Is a degree necessary to succeed in procurement?

Given the Great Resignation, reset post-Covid, and resulting labour shortages, do most employers still consider a university degree a critical factor in hiring decisions?

Is a degree necessary to succeed in procurement?

Business luminaries such as Grant Cardone have come out against the bias toward college degrees for many jobs. 

Of course, careers such as medicine, law, or accounting require specific skills. But for broad-based, general fields such as business administration or marketing, people can learn many skills on the job and through other ways of learning.

Degree requirements are changing slowly.

A survey of online job listings found that requirements for a university degree were found in 44% of ads in 2021, down from 51% in 2017.

With the controversies around student loans and the value of formal education, many young people are looking for ways to bypass the traditional education-career path. 

Historically, educational requirements have been a way to weed out people applying for positions. About 67% of workers in the US don’t have a four-year college degree, which filters out many minorities who might have otherwise applicable skills.

A degree of value

A bachelor’s degree indicates that a candidate has received the foundational education and skills for the role. 

It shows that a candidate can develop a plan and stick with it through to graduation, doing the necessary work over long periods to achieve their goal.

Students learn many soft skills at university, such as following complex instructions, working with diverse classmates, time management, social skills, and self-motivation.

But a degree doesn’t define a person, or predict their preparedness or effectiveness for a particular job. 

A successful candidate in procurement should exhibit a number of desirable personal characteristics that aren’t learned in a classroom. Some organisations are learning to hire for character and personality and train for specific skills.

Desirable procurement career characteristics

The best university education in the world is no substitute for someone who embodies the personal traits most needed to success in procurement.

These traits include:

  • Analytical
  • Strategic
  • Organised
  • Personable
  • Persuasive
  • Goal-orientated
  • Practical and logical
  • Hard-working
  • Eager to learn
  • Resilient
  • Independent

Source: CIPS

Do you want the best employees or those who fit the mould?

The reduction or elimination of degree requirements reduces barriers to workplace diversity and inclusion and can help students avoid tuition debt. 

It also broadens opportunities to tap into top talent no matter where they may be located, as remote work becomes an expectation rather than an exception.

A growing number of companies, such as General Motors, Microsoft, Apple, and EY, have said they would not require degrees for jobs where it’s not completely necessary.

Consulting firm Accenture launched an apprenticeship program to bring workers without formal degrees into its hiring pipelines, and 80% of the people hired did not have a college degree.

Currently, most publicly available procurement postings – at least anything above entry-level or basic data entry/administrative posts – require a bachelor’s degree. Some entry-level positions will accept a lower degree like an associate’s degree (US), Higher National Diploma (UK) or Advanced Diploma (Australia) coupled with some experience.

A recent survey found that 64% of buyers held a bachelor’s degree, primarily in business, accounting, or management. An associate’s degree was the second most common, with 19% of buyers earning this level.

Historically, procurement pros with a degree earn more, partly due to higher-level positions and recognition for the degree.

However, given that many people in procurement confess they “fell into it,” real-world experience and some basic skills may be more than enough to start your career. 

Just short of half the procurement pros surveyed (49%) in the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2021 said they actively chose to work in procurement. That means 51% were looking for a career path in another field when an opportunity opened in procurement.

In some ways, that makes a lot of sense. 

While there are some procurement-specific degrees, and more in related fields like logistics and supply chain management, the field is open to many backgrounds. 

Those with degrees in finance, business administration, engineering, and many other experiences have found success.

A procurement posting could even be a way to gain entry to a company or industry because the education doesn’t have to be directly related.

Can hiring practices change with the times?

One of the generational gaps in the perceived value of a university degree is the ubiquity of online learning.

For many people in management and senior positions, college or university was the only way to learn. You went to class, listened to a professor’s lecture, and demonstrated your knowledge through exams and projects. They can’t imagine that a young person has access to information to develop the skills and knowledge they need outside the four walls of academia.

On the other hand, younger job seekers can’t imagine spending any more time sitting in a classroom than they absolutely have to. 

Today, job candidates use online learning tools – both free and paid – to learn specific skills they need to build competencies for a new position. 

Research from Gartner found that 43% of job candidates teach themselves at least one new skill they need to do their jobs. Someone could become an Excel whiz on their own – and such skills may not even appear on their CV or educational transcript.

Breaking old habits is hard. It’s likely most procurement job postings will continue to list a bachelor’s degree as an essential requirement. However, some companies are relaxing those requirements to widen the pool of applicants in the competitive job market. 

Changing the mindset about college requires commitment.

Employers must analyse the necessary skills and experience, and the recruiting process must be revised to reflect new standards.

Senior-level posts, such as chief procurement officer or chief supply chain officer, will require a degree for the foreseeable future – as well as relevant experience. For many higher-level positions, a master’s degree is still desirable. Other skills like fluency in multiple languages can help your chances of advancing if you deal with international suppliers.

Certainly, procurement is a multidisciplinary field, where soft skills such as communication and collaboration are just as vital as broad technical knowledge and skills. 

Don’t sell procurement short – even with a bachelor’s degree; there are plenty of things to learn about the field and its position in an organisation.

Once you’re in a procurement position, don’t stop learning. 

If you have a bachelor’s, consider attending a master’s program. Also, certifications may be more relevant. Organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CISP) and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) offer certification programs for different career levels to help you progress.

With the talent crunch of the past few years, companies need employees more than employees need companies. 

Revising or removing degree requirements can be an effective way to bring in new talent, often with diverse backgrounds and experiences that would have been overlooked under the old bachelor’s degree requirements.

Let us know in the comments what your pathway to your career in procurement looked like – was it the traditional route or did you get there another way?

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