How to attract the right talent to procurement

By Shiraz Sarang

'I've always dreamt of being a procurement expert' is not something you will often hear promising young graduates in South Africa say.

Procurement is not a glamourous career option that gets students or parents excited. People tend to think of procurement as a boring, rules-based career that will require them to enforce strict policies. They are under the impression that they won't be able to make a meaningful impact on society and that their individuality will be stifled.

It's up to us in the procurement industry to address these misconceptions. We need to become better at selling why young talent should get into procurement and explain how they will be able to make a meaningful and long-lasting difference in society, at a company and to themselves. That's the only way we will be able to attract the right talent to organisations - now and in the future.

People often ask me how to recognise talent in aspiring youngsters. Having the right attitude is an important first step. In procurement, we're faced with regular rejection and resistance because we're trying to get people to change the way in which they behave and think. Young procurement experts, therefore, need to be resilient and have the attitude that 'nothing is impossible, nothing will get me down'.

I also look at leadership qualities. Did they have a leadership role at university or at school? How involved are they in their community? What kind of leadership attributes are they displaying? This doesn't need to be on a major scale, I'm just looking for people who are community-focused, selfless, like to help people and solve problems. They also need to be technology-savvy, people-oriented, collaborative and have a certain degree of analytical capability.

It's important to look for these qualities from the start, as the procurement industry is getting more and more difficult each day. Procurement leaders need to be balanced and maintain composure at all times as well as display a certain level of emotional maturity.

For me, the top 10 must-have attributes for procurement leaders are:
1. Have an aspirational mindset. Procurement leaders must be in tune with the business, business operations and business strategy. They need to align what they want to achieve within their area with the commercial objective of the greater organisation.
2. Have a good understanding of the country's dynamics. This is particularly applicable to procurement managers in South Africa and on the African continent as a whole.
3. Be technology-savvy or interested in technology. Procurement leaders need to be at the very least technologically comfortable and open to technological changes. They shouldn't want to stick to the old way of doing things.
4. Be able to collaborate quite extensively and at different levels. Procurement leaders must be able to adjust to the audience that they are collaborating with.
5. Be people-focused and have empathy with both clients and staff.
6. Be an influencer. Procurement leaders need to be able to influence people, whether clients or staff, into different ways of thinking. They must be a change catalyst, shift the culture and be great at explaining why changes are beneficial.
7. Be a very good problem-solver and a fantastic listener.
8. Be client-focused.
9. Have charisma. Nobody wants to listen to people who are dry and boring. People listen to those with personality, those that are confident and who believe in what they are saying.
10. Be ethical.

The very definition of a good procurement leader is someone who is able to lead and manage with a strong sense of purpose. A great leader is able to translate the organisational strategy and goals for their team at different levels and support the team to achieve those goals.

A procurement leader plays a dynamic and integrated role, and operates in every possible area of an organisation. Young leaders should never underestimate the influence they can have on people's lives, technology, the organisation and the country as a procurement leader. It's an exciting career that deserves to be considered.

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