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Graduates: fancy a career in public sector procurement?

Graduates: fancy a career in public sector procurement?

By Kate Brown, Head of Procurement, ESPO
There’s never a dull day if you work in public sector procurement; and yet, as this year’s crop of new students head through the first term of their University courses, studying popular subjects such as computer science, law or sociology, I often wonder what can be done for procurement to rise in popularity and become a more popular career choice for students.
Beyond buying items for the best price and saving organisations lots of money, there’s much, much more to a career in procurement. It’s a challenging and varied career and Chief Procurement Officers are certainly having much more of a say in the board room these days.

There’s a lot of procurement talent working in the public sector, but interestingly attracting new blood from outside of the sector remains a challenge, and we’ve seen little crossover between the private and public sector over the years.
It’s often said that the public sector has a reputation for being slow paced and is a little too bureaucratic. Coupled with the Government’s austerity measures and fears over long term job security, it’s no wonder that procurement professionals from the private sector are sometimes reluctant to make a move to the other side of the fence.
However, for those on their first steps of the procurement careers ladder or even experienced practitioners, there’s lots of variety on offer for those choosing a career in the public sector. As a professional buying organisation, we work with all sorts of organisations from schools to hospitals and even British institutions such as the House of Commons and the Royal Opera House. Our procurement officers purchase a whole host of different goods and services; vehicles, security equipment, asbestos removal services, catering equipment, translation and other professional services. We work in a diverse environment and our practitioners need a varied set of commercial skills.
Entering into a new profession, salaries are always going to part of the discussion, and as you would expect, it’s all very transparent with published salary pay grades and a clear path of career progression. Work-life balance is encouraged too which is a huge for many employees.

We have had a lot of success of growing our own procurement talent here at ESPO and we have had a graduate trainee scheme in place since 1984. We take on three or four individuals each year to train as procurement officers, with each trainee assigned to a team and given a mentor to support their progress. Our trainees also get to study at college for their MCIPS qualification one day each week.
We currently employ 30 of our past graduates making up almost three quarters of our procurement team. Our graduates have also climbed the ladder at ESPO with our first ever trainee now Head of Catalogue and Supply Chain, and as another such trainee myself, I’m proud to say, I’m now Head of Procurement.
Working in procurement in the public sector offers many advantages and is a great place to learn and train, as well as offering job satisfaction.  The goods and services we procure are used everyday by us as citizens, within our local schools, libraries and leisure centres. Overall there’s clearly a need for more education about the many benefits of working in this sector and hopefully one day we’ll see procurement sat alongside IT and business studies as a top ten choice for students.
If you’re interested in a career in procurement, visit to find out more about the opportunities at ESPO.