Procurement is suited to someone who wants to understand the business as a whole.
Each year at TARGETjobs, we are noticing that an increasing number of employers are offering graduate programmes in procurement (or purchasing). However, we suspect that these schemes may be under-subscribed; our experience is that many students don’t actually know what careers in procurement involve.
'I think at college I would have thought about the role of procurement as “sourcing” and as quite small, but it’s actually one of the few business functions that gives you an insight into all business roles,’ Robert Sweeney, who is on Kerry Group’s procurement graduate programme, told us. ‘It’s a great function if you want to gain exposure to a range of different business areas early in your career.’
So we sat down with Robert and Eimer Finn, also a graduate on the procurement programme, to find out what their procurement graduate jobs really involve. Please note that this conversation occurred before the coronavirus pandemic – as such, it does not reflect the challenges the pandemic has brought, nor the restrictions on travel and changes to working environments. However, we do believe that Covid-19 has shown the importance of procurement and supply chain careers to business operations.
Robert completed an undergraduate degree in psychology and history at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, before completing a masters in management and marketing from University College Cork, and joined the graduate programme three months ago.
Eimer graduated with a degree in food and agri-business management from University College Dublin and started on the graduate programme three months ago.
What is procurement?
Eimer: Procurement is anything related to sourcing, negotiation and the strategic selection of materials that a business will use – we source and negotiate prices to help Kerry create an end product. It’s a very vital part of the entire business.
Robert: At its fundamental core, procurement is about purchasing and buying. Procurement, at our company, is about sourcing products that make it easier and more valuable for our customers to do business with us. Procurement is about adding value to the business and to the customer.
So what does your job involve?
Robert: I work in the packaging team. I work with suppliers, with our factory teams and with our supply chain team to make sure that our different packaging – which could include anything that is needed to deliver the end product – is in our factories on time and that the supply chain team has the right type of material available, in the right amounts, to get the product to our customers.
The role is constantly varied; for example, last Monday I spent the first half of the day with a supplier, looking around their operations and facilities and speaking about future business. The second half of the day was spent at my desk working on contracts. There are about six of us in the team currently and we all look after different areas; you have the opportunity to make a project your own.
Eimer: I’m currently sitting in the travel team, so we negotiate deals with preferred suppliers such as car rental companies, hotels and airlines. In a typical week I could be attending meetings and negotiations with suppliers, dealing with different issues or challenges we may be facing (either with suppliers, sites or employees), running reports, carrying out data analysis, and helping with the running of different tenders when contracts need to be renewed.
Travel can sometimes be necessary in the role I have. I was recently in Dubai to implement our travel programme. This gave me exposure to other areas of the business and allowed me to network with employees located in different regions.
How did you first hear about careers in procurement?
Eimer: I studied food and agri-business management and so I knew from early on that I wanted to work with a food company and, because of their excellent reputation, Kerry was my first choice. In my third year of university I came across their internship in procurement. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I looked it up and asked around. It seemed to offer an array of different aspects that interested me. After I completed that internship, I knew I wanted to work in procurement function after university, and so I applied for the graduate programme.
Robert: After my undergraduate degree, I gained a graduate visa to work for a biopharma company in San Diego and the role happened to be in procurement. Procurement allows you to work with different people across different functions and I really enjoyed that. After I came back to Ireland, I had a great lecturer at UCC who knew the procurement industry and encouraged me to continue a career in procurement. I’m delighted I took his advice on that! During my masters, I got a six-month placement with Kerry and thankfully this turned into a place on the graduate programme. It has helped me develop my skills and grow my network by working with experts in the industry.
Who would be suited to a career in procurement?
Robert: Procurement is a great function because you get to work with a huge number of different departments within the business – supply chain, planning, marketing, ICT and sales are just a few of the different teams that procurement interacts with. For this reason, I think it is suited to someone who wants to understand the business as a whole. It gives you a great chance to develop a thorough business understanding.
Eimer: Negotiation skills are vital. My top negotiation tip is to have in mind what you want and to trust your own instincts when listening to the other side. There will always be a bit of give and take, but have in mind what is an acceptable outcome for you. Communication and teamwork are also important in establishing good work relationships.
Any tips for the recruitment process at Kerry?
Robert: The selection process includes online application tests, a video interview (in which you will be asked a couple of questions on screen) and a one-day assessment centre, which includes opportunities to present to the senior team, to take part in a group task and to undertake an interview. My tip would be to look on the positive side; it is a great opportunity to display your skills to senior members of a multinational company. Trust in your abilities; you wouldn’t be at the assessment centre if it wasn’t merited.
Eimer: My advice would be to spend time reviewing your CV before the assessment day and do some research on Kerry so that you really know what you are applying for and how you would work well in the company. There is an abundance of information online so read relevant reports to gain an idea of the core beliefs and values that Kerry holds. You will face challenges and problems when working in Kerry and the decisions you make should align with the business’ values. Keep that in mind throughout the recruitment process.
What support do you receive at Kerry?
Eimer: At the start of your graduate programme, you are placed in a team, where you will have a manager. You might then rotate around teams if business needs are there, so there is a chance to gain a variety of experience. All graduates also do a qualification with the Irish Management Institute; we attend classes for a week on topics such as interpersonal skills, self-awareness and team awareness. It’s also a great chance to network and socialise with other graduates.
Robert: As I joined Kerry on an internship, I’ve already worked towards and gained a certificate in procurement management with University College Cork. Kerry were very supportive in me gaining this degree. I also have a mentor who has worked at Kerry for a long time. He always gives excellent advice and will always make time for a chat. I would say that on my team I feel like I’m part of a family. You can always go to your line manager or another member of your team; whether it’s just for a chat or career advice, there are always people around to help you.