We’ve seen in the past year how easily the entire global job market can be disrupted. With luck, businesses and economies will recover, but there’s nothing “normal” about where they’ll be in the coming years. Thanks to industry 4.0, work as we know it is on the cusp of big change — in fact, some experts and futurists are hesitant to even predict what kinds of work will exist twenty years from now. What we do know is that it won’t involve many of the jobs we’re so familiar with today.
It’s not just manual labor that is likely to go away. Doctors, lawyers, and even police officers will also see their professions being increasingly automated. The outlook isn’t bleak, it’s just uncertain. But what practical information can we take away from that … and what does it have to do with procurement?
The vital nature of procurement in business
Let’s start by answering the question, “What is procurement, anyway?”
Procurement is the sourcing and purchasing of goods and services for business use from an external source. All businesses use a variety of products, services, and supplies in their day-to-day operations, but most of them don’t manufacture or create those things themselves. Instead, they buy them from other businesses, and procurement specialists are the people who oversee this process.
Take Apple, for example. Apple “produces” millions of devices per year, but manufactures very few. Instead, the company relies on a complicated web of supply chains from which it gets goods and labor. Woven together, these various supply chains create the things we recognize as Apple products and services — everything from iPads to Apple TV+. It’s not just electronics and technicians that Apple needs, either; it also has to have desks and chairs for its employees, paper and appliances for its internal business services, security guards and parking lot attendants for its headquarters, and the list goes on.
Procurement is obviously a big part of doing business. But what makes it one of the most desirable fields for younger workers to target?
In 2019, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work boldly predicted that “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.”
While the future of many jobs is unknown, procurement is one that’s here to stay. Aspects of the profession will undoubtedly change, and it will certainly be bolstered by exponential technologies like artificial intelligence and data science, but overall, the skills that underpin successful procurement practices today will remain relevant throughout the foreseeable future.
Largely, those skills consist of cognitive flexibility and critical thinking, good decision-making, emotional intelligence, and an innovative mindset. And those (surprise) are among those that experts and employers alike say will be most important during the next decade.
X-Factors that make procurement so dynamic
The desirability of procurement as a profession goes beyond job stability. As much as anyone else, the people overseeing where goods and services come from have a unique opportunity to influence a company’s profitability, sustainability, and ethics.
Green, sustainable, or eco-procurement is a growing part of the field, and it centers around building supply chains that cause minimal damage to the environment. This can mean identifying opportunities to work with providers who are conscious of waste reduction or energy conservation, for example. In the case of individual suppliers, the impact might seem marginal, but as procurement policies increasingly reflect our collective push toward sustainability, providers that aren’t eco-conscious will slowly get pushed out in favor of competitors that are. It’s the procurement professional’s privilege to lead that charge.
Diversity and inclusion
It’s not feasible, in most cases, to force an equality mindset onto a business or other organization — nor would it be effective. The pathway to lasting change involves creating an environment in which the businesses that already embrace equality rise to the top, and those that don’t are required to face the organic consequences. This, too, is something procurement professionals have a special ability to influence. Just like with sustainability, a company’s procurement department can create a ripple effect in the industry at large simply by giving preference to suppliers that embody the company’s own ethos regarding diversity and inclusion.
Much of the reason that Apple has achieved such amazing success even following the death of Steve Jobs lies with the fact that Tim Cook is intimately familiar with the importance of procurement to the business model. Cook was hired by Jobs as Apple’s Chief Procurement Officer in 1998; by the time he took the top executive office in 2011, Apple’s supply chain was widely held to be the best among big tech firms. The skills and knowledge that make a good procurement professional, in other words, serve as a strong foundation for success on an even bigger scale — in Cook’s case, it was the biggest scale in the world.
As jobs disappear, consumer needs evolve, and the work paradigm shifts, the ability to “go with the flow” is becoming increasingly important. Not only is procurement an area that benefits from that ability — it can also impart it. In return for bringing their skills to the field, professionals who choose procurement will be rewarded with the chance to usher in large-scale change, guiding not just companies but entire industries and economies in worthy directions.