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Are contract and commercial management ‘transferable skills’?

May 3, 2012

Lawyers and accountants can move between industries. So can procurement managers and and HR professionals. So what about contracts and commercial staff?

Earlier this week, I responded to questions about the best qualifications for a contract or commercial manager and whether contract and commercial management are cross-industry disciplines. That left one issue to tackle – the transferability of skills between industries.

In my years of heading IACCM, thee have been many communications from members about job opportunities and the absence of a clear career path. This has frequently been accompanied by a complaint that few employers deem contracts and commercial skills to be transferable across industries – a view that has a severe effect on career options, especially when a particular industry may be in crisis or decline.

How valid is that complaint?

I can certainly point to many instances of individuals who succeed in crossing industry boundaries. My own commercial career inclued switching from automotive, to aerospace to technology and services. Another IACCM member recently wrote: “? I believe that there is no industry or geographical factor involved in this particular issue. I strongly consider that skills and knowledge applicable in one industry area able to be transferred to others depending on the particular circumstances of the capabilities of the individual who is moving from one sector to the other. I was able to experience such transferability from the fishery industry to the software and IT sector, without any type of previous training, this is something that comes by nature with each individual, regardless of the industry and of the region we are talking about”.

So is the difficulty more one of personaility or presentation? Do some individuals seek to mask their own inadequacy as a candidate by blaming prejudice or narrowness of thinking in others? I am sure there is some truth in this, but I think the issue goes deeper and relates to a point I made in the earlier blogs. That is, the absence of clear and transferable professional credentials. As an employer, I need some evidence of core competence; I need to be sure that the individual I am hiring actually possesses transferable knowledge. And without any basis for objective judgment, it is far easier to hire someone who has a pedigree within my industry.

Many of the leaders in commercial and contract management make the situation worse when they position this role as something that can only be learnt ‘on the job’ and not taught. This reinforces the perspective that contracts and commercial is not a profession, since any profession has by definition an underlyign body of knowledge, which in itself supports transferability between industries.

And that, in the end, is the reason lawyers, accountants, procurement professionals and others find it easier to move betweeen industries. They possess credentials that confirm their status and knowledge. Most contracts and commercial staff do not. Yet that is a problem they can fix; IACCM certification is designed to help and, for those in the US Federal sector, they also have the option of NCMA credentials.

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