting with NIGP, Florida uses two suppliers of project management training, ESI International and Velociteach LLC, to provide education needed in its certification programs.
Certification programs for procurement professionals are common in other states, too, building on the CPPO/CPPB certifications, which offer benefits applicable to any jurisdiction. All states have a procurement code that models the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Procurement Code, but each state adds nuances to their codes, such as the size of contracts that require competitive bids. Go Pro compiled information from a sampling of states as an update of recent certification programs.
The Virginia Institute of Procurement (VIP), the training unit of the Division of Purchases and Supply (DPS), part of the Department of General Services, offers education and certification in public procurement to state and local government procurement personnel. More than 1,600 procurement professionals have achieved professional designation since the program began in 1990. The Virginia Contracting Associate (VCA) is a three-day training program that focuses on small purchases up to $50,000 and on eVA, Virginia’s Total eProcurement Solution; point-of-sale purchases using a small purchase charge card; and emergency and sole-source procurements. The Virginia Contracting Officer (VCO) program focuses solely on complex procurements over $50,000. During the seven-day program, students are exposed to a variety of purchasing scenarios and problems. Working in teams, they are required to develop strategies and resolutions, thus gaining skills immediately applicable to their jobs. Virginia also has a Virginia Contracting Master (VCM) certification under development for early 2010. The third-level certification will be the capstone training for the contracting career path and will focus on strategic skills needed for managing procurement at a senior level.
As part of a procurement transformation that started in 2005, Georgia’s State Purchasing Division (SPD) has changed its methodology, procedures and tools on how to do procurement. Training development started in 2007 with basic certification courses covering Georgia administrative rules. Certification exams have not been released to state entities yet, although they have been informed that they have to be certified and which courses they need to attend. More than 3,000 attendees have participated in training classes scheduled in various cities/towns throughout the state. The certifications are Georgia Certified Purchasing Associate (GCPA), a basic certification; Georgia Certified Purchasing Manager (GCPM), for employees responsible for writing and managing the RFP process and for those involved in negotiations or contract management (introduced this July); and Georgia Certified Purchasing Card Administrator (GCPCA), for employees whose responsibilities include managing the P-card program at their facilities. Training courses necessary to complete the Team Georgia Marketplace Certification are also part of the training curriculum designed for the various procurement certification paths, such as basic and RFP certifications.
- North Dakota
When North Dakota was tackling some major revisions in state procurement laws, rules and procedures in 2002, they turned to Alaska for help. Alaska’s existing training program was customized to North Dakota laws. Since purchasing was decentralized in North Dakota in June 2004, the training program has enabled agencies to have their own purchasing staff and to conduct their own procurements. The North Dakota Procurement Officer Certification Program was established in 2002 to increase the professionalism, skills and accountability of individuals who purchase for the state. Procurement Officer Certification consists of three levels of procurement complexity, and each level provides core training that is a building block for the next higher level. Level 1 Certification is intended for state employees who make small purchases up to $2,500, and can be achieved by reading a state manual and completing the certification in the back of the manual or by attending a course. Level 2 Certification is for employees making purchases up to $25,000 and requires both the Level 1 Course and a four-hour Level 2 Course. Level 3 Certification, intended for employees who make purchases over $25,000, also have to attend a course providing an overview of Invitations for Bid, Request for Proposals and Contract Administration.
The certified buyer program in Minnesota is called Authority for Local Purchase (ALP), and it certifies buyers at two levels: $10,000 and $25,000/$50,000. Minnesota started the program in 1993, and the Materials Management Division (MMD), the state’s procurement office, has developed a number of training programs for state agency personnel seeking local purchasing certification. Purchasing certification at any level is valid for three years. Renewal requirements must be fulfilled to receive recertification. For purchasing authority up to $10,000, trainees attend a one-day entry-level training session and receive an open-book, take-home written exam. Recertification is required every three years. Purchasing for $10,000 to $25,000/$50,000 requires a one-and-a-half-day session including hand-on solicitation processing in the state accounting and procurement system. There is an in-class written exam. After the class, the trainee is placed on probation and must complete at least six solicitations in the state system before being granted certification. Recertification involves additional training (at least half a day) and retaking the in-class test. To date, 545 buyers have participated in the $10,000 certification, and 83 buyers have achieved $25,000/$50,000 certification.
While it doesn’t have a certification program per se, the California, Department of General Services, Procurement Division (Cal-PCA), offers a certificate program for state buyers that includes Continuing Education Credits through the California State University system. The two programs are Basic Acquisitions (non-IT) and Intermediate Acquisitions (IT).
- South Carolina
The State Procurement Office for South Carolina has become fully certified for the first time ever. There are currently 10 procurement professionals in the state procurement office. South Carolina also offers state-specific Level I, II and III certifications based on NIGP’s Learning and Education to Advance Procurement (LEAP) curriculum, with more state-specific classes required for each level.
- New York
While it doesn’t award any state-specific certifications, the New York State Office of General Services (OGS) undertook a certification program for its professional purchasing staff beginning in 2006. Individuals are selected to hold purchasing positions based on civil service standards. Once appointed to purchasing jobs, there is an opportunity to become certified professionals. New York selected the NIGP certification program and offers six training modules to its employees. More than 60 individuals from the OGS Procurement Services Group and the Finance Office are enrolled in the program and are at various stages in the certification process.
Benefits and challenges
Florida and other states have seen tangible benefits from the effort. “We have seen fewer bid protests, higher degrees of savings or cost avoidance for these contracts, and more people using the contracts,” says Covington. “Our overall contract management has improved, and we have had fewer complaints to vendors.” Even so, it is difficult to quantify the benefits in dollars and cents, he concedes.
New York has seen an improved quality of job performance from certification, says Virginia Lazzaro, assistant director, Division of Purchase. “The training has enabled staff to provide the highest level and most cost-effective contracts possible. The investment has made the Office of General Services a better place to work.”
Virginia has also seen benefits. “Students thrive on the mentoring and peer interaction of small group exercises (in the course of certification training) focused on actual procurement scenarios and issues,” says Linda Morris, learning and development manager, Department of General Services, Division of Purchases and Supply.
Covington of Florida suggests there should be a more structured approach to rewarding employees for the training required to get certified. Another challenge is availability of trainers. “For the four in-state certifications, we use state employees as trainers, and it’s a challenge to add this responsibility to employees who have full-time jobs. For our four-day course, it’s hard to get instructors. The alternative of providing more training personnel is cost-prohibitive.”
Other challenges Covington sees are the need to promote the awareness of the importance of procurement to persons in higher positions in the government, and to increase knowledge and awareness of the training required to get certified.
One solution is online training, says Cyndee Sams, training, vendor and customer service manager, Florida Department of Management Services. To help promote interaction between the instructor and students, attendees are required to participate in a 30-minute telephone conference call after taking the Web course to ask questions.
There is also a possible negative effect of certification on retention, says Covington. Ironically, the certifications that make procurement employees more valuable to Florida also make them more attractive in the job market. “We have lost employees who have moved to the private sector or other agencies,” says Covington. A solution would be to provide pay increases or rewards to employees for achieving certification, a difficult thing to do in the current economic climate.
- Read the “Alphabet soup: Who’s who in certification” sidebar for an overview of various national- and international-level certifications.
- Read the “Florida study groups achieve 100% success” sidebar for information on how the Central Florida Chapter of NIGP study groups achieved a perfect pass rate.
About the author
Larry Anderson is editor of Go Pro.