Procurement staffers have gone the extra mile to keep governments supplied during COVID-19
The pandemic has taken a toll on procurement teams. “Government employees—such as acquisition professionals—kept working amidst massive global disruption during the pandemic to allow government suppliers to keep people employed,” says Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for Government at Qualtrics, which offers a secure, agile, online platform that is a common framework for organizations to design and improve customer and employee experiences. The experience management platform helps consistently drive innovation in a time and world where people demand more from products, brands, and experiences.
“State and local government were overrun with work, and specific areas of government—such as Health and Human Services agencies—saw an exponential increase in workloads during the pandemic. Employees were learning emergency procurement roles in real-time and putting together quick solutions to ensure that the government had what they needed to keep running,” Heimbrock tells Co-op Solutions.
Some staffers have become exhausted because of this sudden work increase. “Stress and burnout are the main reasons that over half of managers, directors and executives plan to leave their jobs to look for new opportunities across the board, which is only compounded in government,” Heimbrock says. Her firm’s research spotlights this trend. She adds that before the pandemic, government retirements were happening at a steady rate; however, there has been a statistically significant increase in retirement across the board after the pandemic.
One bright side that governments may experience, Heimbrock predicts: “With the forced increase and development in procurement professionals due to the pandemic, governments now have scalable solutions and are much more equipped to handle similar situations in the future.”
It’s important, Heimbrock explains, for existing employees to weigh in on solutions designed to boost efficiency on procurement teams. She says cooperative procurement contracts are one way to increase efficiency. “But more important than the individual method is for organizations to gather employee input throughout the process, from design to deployment. This allows for targeted solutions that do what they need to and are quickly developed and easy to adopt, designed by people who know how the job works.”
Heimbrock adds that automation could give a shot in the arm to a team’s productivity. “Taking advantage of automated solutions can also substantially increase the volume of work that local government procurement departments can handle with limited and stretched staff.” This approach, she adds, can enable government employees to quickly adjust to feedback from customers without feeling too overwhelmed.
As workers retire or leave the agency for another job, Heimbrock suggests that department heads start their recruiting efforts at educational institutions. “Creating pipelines and connections with local high schools, undergraduate and post-secondary educational institutions allows the government to foster talent.” She says the first step in making these connections is doing away with the typical notion that a new hire must have all the necessary skills to be qualified for the position. “The focus should be finding candidates who are willing to learn, a passion for working in the public sector and a genuine interest in improving government systems through contracting.”
She says organizations such as the Partnership for Public Service can help connect government agencies with higher education, allowing them to foster growth through mentorship, internship programs, and community outreach. “This encourages students to gain more government experience and provides the agency with a steady stream of candidates who already have an interest in working in the government.”
As they recruit, organizations must use data to understand what prospective employees are looking for and how they can shape the workplace to those needs. “New hires statistically want three things out of a workplace: the ability to create social impact, the opportunity for career progression and the chance to learn additional skills. Ensuring that these values come across to candidates is vital,” Heimbrock explains.
She adds that it is necessary to ensure that employees feel a sense of belonging in an organization. “Employees who feel like they belong are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who feel like they don’t belong. This is according to Qualtrics’ “2021 Global Employee Experience Trends Report.” The study shows that employees will be more likely to leave if they feel they do not belong. “Engagement drivers have also shifted from opportunities for development and leadership to a sense of belonging and pride in an organization’s purpose in recent years—with 73 percent of respondents saying they feel like they belong at their organization,” Heimbrock says.
Having a flexible work environment can have a positive influence on prospective candidates, according to Qualtrics research. About 56 percent of women and 43 percent of men say that flexibility is an important characteristic they look for when searching for a new place to work. “Being flexible with remote work can also allow for more diverse hires, as people will be able to apply from a much larger geographical range,” Heimbrock adds.
Several techniques can help boost diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training in local government procurement offices, Heimbrock tells Co-op Solutions. “Part of monitoring for candidate experience is also looking at trends in the hiring process to ensure there are no factors such as unconscious bias. DEI experience gaps are systemic, which means organizations must track these metrics at multiple touchpoints in the employee journey.”
Heimbrock urges procurement department recruiters to pay attention to correlations between candidates who drop out of the hiring process and diversity measures. She says those links can reveal unintended factors such as unconscious bias. “For example, whether a resume includes a name can have a significant impact on which candidates are chosen for an interview.” Here is a Qualtrics resource on DEI technologies.
Heimbrock says another way an agency can diversify its workforce is to diversify where it recruits talent. “Organizations cannot rely on places they have historically pulled from; they must expand their reach into non-traditional areas. Employers may be pleasantly surprised to see that community college graduates are often well educated, job-ready and motivated.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].