November 6, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Rick Grimm: Graduates entering the workforce who have a passion and purpose for public service are strongly encouraged to consider a career in public procurement and contracting. If anything, the dual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced tax revenues within governments has heightened the value and responsibility of public procurement and contracting. Procurement officials are on the front lines for securing PPEs as well as many other healthcare products and equipment needed to keep first responders and healthcare workers safe. And the tightening of the budget belts means, more than ever, that procurement must deliver value for money through best practices, in addition to being a voice for fairness through regulations and compliance.
The tsunami of retirements in the public sector is providing ample opportunity to join the public procurement workforce. And the public procurement profession provides many options to serve in the federal, state, and local sectors (including K12 schools and special taxing districts, such a water authorities and ports). Therefore, skill development is very portable from one sector to the next.
This profession is also very dynamic as the procurement demands change very quickly. There is no typical day and there's no place for boredom. The practitioner may be procuring lawn maintenance services for the local parks system on Monday, soliciting bridge repairs for the department of transportation on Tuesday, and collaborating with IT by week's end on automated approaches for managing the government effectively.
Rick Grimm: Public procurement professionals don't typically come into the profession with a wealth of procurement techniques and experiences. That knowledge and skill is developed on the job and through multiple options for professional development. However, the ideal candidate has an acute appreciation for the mission and public benefit of government and has developed fundamental competencies in critical thinking, relationship management, and data analytics. Of equal importance, the ideal candidate is rooted in the values of ethics, integrity, professionalism, and transparency.
In short, the public procurement profession is tailor-made for the new workforce. There is portability between the various public sectors. There is variety in meeting the on-going needs of stakeholders. There is an appreciation for the quality of life/work balance. There is an infrastructure in place where professionals engage with others to learn and network. And there are professional associations that enable learning through content and competency development, that provide public recognition through certificates and certifications, that deliver an abundance of resources, and that facilitate connections for mentoring and sharing information.
Ultimately, if you want to have impact, consider a profession that is responsible for the state and local spend of $4.1 trillion in tax dollars annually.
Knoxville Community Development Corporation
Terry McKee: I believe that those involved in public procurement from 2020 onward will have many more options for working remotely and not being tied to a traditional office environment. Additionally, public procurement seems to have made quantum leaps in moving to a totally electronic operating environment so that future procurement officials will deal very little with bids submitted on paper. I think that the COVID-19 crisis has irrevocably broken the traditional public procurement model which provided great stability, routinization of tasks, and the ability to blame the rules. COVID proved that public procurement needs flexibility while retaining impartiality and fairness so that goods and services could be delivered in a timely manner. Public Procurement officials must now deliver and not just rely on "the rules." In summation, public procurement will be a fun, challenging, and flexible place to work from 2020 onward. Come join us serving our fellow citizens.
Terry McKee: The core skill required is a commitment to lifelong learning since public procurement requires the practitioner to constantly learn new ideas and techniques. Other necessary skills include problem solving, project management, communication, time management, writing, and patience, and flexibility. I did not list software skills (Word, Excel, Google, for example) because I think they are requisite for virtually all professional jobs now. Ethical standards are also requisite for public procurement and while not really a skill, are a core requirement. Finally, let me mention that increasingly public agencies offer internship opportunities and, if possible, take advantage of those in order to learn about public procurement in real life settings.
Terry McKee: The baby boom generation is retiring rapidly and is creating openings. In 2017, Politico reported that 13% of federal government workers were over 60, 25% were over 55, and only 17% were millennials. These statistics would likely hold true for local governments, too. In general, the states with higher populations will have the most openings: California, Texas, Florida, for example. However, Virginia and Washington D.C. also will have many opportunities due to the high concentration of government offices in these areas. That does not mean that other areas have no opportunities. For instance, within Knox County (where my office is) there at least 10 governmental entities. Each of these entities has one or more procurement offices. Find an area of the country which you love, and then find a job to serve the citizens.
Daniel Kruger: The procurement profession, like many industries, has undergone a shift as a result of the pandemic. NASPO is seeing states adjusting to revised bidding processes that include more eProcurement systems, and work from home is also a significant change for many state employees. New graduates will need to navigate the hiring process and onboarding potentially without a physical office or in-person collaboration with coworkers, so they need to be comfortable with technology and even a bit more extroverted early on to make those connections. This will require strong communication and interpersonal skills. Data analytics and supply chain knowledge continue to be critical, as well.