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A Purchasing Career in the Mid '90s and Beyond - Where Are You Going and How Are You Going to Get There?


Lee Krotseng, C.P.M.
Lee Krotseng, C.P.M., Manager of Seminars and Training, International Purchasing Service, Detroit, MI 48239, 313/459-0030.

82nd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1997 

Abstract. The '90s buyer must be proactive in all aspects of purchasing - including his or her own professional development. A framework is needed that will help the participant answer the questions: 1) How can I continue to improve myself and become more valuable to my organization? 2) What are my career goals? 3) How am I going to reach my goals?

Where are we today? - current career trends. The last economic downturn affected a wider range of people - especially middle managers and people in the manufacturing sector - than most previous downturns. Not only were people laid off, but job security for those who were not "downsized" or "rightsized" is no longer guaranteed. Gerald Egan notes, "While some companies ... still prefer a long-term employment contract, others ... seem to have moved toward contractor charters ..." where an organization contracts for your services, but does not guarantee "permanent" employment. In short, lifetime careers with one company are no longer the norm. According to U.S. government reports, five years at one job or one organization is becoming the new average. Further, a worker may have an average of five different careers over his/her total employment years.

Another trend change is that higher paying manufacturing jobs (as a percentage of total employment) have decreased from 27.3% in 1970 to 16.8% in 1992. Service sector jobs have increased from 16.3% in 1970 to 26.7% in 1992. Furthermore, the average daily number of temporary employees has increased from under .25 million in 1970 to almost 1.5 million in 1993. Many organizations no longer talk about full time "permanent" jobs, using words like "traditional" or "long-term" instead.

Trends in the purchasing profession are having a direct impact on the purchasing job market as well. Purchasing departments are using fewer suppliers and more single sources of supply. Purchasing is expected to manage the supply chain and supplier relations, relegating order releases to users or to computer-driven ordering systems. This means that fewer "order placers" will be needed. Purchasing teams consisting of a cross-functional mix of purchasing, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, etc. are becoming the norm. All these changes require the purchasing professional to review his or her approach to the job.

What's expected of us tomorrow? Purchasing professionals will be expected to identify their new customers (both internal and external) and provide good service to meet their sometimes changing needs. Technology tools such as the computer, telecommuting, EDI, E-mail, and the Internet must be part of a buyer's skill set. Keeping current with new technologies and knowing when and how to use the tools effectively will be an absolute requirement for a career in purchasing or any other field.

Global trade issues will become more important. The buyer must be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of global sourcing and be prepared to advise top management on countertrade and other issues. This will require knowledge and understanding of foreign cultural and linguistic parameters and how they can affect international business negotiations and transactions.

The increased use of cross-functional teams, diversity, and Total Quality Management concepts mean that purchasing pros will need to develop solid skills in personnel management. Managing "generation Xers", bosses, peers, and teams requires interpersonal skills to communicate effectively and to "sell" points of view.

Developing career strategies - Do you know where you're going? Even though many of us may have stumbled into the purchasing function by accident, a purchasing career does not have to happen by chance. Very few people would want to fly with a pilot who didn't know where he/she was or where he/she was going. The same is true for career planning. A good plan has five key elements:

  1. It must be based on a clearly defined objective or goal;
  2. The objective should be quantified so accomplishments can be compared with the goals;
  3. It requires operational clarity and should adequately cover all action required to fulfill the objective;
  4. It should be reasonably economical and should consider the resources available; and
  5. It must be reviewed periodically to measure progress and to allow for changes in the basic assumptions and existing conditions.

When developing a career plan it is important to remember that there are no secure or guaranteed jobs anymore. A purchaser should ask him/herself four basic questions:

  1. What are my goals? What do I want from a job? Remember to aim high.
  2. What skills and knowledge do I have that will help me reach my goals?
  3. What resources (money, time, etc.) are available to help me achieve my goals?
  4. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Answering these questions honestly (even if it hurts) is an absolute requirement for developing a career plan or plans.

After setting the goals, the next step is to get some strategic career trend information. The U.S. Department of Labor and many states have developed projections for employment trends by broad occupation and industry (see graphs) that can help identify places that may offer better chances for success (e.g. more job openings). For example, nationwide, manufacturing is projected to shrink while the service industry is expected to grow significantly through the year 2005. One could reasonably expect that the number of purchasing jobs in the manufacturing sector would also decrease. Buyers will still be able to find work in manufacturing, but with fewer job openings available, it might be more difficult to advance or take longer to find a new job in the manufacturing industry.

Developing tactical plans. Now that the strategic plans have been identified, it's time to develop the tactical plans that answer the question, "How am I going to achieve my strategic goals"? Three questions need to be answered:

  • Where am I today?

a) Have I reached my old/current goals?
b) Am I having fun?
c) Am I learning anything new?

Note: Whether or not you have reached your goals, you should be having fun and learning new things. If you aren't doing either then go find something that is fun and/or new (either inside or outside your current firm) before the organization notices that you've become a "learned" (past tense) person instead of a "learning" person. "Learned" people tend to get fewer promotions and raises, and could be targeted for rightsizing. Also, people who aren't enjoying their work tend to be less productive which can also lead to rightsizing.

  • What skills and knowledge will be needed?

a) Purchasing skills are always needed - negotiation, contract, marketplace knowledge, etc.
b) Technical skills will need constant updating to stay current with the marketplace in order to achieve a best buy scenario.
c) Interpersonal skills will be more in demand as teaming and interaction with top management increase. Communication skills (written, oral and listening) must be improved. The selling of ideas (a skill purchasing is often accused of lacking), has become a required skill. Finally, purchasing professionals must learn how to manage and resolve conflict at all levels.

  • Networking and other contacts must continually be reinforced and expanded. Statistics show that a person is at most five people away from a job offer. Membership and active participation in N.A.P.M., A.P.I.C.S., NIGP and other organizations are "free" networks. Social and/or community service is another "free" network.

Continuing the cycle. Strategies and plans, like people need to be constantly updated and improved. Career assumptions made a year ago may not be correct in today's job environment. The marketplace for purchasing services is constantly changing. Learning is a continuous improvement program that keeps the purchasing professional moving forward. Doing what is required is NOT enough. We must ADD VALUE to ourselves and our organizations if we want to survive and prosper in our careers.


Bales, William A. and Feron, Harold E., PhD., C.P.M., "CEOs/Presidents' perceptions and Expectations," C.A.P.S., National Association of Purchasing Management, Tempe, AZ, 1993.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor,

Egan, Gerald, "Hard Times: Contracts, (growing trend of temporary employment) (What's in Store for Employee Contracts)," Management Today, Management Publications, Ltd., UK, January 1994.

Godin, Seth, editor, Information Please Almanac, 1995, from U.S. Industrial Outlook, 1994, Seth Godin Productions, Inc., CompuServe electronic version licensed from INSO Corp., 1995.

Godin, Seth, Editor, Information Please Business Almanac, 1995, from 1993 Statistical Abstracts Tables 653, 655, 660, Seth Godin Productions, Inc., CompuServe electronic version licensed from INSO Corp., 1995.

Kolchin, Michael G. and Giunipero, Larry, "Purchasing Education and Training Requirements & Resources," C.A.P.S, National Association of Purchasing Management, Tempe, AZ, 1993.

National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, Alexandria, VA.

(graphics for this article are not available in this text-only version)

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