How to stay productive with smaller procurement staffs
The number of government purchasing managers will grow 3.6 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). “The number of employed purchasing managers is projected to grow slower than the average for all occupations, and the number of purchasing managers employed within government is projected to grow slower than the occupation as a whole,” says Michael Rieley, an economist at the BLS’ Division of Occupational Employment Projections.
In addition, the procurement clerk workforce in government is projected to decline 6.9 percent from 2016-26. “This reflects both the automation of clerical procurement work, and slower overall workforce growth in government [which is projected to grow just 1.8 percent for all occupations],” Rieley tells Coop Solutions.
The BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) says governments increasingly are using cooperative purchasing agreements to buy supplies and make other general purchases. Cooperative purchasing agreements allow governments to share resources to buy supplies, and the same standard contracts can be used multiple times by multiple government agencies, Rieley says. “This could have a productivity-enhancing effect in which fewer purchasing officers are needed to complete the same amount of work; this reduction in demand for labor could act to ease a labor shortage.”
The following potential trends may spur some reductions in numbers of buyers and purchasing agents, according to the OOH:
- Improvements in procurement technology will enable automating less complex procurement functions, such as finding suppliers or processing purchase orders.
- Some organizations, including governments, may rely more on third parties to handle a variety of tasks, such as market research or supplier risk assessments. Organizations may outsource these functions to focus on more complex or strategic procurement tasks and to reduce costs.
Lourdes Coss, former chief procurement officer in Cook County, Ill. and Houston, Texas, has used some of the techniques mentioned above to mitigate the effect of the absence of adequate resources, including qualified personnel. “My strategy was to implement the use of cooperative contracts or increase use where it made sense based on the priorities of the agency.”
Coss also implemented automation of repetitive work to free up staff time, and she streamlined processes to more effectively utilize resources. “In some instances, I collaborated with another agency to share common requirements and leverage the other agency‘s resources,” Coss tells Coop Solutions. She is now an author, procurement consultant, JMT-certified coach, teacher, speaker and trainer.
Automating tasks is one way agencies can get the work done with lean public procurement staffs, says Robert Walla, purchasing agent for Lincoln, Neb. and Lancaster County. “We have been using an E-procurement system for 11 years. It is the only way we are able to keep up with the needs of our departments.”
To stay productive despite fewer staffers, Walla offers this advice: “I believe the number one strategy is the use of electronic procurement and contract management systems. It is also important to hire staff who are proficient in all Microsoft programs and are willing to learn new programs and systems for use in the department.”
Making sure processes conform to standard is key, Walla says. “One area we continue to work on is standardization of procurement functions and documents. If departments take the time to complete bid and RFP templates, they will have a better understanding of the entire process and will know how to address contract issues that may come up.”
By keeping things uniform, agency workers can devote time to other tasks, Walla says. “This process also allows our staff to spend more time verifying information rather than trying to invent language that may not be exactly what the department is wanting. Utilization of templates will bring efficiencies and consistency to the entities we serve.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. Contact: [email protected]