Teams, talent, and people

Rebuilding and repositioning the procurement department

WORDS: Ian McNally and Melaye Ras-Work

Organizations in almost every industry globally have been struggling to find the right people to fill the gaps in their workforce. The “Great Resignation”, spurred on by the pandemic, led to greater flexibility for employees, with remote working options and more jobs on offer. Procurement itself has been hit particularly hard, with 52% of procurement leaders seeing their headcount drop significantly over the past two years.

This is enough of an issue on its own, but when combined with the evolution of the procurement function – moving to a business-critical strategic role – the problems created by these gaps become far more pressing.  

The COVID pandemic kicked off a reactive, damage-limitation mode in businesses, as they tried to weather the storm without knowing how long it would take to pass. Decisions were made to help adapt and evolve in the short-term, rather than looking at ways to innovate, improve efficiency, or explore viable alternatives for the long-term. Many procurement departments were left facing a huge backlog of work.  

Supply chain issues post-COVID, political volatility, and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on energy prices have put further pressure on an already-stretched function, with tackling urgent business needs leaving little time to focus on the strategic value that procurement can bring to the wider business. This lack of time means that the function may miss out on the opportunities to capture value across the entire supply chain, such as identifying and mitigating risks, negotiating effectively, staying on top of industry trends, and acquiring the knowledge required to leverage sustainability, corporate and social responsibilities, and new technologies. 

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Aligning the right skills for success 

Pressures on procurement are increasing and becoming more complex. This has heralded the need for a greater skillset, more strategic thinking, and better problem solving.  

“In order to build a resilient team that can add real value to the business, you need to understand where the gaps are,” explains Ian McNally, Vice President at Efficio. “It’s important to allocate the right skills to the task to ensure a long-term solution. Filling a role or skills deficit quickly might be a short-term fix but, if not done correctly, it can cause more issues further down the line.”  

Reviewing current team capabilities is a good place to start: “How good are we?”, “Do we have the skills we need to tackle these complex challenges?”, and “Is everyone adding value and, if not, what needs to change?”. Increased visibility and accountability mean that everyone within the department needs to add value.  

For Melaye Ras-Work, Vice President at Efficio, “A mix of experience and expertise is vital, and flexible resources can be a great approach to manage temporary workloads while a longer-term solution is put into action. This could be in the form of external consultants with skills and expertise to help meet a specific need. For one of our clients, the problem-solving capabilities the consultants brought in helped optimize the efficiency of their product testing activity and alleviate capacity constraints. By fully integrating the right skills into the team, the client achieved a real efficiency boost to their overall output.” 

Reassessing remote working 

Remote working is now the norm for procurement teams. Flexibility and hybrid working have become an expectation among many employees, but being visible and in the office is also vital in helping to bring the role and value of procurement higher up the agenda and onto the C-suite radar. 

To make sure it becomes part of high-level conversations, it’s important for procurement professionals to be present and build connections face-to-face – particularly to cement stakeholder engagement.    

Investing in training 

To successfully navigate the evolving procurement function, the right skills – both soft and technical – need to be developed to meet the increased demands being placed on procurement teams. 

Access to ongoing training and development is a core part of addressing these changing requirements. Organizations need to be able to offer programs that are tailored to specific needs and areas of focus required by their employees, matching the changes in their role to fill any knowledge gaps and continue the development of the procurement function. 

Additionally, the way in which training is conducted must be suitable for everyone – we all learn and process information differently. Options in learning styles, such as a combination of instructor-led sessions and self-guided learning, will help provide the best outcomes. 

Investing in people is increasingly seen as a way to show employees that they are valued. Effective training programs can help procurement professionals stay on top of new responsibilities and continue to capture value across the entire supply chain, as well as retain staff and attract new talent to the company. 

Career growth and development has become a key priority for young professionals. Ongoing learning in procurement has traditionally not been as visible as it may have been in other functions, but the expanding breadth of the role has placed a renewed focus on learning and progression. 


The Efficio Academy delivers rigorous, ongoing training programs tailored to the individual needs of the client to help businesses keep up with the evolving role of procurement and provide their teams with continual upskilling. These programs are delivered through a mixture of classroom, digital, self-guided, and on-the-job learning to provide participants with training that is impactful and efficient. 

Shirin Tomlinson, Director of the Efficio Academy, explains, “The training offered to clients is the same that is given to Efficio’s own consultants, who are nurtured into procurement experts, and provides the trainees with the tools to continue their development after the course has finished." 

“Simply providing a one-off training session isn’t enough. Organizations need to offer long-term training options which work in tandem with on-the-job learning – so that they can keep on top of the increasingly strategic role of procurement now, and in the future.”  

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Simply providing a one-off training session isn’t enough. Organizations need to offer long-term training options which work in tandem with on-the-job learning – so that they can keep on top of the increasingly strategic role of procurement now, and in the future.
Shirin Tomlinson, Director of Efficio Academy, Efficio

Repositioning the role 

While the role of procurement itself has evolved internally and risen in value for businesses, the understanding outside of the department has not necessarily changed. This could explain why the skills gap is hard to fill and talent is not easy to engage. 

“Even within the same company, the role different departments play is not always clearly understood,” adds Ras-Work. “To attract new talent – from both internal and external sources – we need to address the belief that procurement is simply an administrative or number-crunching role. Rarely is it seen for the business-critical, strategic role it has become."  

“However, such is the value of the function, that one of our healthcare clients told us that when headcount had been frozen across the company during difficult times, procurement and supply chain roles were exempt,” she continues. 

The procurement function supports investment programs, expanding a company’s facilities, and supporting new offerings. It can be a crucial part of achieving ESG goals and core business values. To get the most out of procurement, we need to change the external perception of the role. Getting closer to business stakeholders will be key in making this happen.   

“As part of the re-positioning of procurement within businesses, we firmly believe that the commercial and stakeholder engagement skills it requires and fosters should make procurement a key stepping stone to promotion, and also that greater flexibility should be given for talent to move in and out of the department,” adds McNally. 

The role of technology and automation  

People remain key to the success of the procurement function, but technology is playing a bigger part in helping them achieve their full potential. As the skills of workers evolve, technology plays a key part in helping to optimize and automate the administrative and repetitive aspects of the role, which can be a major deterrent, and shift the focus to value-adding tasks instead. 

Automating certain tasks improves overall efficiencies and gives the function a solid foundation on which to build skills, reputation, and overall business resilience.   

Future-proofing the procurement function 

As the talent shortage continues, it’s important to not only focus on addressing the immediate skills deficit, but also on retaining and retraining talent. Showing staff that they are valued and have room to progress will help to keep them committed to making a real difference to their department and the success of the entire business.  

Ultimately, however, to attract and retain the right people with the right skills, the role that procurement plays within the organization needs to be repositioned – both internally and externally – to reflect the increased value and strategic importance it brings. 

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