Help wanted

From the October 2022 print edition

Neil Drew can sum up Canada’s procurement job market in just a few words: “Super, super busy.”

That same job market was flat in 2020, and last year represented a transition period, said Drew, director at Winchesters, a recruitment firm specializing in procurement, purchasing, sourcing, and related fields. But this year has seen an uptick. “There’s a massive demand for procurement professionals and not necessarily enough supply in the key areas,” Drew said.

The procurement and supply chain job market has seen uncertainty over the past few years. COVID-19 and the flexible working conditions that followed have changed expectations for workers and companies alike. Post-pandemic economic turmoil, and trends like “quite quitting” and “the great resignation,” have added uncertainty to employment prospects.

Yet procurement and supply chain appear to be exiting the pandemic in good shape, Drew said, with organizations much more reliant on the field for their success. Areas like the CPG field and public sector are hungry for talent. Both those areas often allow hybrid or remote working arrangements, which means many employees in those fields are staying put for now.

The skill set employers require has remained mostly the same as in previous years, Drew says. Communication is an crucial competency, while the dynamic work environment means that adaptability is even more important.

Candidates’ market
Still, there remains more jobs available than candidates, with less movement than expected, he notes. Many candidates also express a desire for greater fulfillment from their jobs.

“There are a lot of people who are open to changing their jobs, but they’re open to changing their jobs if all of their motivations are ticked,” Drew says. “And they’re quite different. Whether it’s money, flexibility, work-life balance, culture, progression, everyone’s different, everyone has a different sense of things.”

For employers looking to attract talent, Drew recommends ensuring that the salary offered for a position is within the proper range. While salaries have increased this year, it’s been by only $5,000 or $10,000 per level. Direct levels and VP positions have largely stayed the same, while the middle-to-management positions have seen a salary jump.

Flexibility is also important to candidates, with hybrid work models still popular. Employee recognition is another important factor, although that’s become more difficult with employees and managers interacting less due to remote working.

“And then obviously growth and development from promotions and all that is still important,” Drew says.

“If people know there’s a path and then with a flexible employer, that’s something you can do to retain. There’s an opportunity in training and recognition right now that might have gone down a little bit since we’ve become more remote.”

Sean Naidu, senior manager – procurement/purchasing recruitment at Hays, agrees the job market is currently candidate driven. It’s the job seeker who is in control, with flexibility to work from home and salary expectations among the issues candidates are most interested in.

The talent shortage exists across every industry and profession which, Naidu says, is driven by people either changing careers or looking to leave their employers due to a lack of growth opportunities, limited flexibility with work conditions, unmet salary expectations and so on.

Communication, the ability to influence stakeholders, and lead change, sit atop Naidu’s list of skills that employers seek most. Candidates that can work as the procurement function evolves have an advantage.

“Companies are still looking for people who have the ability to influence stakeholders, to work as a partner in the business, who can deal with ambiguity, someone that can foster relationships,” Naidu says. “Those are still the same skills that are in demand.”

There’s a lot of movement within the field, largely due to changes in certain industries, candidates looking to grow professionally, and the expectations surrounding salary and flexibility mentioned above. Talent retention remains a struggle for many organizations since candidates are in the driver’s seat at the moment.

Regarding employee retention, Naidu says an adequate work-life balance is the most important factor among candidates considering switching jobs or careers. Organizations should assess whether they’re providing enough flexibility to employees, he recommends. Take time to interact with staff, provide support and encouragement, and acknowledge small wins. There are many candidates looking to leave their current employer due to a lack of staffing that’s left them overworked, in a toxic environment, with a disappointing salary, no work-from-home flexibility or an unsupportive boss, Naidu says.

“Through COVID, companies that have gone through changes and reorgs, leaning out their team, it leads to more work for somebody that’s already in the group that’s taking the work and getting overloaded,” Naidu says. “That causes them to do more work, not being recognized for it, the same pay, and they feel burnt out. That will naturally lead to them trying to find something else.”

Hiring more staff or spreading the work to someone else (or taking it on yourself) can help alleviate pressure on overworked team members, he noted.

The talent gap exists at almost every level of the supply chain – from entry level to senior leadership, says Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM). That shortage has worsened due to the pandemic and a “lack of alignment” on supply chains. “Supply chain has taken a hit over the past couple of years and not being able to respond to the demand surges or a lot of the disruptions that we’re facing right now,” he notes.

Eshkenazi recommends expanding the talent search to fields like finance and engineering, where people are already qualified for supply chain. Look at those in entry level positions, what their qualifications are and if they’ve earned supply chain degrees or are transitioning into the field, he says.

Regarding skills, Eshkenazi sees a shift. Historically, subject matter expertise was enough. But that’s no longer the case, Eshkenazi says. Organizations need people who are proficient beyond internal operations. Supply chain professionals must often work with vendors and customers, making communication skills even more important.

“You’re looking at both sides of the supply chain, which really does require a different skill set,” he says. “This is where we need, within the supply chain industry, to do a better job of preparing individuals for the jobs in supply chain.”

Collaboration is another important competency, as linear supply chains fade and give way to a network structure. Leadership is another rising skill as supply chain takes on more visibility.

To develop those skills, organizations should identify the training and competencies required for today’s professional roles, Eshkenazi says. He encouraged those organizations to invest in mentorship and internship programs, as well as job rotation opportunities.

“We’ve got to identify what it takes now to be a supply chain professional,” he says. “What are the competencies? What are the experiences required? What are the certifications required for these individuals? Supply chain professionals are engaged in every aspect of the organization. Committing to their ongoing development and engagement and leadership opportunities, that’s a winning formula.”