CIPS cautions on soft skills shortage

Companies struggle as talented individuals thrive

According the 2018 Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) report, this is an excellent time to be a talented procurement professional. In an increasingly respected profession, companies locally and abroad are eager to employ and reward top professionals. However, the report, which details the key trends and findings for 2018, warns that what constitutes talent in the field of procurement and supply chain management is not what many expect, with a dearth of soft skills at the top level of procurement. Furthermore, the report notes with concern that the gender gap (in terms of pay) remains unchanged. 

The good news

There are many reasons to be optimistic if you’re a professional in the procurement and supply chain industry. First, the role that procurement plays is increasingly being positively recognised within businesses. As Nikki Bell, chair of CIPS Congress and member of the CIPS global board of trustees (among others), notes, “[m]ore and more of those at the top are recognising the value and skills of our profession and the direct contribution we can and do make to organisational purpose, strategic aims and objectives – well beyond costs and efficiencies”.

Second, the majority of procurement professionals were rewarded for their work, with the report claiming that “80% of procurement professionals received a salary increase in the last year”.

Third, and finally, there is massive demand for procurement professionals. If you are a talented professional, there is demand for your skills both locally and abroad. As John Glen, CIPS economist and visiting fellow of Cranfield University, notes “In general, the outlook for procurement professionals remains excellent. Demand for their services outstrips supply and this is reflected in healthy wage appreciation”.

The bad news

Balancing the good news, the report notes some items of concern.

First, the report finds, there is “large gender pay gap”, with men, in some areas of procurement “earning on average 49% more than women”. Further, this gap has not decreased in the past year, despite efforts to raise awareness around this issue, which is worrying. 

Second, as the report notes in several places, a number of employers are struggling to find talent. 

In the last 12 months, 62% of respondents responsible for recruiting struggled to find the right procurement talent. This is the highest figure of all the regions we surveyed and is leading to a greater emphasis on staff retention and development via training and succession planning programmes. The most frequently cited reason for this recruitment challenge, cited by more than half of our respondents, was a lack of sector skills and experience. 

Third, and related to this, is a dearth of soft skills among professionals in this industry. The report, in several places, notes that what is most needed in procurement and supply chain management, perhaps unexpectedly, are soft and/or people skills. These include, in no particular order: emotional intelligence, communication skills, active listening skills, problem-solving skills and negotiation. 

According to David Loseby, founder of Aquitaine Strategy, and adviser and researcher at Wezard – Collaboration Catalysts, “82% of respondents in the private sector, 79% in the public sector and 85% in the charity/not for profit sector cited [soft skills] as very important … 67% of those surveyed have received no formal training in any of the related soft skills[, while] 88% of those surveyed said that organisational decisions are not based on facts and data [in other words, they relied on soft skills rather than the so-called hard skills]”.

This is of particular concern, when taken into consideration alongside the findings of The Institute of Risk Management South Africa’s (IRMSA) 2018 risk report. That report lists a “[s]kills shortage including the ability to attract and retain top talent” as tenth on the list of risks facing the country and sixth on the list of risk facing industry, with no item higher on the shared list of risks. In other words, the procurement and supply chain management industries are at risk unless this skills shortage can be addressed.

An out-of-the-box suggestion 

One of the things the report calls for are professionals who think outside the box. Perhaps one way to solve the soft skills shortage is an out-of-the-box suggestion. The report notes that “23% of those surveyed totally agree that academia and institutions are delivering education and training for future skills and competencies in business and procurement and supply chain management (P&SCM)”. But perhaps that is because people are focussing on degrees and diplomas such as BCom degrees, which one might think should produce future procurement professionals. 

One potential solution is to think about the skills that Humanities graduates bring to the table instead. The Humanities disciplines (what America calls the “Liberal Arts”) are often derided but they do train precisely the type of skills listed as “wanted” by the CIPS report. Any good Humanities graduate should possess the majority of these soft skills to a high degree of proficiency. Perhaps, with sufficient on-the-job training, Humanities graduates could be the future talented procurement officers the industry is desperately crying out for? 

The perception is that Humanities graduates don’t have and are somehow incapable of acquiring what are often referred to as hard skills. But, while the former might be true, there is no truth to the latter. As the research of Carol Dweck has shown, people are capable of learning just about anything; irrespective of their backgrounds. What this suggests is that job and company specific skills could be taught and trained. In doing so, there is likely to be a sense of loyalty by the employee to the company, which, in a country desperately trying to hold onto its talent, is not a bad thing. 

Contributed by: Nikolai Viedge - an academic and regular writer for Bespoke Bulletin

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