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Gen Z is giving procurement a much-needed makeover

Baby boomers fear them, millennials applaud them: now Gen Z are the future of procurement

They say children are the future and they aren’t wrong, except these children are not so little anymore and spend less time playing outside and more time taking down the government. Generation Z have been seen kicking back tear-gas canisters at police, pulling down statues and making camp in central London to protest against climate change. It’s safe to say they feel strongly about the environment and social issues. 

Gen Z are all about sustainability, diversity, ethical practices and technology, and this couldn’t be more in line with the changing role of procurement. Choosing a career in procurement gives graduates a chance to go straight to the core of the issue and help create change across the whole business, including its extended social impact. 

Not the procurement you once knew

“Procurement has evolved, as have procurement professionals,” says SAP chief customer officer, intelligent spend management, Tamara Braun. “In the past, procurement was more seen as the ‘corporate police’, a checkpoint for making sure all policies are abided by, requirements are fulfilled and so on,” she says. But the digitalisation of much of this policing has enabled procurement teams to shed this perception. 

It’s an exciting time to work in procurement and a far cry from how the function is often perceived

Procurement is now an integral and strategic part of a business. “More than just managing risk along the supply chain, procurement is now tasked with ensuring suppliers are strictly following codes of conduct, focusing on incorporating diverse and inclusive suppliers in the supplier base, building and driving a sustainability strategy for procurement, and staying laser focused on the development and retention of talent,” says Braun.

ASOS director of procurement Mike Mirrlees adds: “It’s an exciting time to work in procurement and a far cry from how the function is often perceived. It’s a role that requires constant change and evolution to meet business needs, and where values like critical thinking and challenging the status quo can really shine.”

Over the years, “procurement has evolved from a reactive, back-office function to a critical and authentic business partner operating across the organisation”, he says. This fast pace of change has meant “agility and strong leadership skills have become increasingly important, as has having a high level of technical literacy to drive understanding of the opportunities that deploying new technology can achieve”.

Likewise, sustainability, the environment and an ethical approach to doing business are critical when selecting and managing suppliers. Mirrlees says: “The ASOS procurement function is proud to display the CIPS Corporate Ethics Mark, showing our commitment to ethical sourcing and supplier management, and professionals with a passion and expertise in this area are more in demand than ever.”

Put your money where your morals are

Although “sustainability in the broadest sense has always been at the heart of procurement, it is seen as critical now”, says DHL supply chain vice president and procurement director Nicola Harrington.

“The Deutsche Post DHL Group has very ambitious goals when it comes to improving sustainability across the board, but we’re also seeing customers and suppliers set their own targets to ensure the whole industry is working towards the same mission.” 

The concept of embedding social value within public procurement is also growing more important. Therefore, procurement quickly shapes up to be the driving force behind social and sustainable initiatives.

A career in procurement should be viewed as an opportunity to drive positive change across a business and its wider ecosystem

L’Oréal’s purchasing and supply chain functions are central to its business strategy and achieving its sustainability goals, says L’Oréal UK and Ireland procurement director Gemma Bell. “A career in procurement should be viewed as an opportunity to drive positive change across a business and its wider ecosystem,” she says.

For example, the “procurement team drives our Solidarity Sourcing programme, which directs a proportion of the group’s global purchases to suppliers who give people from disadvantaged backgrounds access to work and a sustainable income”, says Bell. 

“Purchasers have the opportunity to be an agent of change and work with suppliers who we know are committed to green practices. We have made it mandatory for all new tender processes to be assessed through a sustainability lens. From purchasing sustainable materials for our display units to selecting suppliers with green transport capabilities, purchasers have the ability to drive our sustainability agenda.”

In with the kids

New talent brings with it new ways of thinking. For Volvo, “it’s of high importance that young people want to join us, bringing fresh knowledge, new perspectives, innovations and curiosity”, according to Volvo Cars Talent Attraction team, which rings true for all businesses that want to keep up with the times. 

To lure in bright-eyed graduates, companies must have something to entice them with. Braun advises: “Providing a solid career development path, role-based educational programmes, state-of-the-art systems and tools, and access to the newest procurement technologies need to be key priorities. This is the expectation of rising graduates in the field of procurement. They understand their value and expect to be valued.”

Harrington adds: “It’s important to talk to young people in spaces that feel natural to them.” It’s also about having a level of understanding of their needs. “We know that younger talent wants to understand how the business will support them in achieving their long-term goals, and the overall strategy and purpose of the business, rather than just what they’ll be involved in day to day. As such, we make sure this is clear from the beginning of their interactions with us,” she says.

“Our grads are involved in leading projects that really challenge and push the business forward, such as our newly introduced Inclusion Networks, something we’ve found has been a real draw for those joining the team.”

Volvo Cars has also found that awareness of major projects has drawn in graduates. “In meetings with students, we at Volvo Cars are always transparent about our transformation journey, moving towards full electrification, autonomous driving and strictly online business. We believe this plays a big role in why students want to join our company,” according to the Talent Attraction team.

Volvo Cars understands that graduates will gravitate towards businesses that embody the qualities they stand for and, correspondingly, its sustainability goals make procurement a highly attractive area for new recruits joining the company.