People & Skills
Private Sector Procurement Jobs – What Sort of Firms Recruit?

We’re running a short series about changing jobs, as that is something many people consider at this time of year. We’re particularly interested in the options and issues facing public sector procurement people who might be looking at a move into the private sector.  In the first part, we looked at the factors that might influence your decision on whether to look for a new job at all. Let’s consider today the sort of options that are available in terms of private sector procurement jobs and look at what sort of firms recruit public sector procurement professionals.

General commercial firms

Until recently, this was pretty much the only serious option, but although it still represents the area where most jobs exist, the picture has changed as we’ll see in terms of different options. In any case, this covers every industry you can imagine really – there are procurement professionals in every sort of business, from energy to media, from large sports clubs to retailers, from consulting firms to pharmaceutical manufacturers.

But despite the difference in the businesses, the procurement roles tend to be quite similar. There are likely to be category management jobs in the bigger firms at least, with professionals specialising in buying IT, energy, packaging, components, or whatever spend categories are key to that organisation. Some will work on large one-off projects that don’t fall neatly into a category structure; perhaps a major outsourcing project for instance. Other procurement staff will work on systems and strategy, or perhaps support the more transactional processes. So many of the roles read across well from equivalent roles in the public sector. Making the move is often more about attitude and personal characteristics than experience, as we will discuss in our next article.

Consultancy / advisory

A massive growth area in the last twenty years, with thousands of procurement professionals now working in this field. That ranges from “one-person bands” who may do interim roles or true consulting assignments, to small boutique firms, to the giants such as KPMG and Deloittes, who employ thousands of procurement specialists worldwide.

Whilst jobs here generally require core procurement skills as above, there are a couple of other attributes. Consultants need strong inter-personal skills, and, for more senior roles, good sales skills. I do know some people who have moved into consulting successfully from senior public sector procurement roles; they were people with naturally good sales skills, an outgoing approach and of course their contacts could be valuable to their new firm! At a more operational level, consultants need to be analytical, with good skills in Excel, the ability tout together a convincing report or presentation, and an aptitude for hard work. consultants do not stop at 5pm if a project has a tight deadline. that can be a shock for some public sector people (depending where they have previously worked).

Outsourcing

Another growing area is working for outsourced procurement service providers. Whilst that business is not very large yet in terms of winning public sector business, it is growing. For someone coming from the public sector, it sits between the two sectors described above (commercial and consulting type work) in terms of the type of work and aptitude needed. Some roles are quite customer focused and facing, including pure sales roles. In other cases, working for the services provider is very similar to being a category manager in a general business.

But the expansion of firms such as Accenture, Proxima and Xchanging in the outsourcing field has led to good opportunities. Having deep category knowledge is key for these firms if they want to offer great service to their customers, so people with those skills are again particularly valuable, and rewards are generally good compared to public sector and much of the private sector too.

Solution /Software providers

Finally, an area that I would never have considered 20 years ago, but one that now has some very attractive roles for procurement professionals. Many of the software providers in our industry recruit extensively from the procurement profession. That can include jobs around implementation and product support, which are effectively consulting roles, to pure sales roles, or indeed technical and product development jobs. All can be very satisfying and some (such as sales) offer rewards greater than most people will ever make as a purchasing manager!

Some of the best providers in the public sector market such as BravoSolution and Vortal have recruited public sector procurement people very successfully – don’t rule out this option, although obviously it helps if you have some experience of and interest in technology.

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We haven’t tried to dig into every issue here, but we wanted to just highlight that there are a number of different and interesting options now for any public procurement person looking to move into the private sector. Don’t forget the benefits of a public sector role though, as we said in part 1. Some of the most interesting and rewarding (maybe not financially) jobs in procurement are public sector. But equally, capable people in the sector should not be afraid of looking at what the private sector has to offer, and what they can offer in return.