Swiss Purchasing recruitment and its difficulties

1. 191091 Procure Swiss Magazin 02-2019.indd

Recruiting a buyer in Switzerland: a challenge?

A Credit Suisse report on 2018 tells us that the digitalisation of the economy and the ageing of the Swiss population will change the face of the skilled workforce in the coming years.

Some 90,000 small and medium-sized companies are facing an acute shortage of skilled personnel. The traditional industrial and construction sectors, which employ mainly engineers and technicians, are particularly affected. In contrast, and contrary to popular belief, recruitment of employees in the health and education sectors is less difficult.

The increase in retirements – 500,000 people will reach legal retirement age in the next five years – and the gradual automation of certain branches of the profession should have a considerable impact on the health, high-tech industry and information and communication technology sectors.

This digitalisation offers opportunities but also poses challenges.

What about the world of purchasing?

42% even believe that the sector is suffering from a shortage of qualified professionals.

Small and medium-sized companies are the most affected.

On the other hand, and this is the price of a certain success, Purchasing is gradually becoming a key function whose potential for innovation could prove to be a driving force for the company. The profile of skills required of the buyer will therefore gradually change. A good or even very good understanding of IT and better analytical skills are becoming indispensable.

According to a recent Procure survey, a large majority of purchasing managers already see clear changes in the profile of job requirements. These changes are partly due to the progress of digitalization. Specifically, specific IT skills to address the related cost categories are in demand, logically following the evolution of IT budgets within companies.

Marina George, Purchasing Manager at Manufacture Vaucher in Val-de-Travers, notes that recruitment is increasingly done through networks such as Linkedin and that profiles available in the region are favoured. Furthermore, the current training courses could be improved in order to help improve the professionalism of Purchasing.

For his part, Vincenzo Mezzasalma, Purchasing Manager at Archer Daniels Midland, an international food group, noted that the profile of buyers is becoming increasingly technical and contextual and that a qualitative search is becoming more frequent. Traditional or generalist agencies have difficulty finding this type of resource, which is so critical for the company.

The search for the rare pearl, a qualified buyer who is a driving force in change management, represents a real difficulty for purchasing directors and their HR counterparts.

The list of key competencies grows with the responsibilities of the buyer, as the Procure study shows. Swiss companies still consider reliability and responsibility (98%), cost awareness (96%) and team spirit (91%) as core competencies for purchasing. Especially employees in managerial positions are required to master the classic So-Skills, including communication skills (97%), stress resistance (95%), assertiveness (93%) and persuasiveness (92%). Solution-oriented work (97%) and analytical thinking skills (94%) have gained in importance compared to 2014. On the other hand, completed studies do not seem to be absolutely necessary to successfully start a career in procurement (18%).

Furthermore, purchasing is becoming more international. To carry out their activities, 56% of buyers say they now need good knowledge of English. 20% of them use French regularly. Italian, Spanish and other languages are less important on a daily basis. Only 7% do not need any knowledge of foreign languages in their profession.

How to identify and recruit the best buyers ?
The professionalisation of purchasing makes team building increasingly important in the long term. Buyers are increasingly becoming analysts rather than cost killers. They are the image of the department, the first ambassadors of the purchasing approach and objectives. Successful recruitment is therefore a guarantee of success for the purchasing function. The next step is to know how to keep them, train them and develop their talents, so there are some great challenges ahead!

One of the keys to success in recruiting buyers is knowing how to access the widest possible range of talent. We recommend multi-channel communication of needs. Job boards only offer a partial target of actively seeking buyers, for example. This is why some purchasing managers communicate their actions in the specialist media. By benefiting from a platform, they can arouse the curiosity of certain buyers who would not have had the intention of submitting their application.

A tool that should not be neglected is co-option. Our network, buyers and even internal clients have their own. A policy of sponsorship and recommendations will help to find valuable profiles and will also provide motivation within the teams.

Another way to succeed in recruitment is to be constantly on the lookout and to know how to anticipate your needs. Creating an account on a buyers’ social network, and why not keeping a blog on the activity of your department, are all ways of identifying market trends and starting to detect the profiles you would like to have in your team.

The application interview is also an important stage that will enable you to avoid choosing the wrong buyer. This one-to-one interview will be the occasion for tests that will enable you to assess the candidate’s skills, of course, but above all their communication and presentation skills. It is a question of determining their level of curiosity by detecting whether they ask relevant questions. By confronting the candidate with an unexpected problem, it will be possible to assess their intellectual agility. It is also important to ensure that the candidate understands what is being said throughout the interview.

The aim is to work with the candidate on their capacity to grow, their skills, rather than on pure achievements. Look for what the person being recruited will have achieved after a year rather than recruiting them for what they will have to accomplish. The recruiter, whether a buyer or not, must look for a result, a projection of what he or she would like to obtain, taking into account technical skills but also human skills (interpersonal skills, analysis, agility, etc.).

For example, the recruitment of a buyer specialising in IT could follow the following methodology:

  1. Set the expected results

    The expected results are what the person will have implemented after 18-24 months. Often the recruiter will take a job description of the role. This may be “having produced a roadmap / mapping processes and opportunities for this or that purchasing category, having put in place evaluation criteria, etc.
  2. The main challenges

    These are the obstacles that may prevent the buyer from completing the process. In this case, for an IT buyer, internal resistance to change, technical evolution, lack of attractiveness to suppliers, etc.

  3. Key skills

    The recruiter must work on the skills that the candidate must possess to face the obstacles mentioned above. For example, conviction, leadership, high-tech culture, technical competence in cloud or servers, communication, perseverance or agility.

Each of these skills should be given a score, indicating the level of priority given to it. For example, 8-10 will correspond to the candidate’s autonomy in all circumstances, 6-8 to his mastery in normal times, without any particular context, etc.

As a general rule, the more strategic the issues at stake, the higher the priority given to behavioural skills.

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