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How the multi-generational workforce can shape the future of public procurement – American City and County

A rapidly changing workforce, integrated with the advent of the digital era, is shifting the way procurement operates. Younger generations entering the public sector workforce are proposing improvements to current processes that questions the status quo. For the first time in modern age, five generations are present at work –Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.

Baby Boomers are set to retire in large numbers over the next few years and they will take their experience and expertise with them. According to Pew Research Center, by 2020, Millennials are forecasted to comprise half of the American workforce and by 2025 – 75 percent of the global workforce. As this shift begins, older generations will need to ensure that the younger generations will be able to tackle public procurement’s evolving organizational landscape.

Separating fact from fiction

Can a group of people with varying ages and backgrounds work together, especially in a complex field like public procurement? Some view generational differences in the workforce as a hindrance to growth – especially younger generations, who are often deemed “lazy and unproductive.” Problematic labeling like this has caused older generations to question if younger staff are equipped for careers in public procurement.

Misidentifying a group of people can stem from biased research methodology, stereotypes, and widespread labeling based on past experiences. In the workplace, this can possibly result in an organization’s loss of productivity and cause misunderstanding between employees from different generations – both young and mature.

Tammy Rimes, executive director of National Cooperative Procurement Partners, believes there can be a lost opportunity if organizations do not remove generational labels in the workforce altogether.

“Once we label people, we pre-judge them based off those labels and what they’re capable of,” Rimes said. “You might not take advantage of all the skill sets that a person could bring into the workplace. People should not be placed in ‘boxes’ based on their date of birth.”

Instead of dwelling on generational stereotypes, organizations can benefit from a business standpoint by leveraging an individual’s strengths, their life experiences, and unique upbringing. So how can an employer empower a public procurement team, of diverse age and backgrounds, to perform as one cohesive team?

The wide range of ideas, work styles and knowledge from a broad group of people can serve as an advantage – if managed well. There are certain measures public agencies can take to break down generational stereotypes in order to be truly successful in understanding their public procurement professionals better, and in turn, helping professionals excel in their work while creating a more efficient and productive team.

Breaking down the barriers

“A key aspect [of a multi-generational workforce] is that different people react differently in the same situation,” said Wayne Casper, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at OMNIA Partners. “Regardless of generational differences, each person should be engaged as an individual.”

For a work environment that is rooted in diversity to be functional, it begins with leadership. One growing trend that is proving beneficial to a multi-generational workforce is a program called “reverse mentoring.” This allows younger and older public procurement professionals to learn from each other and embraces the fact that every generation has a unique set of skills to be taught and learned from the other. This creates a collaborative camaraderie between the generational divide.

New talent gives procurement a chance to rebuild

Looking more specifically at procurement in state and local public agencies, K-12 schools, and higher education, there has been a great deal of change over the years. That means the procurement professionals being hired today have changed as well. As the workplace becomes more diverse, not only in terms of generation but other attributes as well, a change in the business culture of procurement will be needed.

“After the economy rebuilt after the 2008-2009 recession, governments had to cut back,” said Rimes. “Though most rebuilt construction, public safety, and public works departments, they did not typically rebuild procurement teams to their previous levels.”

Public sector procurement teams can begin the reconstruction process through recruiting new talent. Traditionally, public procurement has been characterized as a very controlled, civil-service oriented workplace, consisting of manual events and tedious tasks for a procurement professional. This can deter younger generations from pursuing a career in procurement altogether, as they usually seek returns on investing their time and other resources – which a governmental environment tends to not offer.

“No longer are the days where people are going to get a government job because it’s ‘safe’ or because the benefits are great,” said Rimes. “Many pension and health benefits that were offered in the past are no longer offered to the new incoming workforce. Another reason that it is difficult to attract millennials and younger generations are they often seek  more exciting and rewarding work, which is not often the view of a government workplace.”

Public procurement’s complicated and inflexible processes that might have worked for the more experienced and traditional professionals do not work for the diverse range of professionals working in today’s public sector agencies. This means that most organizations that still have core elements of their procurement teams rooted within their traditional practices will need to make changes, starting with their organizational culture. This is another reason why it is so important to understand an individual’s work style and communication preference. Not only will there be a better perception of how to entice younger professionals in the procurement field, but how to retain them as well.

The value in recruiting younger talent can change the procurement work environment by maximizing productivity, building a collaborative environment, creating opportunity for cross-generational mentoring, and pave the way for more streamlined processes in the public purchasing profession.

Changing era offers new solutions in procurement

As contracting workload increases, younger generations entering the procurement workforce are seeking for more effective and efficient solutions. Data driven procurement, implementation of technology, and innovation solutions are just some of the ways we see younger generations, like millennials, modernizing the public procurement function. Perhaps the biggest advancement that younger professionals are adopting is the use of cooperative contracts.

The use of cooperative contracts has been around for years but has grown in popularity overtime as a key differentiator to reduce the administrative burden of purchasing and serve as a more strategic sourcing initiative for organizations (both large and small). Younger generations embrace the benefits that utilizing a cooperative contract can deliver, such as saving organizations time and money.

“Current public procurement staff does not have time to go out to bid anymore,” said Rimes. “That’s why cooperative purchasing is growing more than ever as a more streamlined solution.”

As the younger generations start to diversify procurement teams, increased utilization of cooperative contracts is just one area where we are seeing a shift in how procurement teams operate.

The future of procurement moves forward with new generations

“My opinion is that Millennials [specifically] will help move procurement into a faster lane,” said Rimes.

The benefits to welcoming younger generations into the public procurement workforce are endless. With the younger generations driving technology and the adoption of new ways to conduct business, they will push for implementing online and automated systems, streamlined bidding processes, and more strategic and efficient sourcing solutions and management.

“A real strength of younger generations is that they are more knowledgeable and comfortable with technology and change,” said Casper. “Procurement today is experiencing changes that affect many aspects of procurement. Younger generations are not only more comfortable with such change, but they often have skill sets that can assist in the change.”

Each generation has their own respective merits. An ever-emerging multigenerational workforce that applies the older generations seasoned experience with the younger generation’s new innovative ideas, will see an improvement in work performance, effective communication, and more efficiency.

Want more thought-provoking content on public procurement? Check out to learn more about public sector research insights and best practices.

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