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Achieving job security and status

November 6, 2013

My post earlier this week – “Should you be licensed to practice?” – generated many comments, most of which were emailed direct to me. The discussion was inspired by an article from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply proposing that procurement professionals should become licensed, in order to raise standards and ensure a more consistent response to today’s supply chain risks.

The reactions that I received were universally negative and raised some interesting points; I share a sample of these inputs below. Clearly, no one suggests that standards of knowledge and competence are not important, but they feel that a licensing system is inappropriate to achieving those goals and is counter to the trends and needs of today’s business environment.

Here are the comments:

“In the consumer scenario, licensing seems to add some value to the consumer who is otherwise ill-equipped to run their own due diligence – how does one know a doctor, lawyer or accountant is qualified?  Prior to web based searching as an option, the licensing option seemed to serve some purpose for consumers.  However, with commercial customers the ability to conduct due diligence is at a fully different level – does a corporation really need a third-party license mechanism to assist in the vetting and selection of procurement staff? Perhaps CIPS is envisaging a new niche with consumer clients who need a licensed buyer to help with the purchase of a home or auto?”

“I saw this idea backfire when a dog died at the hands of a groomer and the state wanted to impose licenses for all groomers. The community railed against the license and intrusion of the government into their work. The measure was never advanced to a vote.

It was pointed out during the debate that just having a license doesn’t mean that you are any good. Also depending how it’s written, the liability may return to the licensing body for mistakes. So not sure if CIPS has thought this through… If some licensed buyer screws up a deal for millions, will CIPS be willing to pay?

Doctors are forced to have malpractice, Public Accountants and lawyers are forced to buy error and omissions coverage, will companies pay for their Procurement employees to have insurance?”

“This kind of statement is a fairly regular occurrence from long-established professional bodies.  The first thing to understand is that it’s almost always a defensive manoeuvre; people talk about it when they’re worried about something such as declining membership or influence. It’s an attempt to pull the drawbridge up behind them to prevent erosion.

Some key, common themes in predicted future developments within Procurement that perhaps challenge future volumes or drive a very different role:

  • Outsourcing to third parties
  • Automation having an impact on the number of purchasing specialists
  • Integrated business processes
  • E-commerce
  • Globalisation
  • Changing identity, structure and process of purchasing and supply within organizations, from a broad business perspective.
  • Major corporate outsourcing decisions from which purchasing specialists are excluded
  • Relative loss of influence, if specialists from other functions take a leading role in the supply chain management business process.

All this represents an uncertain business environment with some significant threats and a number of long-term strategic challenges in just how they’re going to adapt to a changing world, exacerbated by the fact that purchasing in many organisations is the responsibility of Finance and if I know the Finance people, they’ll fight tooth and claw to keep it that way. There are plenty of CEOs who were previously the CFO… I bet there’s not a one in a global corporation who was previously the CPO.

Factors in the macro environment common to all membership organisations.

  1. The trend away from allowing monopolies. For example, in the UK, the Regulatory Review of Legal Services in 2004 took away the Law Society’s long-standing right to be the sole body issuing a licence to practice to UK solicitors. The purpose of the review was to “consider what regulatory framework would best promote competition, innovation and the public and consumer interest in an efficient, effective and independent legal sector.” This wording would provide an excellent template for any objections to a ‘professional’ body attempting to become the licensing body. The key concerns are the impact on innovation, competition and the promotion and protection of vested interests by the professional body.
  2. The lack of relevance of old style professional bodies in the 21stCentury. Most of the old chartered bodies are relics of a bygone age. Whilst they once represented a fixed point of knowledge, expertise and excellence and provided a community and social environment for the practice of the trade or profession they were set up to serve, the modern world presents numerous ways for individuals to form new communities on an ever-evolving and frequently ad hoc basis. The laws of evolution apply rigidly to these new social groups: if they have something to offer the community they survive and evolve – if they don’t they die. The laws of evolution also apply to the old dinosaurs…it’s unlikely there’ll be a cosmic event to finish them off but over time they are becoming less relevant with declining numbers of members, declining relevance as education providers, declining importance as training providers. The success of modern style membership communities such as EConsultancy demonstrates that what people want above all else nowadays is content, not status. Timely, accessible, relevant and current. Old style bodies are locked in by their historic structures – they aren’t nimble enough to react to the new world order. We want it and we want it NOW!
  3. Competition in the traditional markets of education and training is now fierce. Lots of competition at all levels and this has really happened only over the last twenty years. An explosion in the number of universities offering vocational degrees that equip students for work without needing an additional professional qualification. To some extent the professional bodies have tried to mitigate the damage this causes by offering dual badging or exemptions but increasingly their qualifications are no longer the cash cows they were.
  4. There isn’t a massive groundswell of support from the professionals themselves for a licence to practice. Not in marketing, not in finance, not in IT services management, not in purchasing and supply. If the members wanted it – and made it clear they wanted it – it would have more chance of happening and the professional bodies could claim rightly that they are representing the views of their members. A bottom-up approach is the only justification. A top-down approach where the impetus comes from the organisation itself lays them open to the charge of self-interest.
  5. The minute one of the bodies went for licencing body status they’d bring down a storm of protest from any other organisation involved in the sector plus all the non-affiliated individuals. I suspect now that the courts would view such measures as not in the public interest and probably an unlawful restraint of trade. With the spectre of the European Court of Human Rights waiting in the wings to test any case I couldn’t see it happening in a million years.
  6. Technology has increased the pace of organisational evolution and the answer is not a retreat into Victorian times. It’s to reinvent the traditional professional body in a guise that appeals to this fast-evolving, collaborative and open world of ours.

In general, my experience suggests that organisations push this agenda when they are facing declining member revenues, declining training revenues and declining education revenues. They are effectively in the squeezed middle. Everything they offer (even membership of a community) can be offered more cost-effectively and conveniently by someone else. A push for licensing or privileged status is often a transparent attempt to delay decline. The political climate in the UK has never been more against self-serving moves by bodies claiming to represent workers and professionals. With the recent precedent of the removal of the ability to issue licences to practice from the Law Society, the likelihood of anything happening in the reverse direction has to be considered slim to say the least. In Associations where I have worked, we only ever had this conversation at as a matter of self-interest…not for the good of the professionals.”


From → Procurement, Sourcing

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