"Those employed by an organisation are expected to understand its needs by engaging [different] user departments," says Carrie Lau, chairwoman of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (Hong Kong Branch). "While receiving [purchasing] requests from the departments, procurement officers should be proactive in helping colleagues and management define their needs."
Apart from buying physical goods and materials, such as office supplies, machinery, and computer and printing equipment, procurement officers negotiate with external suppliers over services in areas ranging from operations, information technology and engineering, to civil and electrical installation works and specialised services such as cleaning and security. They research and identify new sources of supply, prepare and organise tenders, and keep abreast of market trends.
"Negotiation isn't a zero sum game. It's about achieving the aims of both parties through effective communication," Lau says.
"Price isn't the sole consideration, and obtaining best value for money doesn't mean going for the lowest price. Other equally important factors include quality, delivery lead time and after-sale support."
She adds that procurement officers should acquire legal knowledge and risk management skills for an edge in negotiations over contract terms related to copyright, confidentiality, warranty and insurance cover.
Assistant procurement officer is normally the starting point in the field, before promotion to procurement officer in two to three years. The next step is senior procurement officer, then assistant procurement manager, and finally, procurement manager. The latter develops procurement strategies and manages relationships with suppliers, among other responsibilities.
Lau says the salary of a procurement officer varies from HK$15,000 to HK$25,000, depending on the size of the organisation and the academic and professional qualifications and experience of the candidate.
Courses on supply chain are important
- Individuals aspiring to enter the procurement profession should enrol in supply chain and purchasing-related programmes
- In Hong Kong, such programmes are offered by the Institute of Vocational Education, Polytechnic University and Baptist University
- Procurement professionals hoping to upgrade their knowledge and skills can apply for courses at industry associations, such as the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and the Institute for Supply Management
Negotiation skills a must
- Negotiation skills are essential for the role - but eloquence alone will not help you win a negotiation
- Research on the product and its market trends, and the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation and the supplier will help you reach your target
- Integrity is another key trait - procurement officers need to uphold ethical standards at all times, especially as there can be temptations to favour one supplier over another