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Contract Management: Where are all the youngsters?

July 10, 2013

“And another thing”, said the executive search consultant. “Where are all the youngsters? Why can’t I find people with a year or two of business experience who want to become contract and commercial managers?’

My blog yesterday on the topic “From job to profession” generated considerable interest and a number of lively conversations. Among them was the comment above. In spite of current unemployment levels and the number of graduates seeking jobs, it seems there is great difficulty in finding aspiring contract and commercial managers in the UK market. Vacancies sit unfilled. There is no obvious answer as to why this might be. Clearly, there is a degree of ignorance about the role. Maybe this generates a sense of insecurity. Certainly it creates questions over whether there is a career path linked to the job. But ultimately, if you were in your early 20’s, with limited business experience, and saw a job opening with leading companies, wouldn’t you at least show interest?

“Commercial Directors should be on the Board” was another comment that I received. Well, maybe. But why? Who is sure exactly what a Commercial Director is and does. Look at the make up of the average Board and in general it is a body of professionals – people with qualifications in Finance, the Law, Engineering, Marketing. They are linked to respected disciplines and have wide-ranging professional connections. That simply is not the case with Commercial experts. They depend on personal status, not professional respect – and that makes for a much harder route to the top.

To change this situation, those in Contracts and Commercial Management need to develop the hunger to be a respected professional body. They need to open their minds to recruiting and growing young talent. They have to push for more university and business school education. David Lowe, one of the few academics who has had the courage to push down this path, commented on yesterday’s blog, naming some of the companies which are investing in their commercial staff and sending them to the programs at Manchester Business School. “Our experience is that, although the process can be challenging (in terms of time commitment and the way it places participants outside their comfort zone), most acknowledge that the results have been transformational. Some participants, however, are not prepared to take ownership, believing that their organisation should be responsible for meeting any development needs and, moreover, that this should occur within work’s time, not their own – and highlighting the schism between those that see their role as a professional contribution and those who consider it to be a job.”

Of course there are optimistic signs. We are seeing record numbers applying for IACCM certification and training. We are witnessing a real growth in academic interest. Rene Henschel, appointed professor at a top law school in order to promote the study of contract management. Pace Law School, with innovative programs in International Contracting. A range of other universities and business schools turning to IACCM for support in program content or delivery, or to partner in research, or to seek mentorship for PhD students or executive education programs. The interest is there; but the community has to create the buzz that turns interest into reality.

So where are all the youngsters?

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