Urgent recruiting to replace retirees, expanded buying through cooperative contracts and greater reliance on technology are becoming the norm, and public purchasers will see these trends expand even further in the coming years.

As the workforce ages, procurement professionals are scrambling to replace exiting employees. In fact, succession planning is one of the top five factors that will most affect procurement in the next few years. According to a 2015 Government Procurement survey of public purchasing officials, nearly one-fifth of the 498 respondents said they would be retired in the next two to three years.

This data was reconfirmed in a 2016 compensation and retention benchmark survey from the NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement, which shows many public procurement directors and managers are planning to turn in their badges. In the high single digits (7.2 percent for directors and 6.6 percent for managers), survey respondents said they were considering retirement in the next 12 months.

Exiting staff will only compound the issues with the heavy workloads procurement professionals already face. About 35 percent of public procurement professionals surveyed in Onvia’s “2016 Survey of Procurement Professionals” are stretched or working extra hours to meet deadlines.

DeLaine Bender (photo at right), executive director of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) confirms Onvia’s findings. In her group’s “2016 Survey of State Procurement Practices,” 74 percent of respondents indicated the procurement responsibilities of the central procurement office have increased in the past two years. “While procurement responsibilities continue to grow, only 38 percent of responding states indicated a staff increase, which represents no improvement from the staffing challenges reported two years ago,” Bender says.

“Given that sixty-two percent of procurement offices are actually experiencing a staff reduction or no change in staffing, more needs to be done in the procurement workforce area to alleviate the rapid increase in responsibilities which is not matched by additional staff to support workloads,” Bender says. Those workloads, she says, are almost two times greater than those reported two years ago in the “2014 Survey of State Procurement Practices.”

Future leadership will bring new ideas

However, there is a silver lining in the workforce exodus. Future public procurement leaders will bring benefits to the profession, says Molly McLoughlin, director of supply chain management at the Boulder Valley (Colo.) School District (photo at left). “I believe the new generation of procurement professionals will bring new ideas on how to procure within the limits of our laws and statutes. New procurement professionals also bring with them a flexibility that we may not have seen in the office setting before; they are mobile, web-based, and come from an electronic generation.”

McLoughlin says the baton must be passed smoothly. “One challenge we must anticipate is merging the new with the experienced. As managers, it will be critical for us to support both and be diligent in managing change.”

To accomplish this transition, training methods are changing to bring retiree replacements up to speed, says Stacy Gregg, procurement manager II for the State Fiscal Accountability Authority at the South Carolina Department of Procurement Services. “In the past, we may have done just in-person training. Now we are taking different approaches to instruction, like webinars and online courses, to satisfy the needs of younger professionals.”

Gregg (photo at right) says the new hires are familiar with instructional technology and are often able to get needed training independently with no pushback. “We are finding that, whereas sometimes the older professionals may be reluctant to try to figure things out, the newer staffers don’t so much have that problem, because they are used to engaging with current tools to learn new ways of doing things.”

Gregg believes their familiarity with technology makes newly hired professionals a valuable addition to the public procurement community. “I’m hoping that their propensity to use technology will make them more strategic as they perform their daily job functions and tasks.”

But the question remains, how do industry professionals get younger workers interested in the profession?

Attracting the next generation of procurement pros

To help ease the problem of a rapidly depleting workforce, the procurement industry is reaching out to the next generation of leaders in a number of ways, says Marcheta E. Gillespie, director of procurement in Tucson, Ariz.’s Department of Procurement.
“Over the past 10 years, we have significantly increased our focus on educating and reaching out to the younger generations to encourage interest in our profession,” Gillespie says. One example, she says, is the heavy lifting to bring public procurement curriculum and degree programming into U.S. colleges.