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Implementing a Global Supply Management Training and Certification Program


Thomas E. Allen
Thomas E. Allen, Director - Purchasing Processes, Nortel.

81st Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1996 - Chicago, IL

Issue: While there is a wide range of supply management training courses available today, the question still remains on how a company can pull together a comprehensive training program that can satisfy it's training needs on a global basis. In addition, how can you ensure that there is an adequate level of consistency in a purchasing professional regardless of their geographic location. Nortel has several purchasing sites located in Canada, U.S., Mexico, U.K., Ireland, France, Turkey, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia. Often sharing of information, processes and individual knowledge is complicated by the diversity of practices and skill levels.

Opportunity: To create a training program that is customized to the needs of the company. At the same time, raise the consciousness of the need for continual training and upgrading of skills. Provide a mechanism for recognition of achieving a company set of standards for purchasing professionalism through a formal certificate program.

Objective: To provide a standardized career development path for Nortel Purchasing/Supply Management community and ensure consistent support for employee involvement on a global basis.

Process: The concept of a global training program was started in September 1990 with an understanding that limited internal resources would be available for development and delivery of the courses. As a result, the program began as an outsourced project with the intent of modifying existing public courses to allow for company unique culture, processes, terminology and cases to be imbedded. In general, 80% of the courses utilized the same material as the existing public course with the remaining 20% containing Nortel specific content. The first pilot course was delivered in January 1991 with a total of 10 courses delivered during the first year. Courses were usually 2-3 days in length and taught by an external instructor.

Through participant and management feedback, the entire training program evolved over the ensuing five years.

Process: Difficulties were experienced with scheduling external instructors and the inflexibility of course content. As a result, the majority of courses in 1996 will be customized and delivered by internal subject matter experts.

Content: Two to three day courses were not fully supported by management because they did not cover all specific topics desired. This has especially been the case in the international arena where skill levels dictated the need for broader, more general courses. Hence, most topics have been divided into 2-4 hour segments that permit a 1-5 day course to be customized and delivered with minimum effort, yet meeting the specific needs of a location.

Standards: Initially all courses were developed for delivery in North America but the need and demand for courses in Europe and Asia have increased over the past two years. The difficulty of finding qualified instructors globally has again forced the use of internal instructors to meet the international delivery demands. In order to keep the program costs under control, all courses and materials have been maintained in English. Course content is modified to account for local/regional differences, but over 90% of the content has remained unchanged. The time it takes to deliver course material, when English is a foreign language, increases by at least 20%.

Great care has been taken to ensure the quality of courses is maintained. All instructors are pre-qualified through review of their qualifications as well as through observation in an instructional environment. Objectives have been established for each course and module. Efforts are made to vary the activity and approach used for delivery. Participant involvement is considered to be beneficial and critical to the learning of concepts. Typically each learning module is followed with a case study to stimulate discussion and challenge participants thinking on the topic just covered.

As the training program found acceptance within the company, demands increased for a method to assess development needs and to recognize those that had achieve the desired level of purchasing professionalism. With the same resource and funding constraints coupled with a desire to ensure worldwide professionalism, the decision was made to oursource this aspect of the program as well. The first step was to develop a specification of what we wanted to accomplish and the key elements of our measurements. The specification was then used to:

  1. Determine the agency that would best be able to deliver the requirements identified.
  2. Attempt alignment with various national purchasing associations so employees completing the Nortel program would realize personal professional recognition. Four associations have been approached with strong interest and cooperation obtained from National Association of Purchasing Managers (U.S.), Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (U.K.) and Irish Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (Ireland).
  3. Use as a guideline for professionalism necessary for advancements in a unionized purchasing environment.
  4. Develop a training map for employees to plan their training needs and plot their course of action leading to a Nortel Purchasing Certificate.

The final Nortel Certificate Specification matched very closely with NAPM's CPM requirements. In addition to the NAPM requirements, our program mandates a course on Ethics and a self study orientation course. Once recognized by Nortel as being certified, individuals will automatically receive their C.P.M. designation and for those in the United Kingdom, be recognized at the Foundation Level within CIPS.

Results: Since the first year of the program, the number of courses held has increased from 10 to nearly 80 with the number of participants growing form 200 to over 800. Measured in hours, the Supply Management Training Program provided a total of 2500 participant training hours the first year increasing to nearly 7000 participant training hours in 1995. During the first year of the Nortel Certificate program, a total of 111 employees have initiated work towards their certificate with 13 individuals completing all requirements for certification.

Problems To Be Managed: Although the program has been a success and significantly raised the level of professionalism with in Nortel, several problems continue to surface in managing the program. They are:

  • Courses with too few participants drives the cost of training up. This is aggravated by last minute withdrawals or no-shows. In 1996, this will be addressed by charging the full amount of the course to those that withdraw with less than two weeks notice.
  • On-site courses are cost effective, eliminating most travel and living costs, however, it becomes too easy for participants to be called away on "urgent" business missing critical portions of the course. Support from local management to minimize this problem has reduced the impact of this problem.
  • Communication of training program particulars (i.e., schedule, types of courses, certificate guidelines, etc.) needs to happen regularly. This has best been handled through a monthly newsletter, local purchasing training coordinators and regular memos to management communicating changes and enhancements to the program.
  • Finding qualified instructors on a global basis that can successfully facilitate the courses. There is a general reluctance of internal subject matter experts to commit to delivering training sessions. For external instructors, it is time consuming and costly to identify a good instructor that would consistently be successful in delivering courses to Nortel participants. Use of detailed course material, facilitator's guides, standard chart package, and computer based instructor tools has alleviated the problem.
  • Maintaining up-to-date course material. The credibility of the instructor and course content are damaged when an out-of-date annual report, statistics, organization chart, case study or other material is used. The year has now been divided into two halves: the first six months focuses on course delivery and the second six months focused on course updates and new course development.
  • Conducting a training course with the level of participants' experience ranging from less than a month to over 20 years. It has often been the case where a purchasing manager has elected to take a basic course to get a better understanding of the course content. Group exercises are now organized to ensure the experience of the old timers is shared with those new to the function.

Benefits: In addition to the expected improvement in skills, the program has improved the focus on continual training within the entire Supply Management community. It has aided in establishing a global consistency of concepts, processes, expectations and programs. The program has also solidified an extensive purchasing network within Nortel that provides a useful medium for problem resolution. In general, the Supply Management community has shown a positive response to training that is directed to their specific function.

Do's and Don'ts: If you are contemplating a specialized training program, here are some recommendations to make your program better:


  • Establish a program champion that will stay with the program
  • Ensure that senior management supports the program
  • Listen to the critiques and suggestions for all sites and participants
  • Build flexibility into the program to allow for internal customization
  • Continuously update and improve courses. Delete courses that are not successful and add courses on new / current topics
  • Include company specific examples, case studies, policies, procedures and processes
  • Modularize topics into short segments


  • Under estimate the task and time involved in completing a program
  • Assume every course will be a success and don't be disappointed if one fails
  • Let just any instructor deliver a course. If an instructor does poorly - get rid of them as an instructor
  • Focus practices on just those used in North America
  • Accept documentation that is of poor quality
  • Over use a particular delivery mechanism (lecture, case studies, mock negotiations, computer based training, etc.)

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