WINNER – GO Emerging Procurement Talent Award, UK National GO Awards 2019/20
Cardiff Council were recognised at the UK National GO Awards for their innovative and successful student placement programme, run in conjunction with the University of South Wales (USW). As well as providing individual students with invaluable experience, the programme contributes to the development of skills throughout the procurement industry. Steve Robinson, Head of Commissioning and Procurement for Cardiff Council and Managing Director of Atebion Solutions, and Scott Parfitt, Senior Lecturer at USW and course leader for the BSc Logistics, Procurement and Supply Chain Management degree, explain what has made the scheme so successful.
Steve Robinson: The relationship between Cardiff Council and USW started through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership that we entered into in 2008/9, to help us develop a more strategic approach to managing procurement in Cardiff, based on category management. That started giving us exposure to some of the talent the university were producing. It’s always been part of USW’s approach to encourage students to do a year in industry [between the second and third years of their degrees]. Scott and I developed a relationship through the KTP, and Scott then asked if we thought we could support the work USW do with student placements.
We go through an interview process with students. For some of them it’s the first time they’ve been through an interview process. Based on that process, we’ll appoint somebody who’ll be with us for a full 12 months, during which time they’ll be a salaried employee of the council.
Plugging the skills gap
Scott Parfitt: At USW, we see the lack of supply and procurement talent. It’s a global issue, a UK issue and a Welsh issue. The problem of bringing talent in is not just something that’s experienced in terms of Cardiff. There’s a whole host of organisations in South Wales who struggle to attract procurement talent.
However, Wales is a procurement hotbed. We have lots of procurement organisations in South Wales, and USW is renowned for procurement. There’s a limited number of universities in the UK that offer degrees in procurement, and we’re one of only three UK institutions that have CIPS accreditation attached to an undergraduate degree. We’re obviously lucky that our local economy has a strong procurement connection. Cardiff are the shining light in terms of an organisation who work closely with us to help students develop to meet the demand – whether that be in Cardiff or in the wider Welsh or UK economy.
Steve Robinson: I act as Chair of the Welsh Local Government Association network, and recruitment is a problem all the local authorities face. The big challenge is finding people of the calibre you need. Many people now working in procurement didn’t leave school and think “let’s work in procurement”. The difference is that these students have made a conscious decision, at a fairly young age, that they would like to see a career in procurement. For me, that brings a level of professionalism that’s well overdue. They’re getting a good academic grounding early in their lives that they can build on through the industry experience they get. It’s down to people like Scott convincing them that there are great opportunities in supply chain. Without the programme, our ability to be able to recruit would be really challenged.
Steve Robinson: Because students are embedded in our category teams, which have got a high level of experience and expertise, they really couldn’t be learning from better practitioners. As well as gaining practical experience working on real projects with the team, we also support them with additional training. Students have done things like project management training or leadership training courses. A lot of that is standard training that’s available to council officers. We look to do anything we think is relevant to the students’ training and development, regardless of whether we’ll benefit from that in the long term or not.
Scott Parfitt: We’ve seen the students be very competitive to attain this position. Cardiff are one of the best teams in public sector procurement in the country, and the level of projects the students can get involved in is second to none. To see students develop expertise within a short period of time, working on relevant projects that add value to the council and the community that both USW and Cardiff Council are part of, is great. More and more we’re seeing the students getting kept on longer than the 12-month contract and continuing to work during their final year of study with us. Of Cardiff’s last seven appointments, six have come through our placement scheme. The others who haven’t been appointed to Cardiff have all gone on to achieve good careers in other institutions, all within procurement and supply chain roles.
Steve Robinson: Those six students will have all been through our open recruitment processes, where we are judging them against the calibre of other applicants – and to be honest there’s no comparison.
The GO Awards experience
Steve Robinson: The application process for the GO Awards is fairly straightforward. The limit on the number of words is actually a good thing, because it helps you focus on the key points you want to get across in the application. If there’s one thing in local government we can be criticised for, it’s not sharing good practice, and so even if we were not successful for the award, going through the process of generating case studies is very valuable. The criteria and definitions for the award categories are always very clear as well, which makes the process of writing these submissions up much more straightforward.
The key value is being able to celebrate success. Being successful in the GO Awards helps raise awareness and the profile of the work we’ve been doing, and it provides us with recognition of the work we’ve been doing, and that helps support the scheme. Because of the success we’ve had here, there are other departments now in other professions who can see the value of running similar programmes.
Scott Parfitt: I’d also like to thank BiP Solutions for providing our students with free entry to Procurex Wales for the last three years. It helps us attract students to the profession, by providing them with access to cutting edge industry research and trends at a leading procurement event.
You can learn more about the scheme on Cardiff Council’s website.