Over the last decade, procurement has been on a journey towards greater standing and recognition. As a result, there has been a slow but upward trend in the number of departments with direct access to the board and, in many instances, a seat on it. With an increased capability to influence, the expectations of a successful procurement function have evolved from back office cost cutting to value add, efficiency, sustainability and standardisation.
Traditionally, experts within the profession have come from a variety of academic and commercial backgrounds, the key to success going ‘hand in hand ‘with a basic understanding and application of contract law. More seasoned procurement professionals were often able to draft contracts from scratch. However, as the industry has matured, the support from in house lawyers has grown resulting in a notable decline in this skills set.
With the aforementioned pressure on delivery, those who have previously enjoyed the efficiencies of working alongside a legal function are often required to upskill themselves in area such as contract law and compliance Indicative of this, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply currently run a course on the legal aspects of procurement. With this in mind, the profession would surely benefit from attracting legally trained graduates, lawyers and experienced commercial managers.
Substantial articles dedicated to ‘selling’ a career in procurement to postgraduates have recently surfaced across newspapers, magazines and industry collateral.
Unsurprisingly, few of them reference the benefits and increased ease of entry that may result from a specific subject expertise. There are, of course, many characteristics needed for a procurement career that can only be gained through time and circumstantial exposure to the profession. However, industry leaders should surely consider the commercial value of delegating contractually technical projects to a trained professional. In addition, it seems sensible to assume that a basic understanding of contract law will result in a greater level of confidence when entering complex negotiations during the early stages of someone’s career.
When reviewing the market, the Financial Service industry appears ahead of trend when it comes to hiring entry level recruits with a legal degree. Not only does this suggest they have acknowledged the benefits but also that they have successfully marketed an ‘alternative’ career path to their chosen demographic. In addition, most industries appear to look favourably at legally trained Sourcing Specialists/ Category Managers embarking upon their second or third career move and as expected, their market worth is increasing.
In addition to the aforementioned points, it is equally important to consider experienced transitions and the opportunities these may bring to qualified Lawyers, Solicitors and Associates. For many, their role within an in-house team or firm is purely advisory hence the ability to have to take sole accountability for a decision would be an invigorating change. Moreover, CPOs often command exceptionally attractive packages making a potential career change more lucrative than expected.
Myles Blewit (Legal Director of Pinsent Masons) made the transition from law into procurement after achieving Partner status and by his own admission hasn’t looked back. Given the obvious synergies (contract drafting, innovation, development of relationships stakeholder engagement etc.) the opportunities that can arise by appointing a seasoned legal expert into a viable procurement role are endless. However, this can only be achieved if the individual in question has demonstrated the right competencies and motivations for a career change.
To conclude, as the typical ‘Category Manager’ continues to expand their commercial remit, the profession can only benefit from targeting graduating and qualified lawyers. Moreover, the longer term opportunities for procurement professionals with legal expertise should not be overlooked. In a corporate world with increased regulatory requirements, the opportunities for such skills sets could be limitless.