Spotlight on Public Sector Procurement: What Keeps Hiring Managers Up At Night?

April 5, 2015

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Over the past few months, we’ve been thrilled to speak with about the talent landscape with a number of leaders in the disciplines we recruit for at Argentus: procurement, supply chain, logistics, operations, planning, change management and strategic sourcing. It gives us the opportunity to showcase some of the leading voices in our field, as well as share insights with our network about the current talent trends in these disciplines.

Our latest piece in the supply chain executive interview series is with public sector procurement leader, Eddy Jin. Procurement for the public sector is its own unique world, separate from private sector procurement. In the governmental realm, there are understandably heightened levels of transparency and accountability required because procurement professionals are spending taxpayer dollars.

Eddy has an extensive track record working as the Director of Procurement for several large public sector organizations. He currently runs a public sector procurement consulting firm which offers training sessions to organizations about public sector procurement best practices, as well as primers for private sector procurement professionals looking to hone their skills for public sector work. In his many years of practice, Eddy has played an instrumental role in new initiatives to help lead that evolution. His take on the particular challenges of public sector procurement and the talent landscape are especially enlightening.

Skills Needed in Public Sector Procurement

“Best practice is best practice no matter the discipline,” says Jin. “But in public procurement it’s all about appropriate due diligence: at the end of the day, you’re spending citizens’ and taxpayers’ money. The expectation is that it’s done with the highest standards for fairness and transparency. Those are the key drivers, and that must inform what governs public procurement.”

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“I’ve led several think tank sessions in public procurement. The number one thing that keeps public procurement professionals up at night, especially those in charge of overseeing departments, is HR,” remarks Jin. “That’s because there are just not a lot of training opportunities to address the skills and understanding required for public procurement across the country.”

“By comparison, consider accounting: there are many programs across education levels that build accounting skills and financial understanding. However, when it comes to public procurement, it is difficult to name more than a handful of professional programs, let alone educational institutions that offer executive training for the industry. Without a lot of existing infrastructure to build skills and knowledge, the talent pool can be quite limited. One of the challenges that I experience most is the onus to build that understanding and skill set in-house. You end up frequently hiring someone that may have considerable procurement experience, but no public sector background—which means bridging that knowledge gap becomes an internal corporate function.”

This creates a thread of continuity with the insights we’ve received during some of our previous discussions with procurement industry leaders. The lack of higher-level educational opportunities affecting procurement in Canada is hitting the public sector just as hard as the private sector.

How to Build Skills in Public Sector Procurement

“One of the easiest ways to start building skills in public procurement is to understand that compliance standards dictate how public procurement runs,” emphasizes Jin. So what are the rules? “They’re fairly complicated in Canada because there of how regulation operates at different levels of government: federal, provincial, and municipal. Often, funding sources may have additional requirements as well. The rules are straightforward, but not without nuance. And if a funding agency comes into play, it can also complicate matters further.”

Transferable Procurement Skills Between Private and Public Sectors

“Being analytical is transferrable. Good communications skills are also transferrable,” says Jin. “It’s becoming more important to have a good grasp on these skills as procurement shifts from being  transactional to more relational, particularly as procurement interacts with other parts of the supply chain. You can’t just sit there and pound away at transactions or documents and not engage with other departments. The biggest area of evolution from an internal perspective comes from engagement with clients. Everybody says communication is their strength, but it often isn’t.”

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“Right now, procurement faces more of an inward challenge because a lot of procurement groups may call themselves a ‘procurement service.’ If you’re a service, what does that really mean? They have a long way to go in terms of embedding a service model into the procurement function. How do you become a really client-focused practitioner? The technical know-how will get you somewhere, but you work with internal clients. I’m pretty sure the procurement discipline isn’t alone with this problem.”

“You can only utilize what you can communicate,” Jin concludes. “Communication is a two way street. Telling people what to do isn’t enough. Engaging people is more important. Procurement is about developing processes that support the purpose of the organization, not vice versa. We should respect that the purpose of the organization is fundamental to our practice in the public sector.”

The Public Sector Procurement Advantage

“At the end of the day, knowing that you contribute value to the public good,” says Jin. “If you’re a tax-paying Canadian, imagine somebody really utilizing their skills to maximize the use of those hard-earned dollars for city, province, or country. I think there’s a sense of pride in being part of that, in helping deliver value for the general good of society. Overall, it’s a wonderful industry to be in. It’s challenging, but for people who like challenges, it’s a great working environment. And it may sound cliché, but you really are making a difference. The flipside is, if you don’t do it right, you’re on the news.”

Advice for Procurement Professionals Making the Move to Public Sector

“What do you need to know? For any candidate who may be interested in applying for a government-related procurement job and has no understanding of how to discern public vs private practice, I offer a training program that’s called Public Procurement 101,” Jin offers. “What is public procurement? How is it different? What do you need to know? I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process before, and all of these private sector procurement individuals come in and you think ‘Wow, they haven’t read up on public procurement.’ (Probably because there’s not a lot out there for anyone to read!) So my answer to that is this program.”

“I know these individuals have great work experience and sharp procurement skills. My course is tailored to that audience, and will help those procurement professionals have a much better shot at the second interview. You can expect to walk away with a stronger understanding of what public procurement is about and what one needs to do to build up sector-specific experience once you’re in a governmental role. One course won’t make you an expert, but it’s a good thing to have on your resume.”

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Thanks again to Mr. Jin for sharing his insights about public sector procurement with the Argentus community! If you’re interested in his public procurement course, you can contact him directly by emailing eddy@eddyjin.ca. Additional information about this course is also available online. We hope you’ll return to the blog for more great perspectives from industry leaders in supply chain. If you or someone in your network would be a good fit for this series, or if Argentus can help meet your public sector procurement hiring needs, please get in touch.

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