Issue 6

BUYING INTO A BRIGHTER FUTURE: WHY PUBLIC PROCUREMENT IS A CAREER OF CHOICE FOR PROFESSIONALS, GRADUATES AND SCHOOL LEAVERS

By Irene McCulloch, Head of Professional Services, Scotland Excel

With a squeeze on budgets and many organisations down-sizing, career opportunities in the public sector have been limited in the past few years. However, there is one area that has been growing in profile and attracting some of the best talent around... public procurement.  With the Scottish Government reporting procurement savings of £133.2m across the public sector in 2011-12, it is no surprise that a top team of procurement professionals pays for itself many times over. 

So where is all this talent coming from? Well, much of it is home grown with public procurement professionals previously seen as ‘back room’ workers moving into the spotlight to take their rightful place at the strategy table alongside service delivery colleagues.  The Public Procurement Reform Programme, established in 2006 following a review of public procurement by John McClelland CBE, has been a key driver for this change.

Indeed, it was the McClelland report that led to Scotland Excel being established in April 2008 as the Centre of Procurement Expertise for the local government sector. In line with the recommendations of the report, our remit has been to help local authorities achieve best value from their procurement spend through our portfolio of collaborative contracts.  However, we have also been passionate champions of procurement capability within our member organisations and their procurement teams.

In January 2009, we launched Enhancing Procurement Capabilities, a learning and development programme closely tailored to the development needs of public procurement professionals in Scotland.   Using a self-funding business model, the programme was originally conceived as a cost-effective platform for providing training to local authority procurement teams.  However, word soon spread across other sectors and, to date, more than 3,000 delegates from over 100 public sector organisations have attended our courses.

Enhancing Procurement Capabilities is a perfect example of how a collaborative approach can lead to best practice skills development without the need for major investment.

Enhancing Procurement Capabilities is a perfect example of how a collaborative approach can lead to best practice skills development without the need for major investment.  As the Public Procurement Reform Programme has evolved, the programme has introduced new subjects and learning methods, while remaining closely aligned to the specific needs of public sector procurement practitioners and their organisations. 

Over the past few years, masterclass sessions have been introduced to explore hot topics in procurement including contract and supplier management, competition law and construction.  Continuing the collaborative theme, these free events have seen speakers from public and private sector organisations such as the BBC, BAM Construction, Biggart Baillie, Scottish Water, Scottish Prison Service and, of course, local authorities sharing their experience with delegates in an interactive environment.

Although public procurement professionals remain at the heart of Enhancing Procurement Capabilities, training courses are also being delivered in-house to other local authority staff who have responsibility for high value areas of spend.  When McClelland spoke about raising procurement capability in his report, he wasn’t just referring to individuals but to public sector organisations as a whole.  An understanding of good procurement practices across an organisation supports strategic working partnerships between procurement teams and thoseresponsible for delivering public services.   

One area where this partnership approach is paying dividends is in social care.  The past few years have seen some debate on the relative roles of commissioning and procurement, but there is no doubt that each has a complementary skill set.  With this in mind, Scotland Excel has been key partner in establishing a Professional Development Award (PDA) in commissioning, procurement and contracting which provide care professionals with a national qualification in this specialist area.  The PDA has been accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and will be offered by City of Glasgow College from September 2013.

Scotland Excel’s learning and development programme is ‘highly commended’ at the 2011/12 Government Opportunities) GO Excellence in Public Procurement Awards Scotland.  The award was collected by our Special Projects Manager, Fraser Pass (pictured centre).Scotland Excel’s learning and development team also works with a number of other educational partners.  Following a successful pilot in February this year, Enhancing Procurement Capability courses will be delivered by video conferencing to public sector organisations in the north and islands from September 2013 in an initiative developed with Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges (APUC) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).  

As demand for public procurement professionals grows, we have turned our attention to those who will be leaders in our sector in the years to come.  In October 2009, Scotland Excel launched the first national public sector graduate programme for procurement in Scotland.  Over two years, trainees undertake placements within Scotland Excel, at local authorities and at other sector Centres of Expertise, while studying for an MSc in Supply Chain and Procurement Management.

The graduate programme is about to enter its third cycle and those who have participated are positive about it as route to a procurement career.  Jennifer Small, a graduate from the first cycle who is now working as Senior Procurement Specialist within Scotland Excels’ social care team says "I can’t think of a better grounding for developing a career in public procurement.  I was challenged throughout my training, and it really built my confidence.  It is sometimes hard to believe that I am developing and managing some of the organisation’s most challenging contracts just a few years later!”

procurement can support opportunities for skills development, training or even jobs in other industries through community benefit clauses where suppliers commit to a range of social, economic and environmental benefits

Scotland Excel has recently established an agreement with the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) to provide a platform for partnership working across a number of mutually beneficial areas including student placements, mentoring, research, knowledge transfer, education programmes and guest lectures.  Talking about the partnership, Professor Seamus McDaid CBE, Principal and Vice Chancellor of University of the West of Scotland, said "The University is committed to making a key contribution the growth of the Scottish economy and this new partnership with Scotland Excel will have important benefits for our students."

The success of our work with students and graduates has inspired Scotland Excel to look at other ways of promoting interest in procurement as a career of choice for young people.  Supporting the Scottish Government’s Procurement People of Tomorrow initiative, Scotland Excel is working with a range of partners to engage employers and young people in the world of procurement.  To widen the entry routes into the profession, a modern apprenticeship in procurement is currently in development and an HND in procurement is being offered for the first time from September 2013.  

Judging by the success of a recent pilot schools’ programme delivered by City of Glasgow College in partnership with the Scottish Government and Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), there won’t be any shortage of takers for a career in procurement!  82 pupils from five schools took part in the pilot, with 28 participating in a school’s procurement challenge won by Springburn Academy.  Prizes for the challenge were donated by Scotland Excel and SSUK, a supplier to our presentation and audio visual and educational materials contracts.

Like many others, this supplier is becoming aware of the valuable role they can play in local communities by participating in public sector contracts.  In fact, it may surprise some to learn that procurement can support opportunities for skills development, training or even jobs in other industries through community benefit clauses where suppliers commit to a range of social, economic and environmental benefits which can include careers visits to local schools, mentoring or apprenticeships.  

So, public procurement really is the place to be now and in the future.  After all, how many other careers give you the opportunity to develop skills in so many different business areas – market analysis, negotiation, legislation, facilitation and stakeholder management to name but a few.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, through supporting efficient public service delivery and community benefits you can also make a real difference to the people of Scotland!

By Irene McCulloch, Head of Professional Services, Scotland Excel

Issue 6

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