Filling staff vacancies as workers retire is a priority for procurement administrators
Planning for succession is vital to any procurement organization, says Pima County, Ariz., Procurement Director Terri Spencer. “Currently more than half of the baby boomer generation—those born between 1946 and 1964—have reached the full retirement age of 66.” Spencer, a 20-year veteran of the Pima County Procurement Department, says occupations, including the procurement profession, are starting to see the impact of these workforce exits with more to come within the next five years.
Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996 (also known as Generation Y), are the next workforce group that will step into the retirees’ shoes. Spencer says managers will have to shift their strategies to recruit, engage and retain staffers from this age class. She notes that millennials are motivated by stimulation, recognition, flexible work arrangements, development opportunities and defined culture. “It is becoming important to develop mid-level management who clearly communicate expectations to their team, regularly ask for feedback and input, and actively listen to team members’ answers.” She adds that it is crucial that these management recruits trust their team with responsibilities, acknowledge achievements and express gratitude for hard work, and encourage collaboration.
Spencer says today’s generation of leaders in purchasing and contracting wish to do more and have varied experiences. “The most ambitious procurement professionals are looking for roles in which they will be mentored and inspired by their manager and where consistently challenging and interesting work is offered with exposure to diverse areas.”
Spencer says a variety of techniques can be used to recruit more procurement professionals from Black, Indigenous, people of color, women and other under-represented groups. She urges recruiters to “Meet people where they are,” suggesting:
- Attend and support cultural/heritage celebrations by having a table at the event and make sure your organization is seen.
- Begin dialogue about your workplace (and career opportunities there) with local organizations and nonprofits that work with under-represented groups; they may maintain a “help wanted” board.
- Issue press releases/statements of support for cultural and heritage events. “This includes coordinating your own cultural/heritage celebrations with staff within your agency,” Spencer explains. She says that departments can enhance their reputation with under-represented groups through employee resource groups to promote open and honest communication about the workplace (e.g., LGBTQ+ and allies; Hispanic/Latin and allies; etc.)
“Make sure people can see themselves in your organization. That includes everything from diverse representation in photographs to diversity in visible leadership,” she says. “Diversity is becoming the norm, and the time to adapt to it in procurement organizations is now.”
Spencer says managers can employ the following strategies in their recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training:
- Reduce barriers. Spencer urges managers to consider their recruiting and hiring process from the candidate’s perspective, specifically from an under-represented class member’s perspective. Her advice: “Determine whether there are difficulties some people might face that others would not.”
- Address biases. Consider what biases may be present when screening candidates for employment. Spencer suggests recruiters ask themselves these questions: “What unconscious biases might be affecting who gets interviewed or receives a job offer? Are individuals from some groups assumed to be coachable, while others are assumed not to be?”
- Post ads strategically. “We tend to network with people who are like us, so social networks and employee referral programs can easily become homogeneous and hamper diversity efforts,” Spencer explains. She urges managers to seek out job boards designed to help individuals from minority and under-represented groups find work.
- Focused interviews. Spencer advises managers to obtain factual, job-related information during interviews. She suggests that procurement leaders “Avoid documenting ‘gut feelings’ or personal impressions to avoid personal bias from impacting the outcome of an interview.”
- Seek culture contributions. Spencer urges administrators to look for candidates who can add or contribute to an agency’s culture, as opposed to those that “fit” within it. “Too often, when we hire for culture fit, diversity in the workplace is diminished. When agencies hire for fit, they end up cloning the same skills and experience repeatedly. The very nature of doing this means an agency is favoring similarity and weeding out diversity. Instead, examine your agency culture to determine what’s missing, and hire people who can enrich it and who will contribute positively to your culture.”
To recruit new staffers, Spencer suggests reaching out to professional organizations that are more likely to ensure a sizable demographic reach. “National, state and local professional organizations such as NIGP – The Institute for Public Procurement and NPI – The National Procurement Institute can also accelerate the learning and training process for new staff to the procurement profession.”
Spencer says public administration, business and economics programs at local colleges and universities may yield good candidates for entry-level positions in procurement departments. “Recruiting from the military forces is another viable option. Military personnel exiting from active duty and re-entering the workforce often bring a positive work ethic as well as a variety of skillsets include procurement experience.” Spencer adds that a department can benefit by training, developing and promoting its own staff. “Those candidates already have specific knowledge of the organization and its procurement systems.”
Procurement moving forward
Spencer believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected public procurement in many ways. “The pandemic has definitely increased our workloads to support the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizing supplies and equipment, COVID testing, processing and reporting as well as vaccination supplies and services.” Spencer says her team has relied on all its procurement tools, including use of cooperative contracts, emergency, and expedited public solicitations to accommodate increased requirements in Pima County.
She adds that cooperative contracts are an important tool and cost-saving measure for procurement professionals, especially for smaller local government procurement departments. “Cooperative contracts bring higher efficiency to agencies because they allow for one procurement process rather than many. By using these contracts that have already been competitively bid, agencies can work together to save time and money. This is made possible by state laws that allow governmental and nonprofit agencies to use the work of other agencies across the nation to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.”
Spencer offers the following advice when agencies consider using a cooperative contract: “The key is that governmental and nonprofit agencies must perform their own due diligence to ensure that the competitive bid process used in awarding the cooperative contract meets all of their own state and local procurement requirements and that the terms of the contract meet the end-user needs; otherwise final terms should be negotiated.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].