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Public sector procurement: A highly skilled profession

01 October 2021

#Government, #Procurement

Published by:

Abby Landy

Public sector procurement: A highly skilled profession

The Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) is the peak council for Australian and New Zealand government agencies with responsibilities relating to procurement, construction and asset and real property management. The APCC’s Australian members include, at the Commonwealth level, both the Department of Finance and the Department of Defence. A key part of the APCC’s role is to provide leadership in relation to procurement practices and to enhance the knowledge base of members.

In late June 2021, the APCC released the Public Sector Procurement Profession Role Statement and the Procurement Capability Framework. The release of these documents is a key step in implementing the APCC’s five year Procurement Capability and Workforce Development Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to establish a standardised level of requirements for procurement professionals that will apply in every Australian (and New Zealand) public sector jurisdiction. The Role Statement and Procurement Capability Framework will be able to be used to develop educational programs, for universities and both vocational and professional training bodies, assisting in the development of the necessary skilled workforce for the profession.

Why is this important?

When discussing the launch of the Role Statement and Framework, and the reasons for the APCC’s drive to professionalise public sector procurement, Glenn Bain, the APCC’s Chair, referred to the more than 10,000 public servants who are directly employed in public sector procurement across Australia and New Zealand, and to the fact that in 2019/20 alone, the Commonwealth Government’s procurement contracts totalled approximately $54 billion. These statistics demonstrate the scale of public sector procurement in Australia and therefore why it is important that this task is undertaken by highly skilled professionals.1

Mr Bain highlighted that the investment in professionalising public sector procurement, in the manner contemplated by the Role Statement and Framework, will assist in strengthening Australia’s productivity over the longer term. This initiative will put in place the structures necessary to meet the Australian Council of Professions’ definition of a profession. That definition specifies a profession is “… a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.”2

It is also hoped that this move to professionalise procurement will attract new people to the profession. 

Role Statement and Framework

The Role Statement and Framework were developed following not only community and private sector consultation in Australia and New Zealand, but also consultation with international procurement professional bodies.

Role statement

The Role Statement:

  • Defines what is meant by the procurement function of government agencies. This function is responsible for the delivery of value for money procurements that achieve the necessary public outcomes.
  • Provides the basis for the creation of the Procurement Capability Framework. The key capabilities for that Framework are governance and assurance; planning; sourcing; evaluation and negotiation; and contract development and management. These capabilities are supported by relevant business skills and risk capabilities.
  • Spells out the need for a recognised and common professional structure for procurement officers. This will assist in ensuring procurement functions across different agencies at different levels of government “have the right people, with the right skills, in the right procurement jobs, supported by quality data and a shared professional terminology”.3

Framework

The Procurement Capability Framework is a comprehensive document that sets out the core procurement capabilities and business skills for the procurement profession and how these will be assessed. The Framework distinguishes between unique core procurement capabilities, on the one hand, and more general business related skills on the other. General business related skills are, like the core procurement capabilities, key requirements, but are not exclusive to the profession.

The Framework is divided into five main topics:

  • Capabilities: These are the capabilities – including skills, experience, competencies and behaviours – necessary to deliver required procurement outcomes. The capabilities are divided into two categories, core procurement capabilities and generic business skills. The first category is required for delivering necessary procurement capabilities and the second category is more general, including for example project management skills. While core procurement capabilities are applicable across different sectors, for procurement professionals working in specialist areas additional training could be required.
  • Proficiencies: These are the levels a professional needs to achieve for his or her role. The identified proficiencies are awareness, foundation, practitioner and expert. The level of proficiency required for roles at different levels will vary. It will be up to each public sector jurisdiction to determine its proficiency requirements, though the foundation level is expected to be the base level which should be reached within a short time of an individual commencing a procurement career.
  • Procurement Capabilities and Business Skills as a Scale: The development of a proficiency scale will enable a determination to be made as to the proficiency requirements, in respect of both procurement capabilities and business skills, for simple through to the most complex procurements. For procurement teams, it is not necessary for every member to have all of the procurement capabilities and business skills to the required proficiency levels to undertake their procurement tasks. The team could instead include individuals at varying proficiency levels provided that, collectively, the team had the required skills.
  • Procurement Capabilities Template: The Framework incorporates a procurement capability template which sets out a description of each “professional” and “procurement life cycle” capability, and includes breakdown of the sub-skills that are relevant to each. This is intended to provide a consistent approach to describing each of the core procurement capabilities outlined in the Framework.
  • Business Skills: This section of the Framework identifies the key business skills required by a procurement professional. These include data literacy; decision making; digital literacy; financial management; grants management; leadership; managing innovation; policy development and implementation; workforce management and more. These business skills are important skills for a procurement professional to possess, but they are not unique to procurement.

And, finally, the Framework contemplates that a list of relevant government-endorsed qualifications and certifications will be made available through the APCC.

Importance of this step

By ensuring that the public sector procurement workforce is skilled and well qualified, the Commonwealth Government (and other governments) will have greater confidence that their procurement processes provide maximum value for money, accountability and transparency, serving the interests of its taxpayers. Accordingly, the APCC’s strategy is to be applauded, as it rightfully acknowledges the professionalism of officers working in a core public sector function.

Authors: Angela Flannery & Abby Landy

1 See article in Government News
2 See Council of Professions’ definition of a profession
3 See page 5 of the Public Sector Professional Role Statement

Disclaimer
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

Published by:

Abby Landy

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