Starting your career in procurement with Thales' graduate programme

Procurement managers and graduates at Thales give their insights into procurement careers and life on the graduate scheme.

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Have you ever wondered what a career in procurement would be like? Or perhaps you’re wondering what procurement even is. Either way, Thales is here to reveal all.

If, once you know a little bit more about procurement (also referred to as purchasing), you think that it could be the job for you, why not apply to Thales’ procurement graduate scheme?

But first, hear from four procurement colleagues at Thales on what exactly this job involves, what the graduate programme is like, how your career could unfold and the skills that Thales is looking for in its future purchasers. Meet:

  • Alastair Hill, category buyer who started on the procurement graduate scheme
  • Chris Harwood, head of procurement in IT solution and support services and sponsor of the procurement graduate scheme
  • Ian MacDonald, head of procurement
  • Paniz Rad, procurement graduate.

What will you be working on at Thales?

If you don’t know what Thales works on, you’re not alone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work on things you aren’t familiar with, though. As Ian says, ‘I think it’s brilliant that whenever I tell anyone outside of the industry who I work for, they probably haven’t heard of us and yet, without knowing, they use so many of our products.’

In procurement, it is important that you care about what your employer produces. For Thales, that typically means being interested in technologies – whether that’s in its aerospace, defence, security, space or transportation fields.

‘The technology we work on is one of my favourite things about Thales,’ says Chris. ‘We support customers with a rough split of 50% civil and 50% defence. In both areas we drive future ways of working, whether in the banking sector or landing on Mars!’

What does procurement at Thales involve?

The breadth of Thales’ work means that the procurement team is responsible for buying a huge variety of items and services – most of which are at the cutting edge of technology. It also means that there are a variety of roles available in the team. For example, Ian has worked mainly on military equipment, from armoured vehicles to night vision goggles. He has worked on projects such as upgrading every RAF airbase around the world and supplying aircraft fitted with surveillance equipment to Botswana to help stop poaching. Meanwhile, Chris works in IT procurement. One of his favourite projects was called Future in Thales (FIT), leading the acquisition strategy for the future internal IT systems for Thales UK.

And procurement plays a crucial role for employees as well as products: Paniz works on making internal processes easier – including by making software more effective for staff – and, since rolling off the graduate scheme, Alastair has responsibility over contracts relating to workers’ dental cover, healthcare and benefits. His previous work includes a placement in the company’s Ground Transportation Systems area, where he was tasked with finding a weather data provider to assist with raising awareness of potential dangers on rail networks.

No matter what you’re working on, you’ll be uniquely placed to impact the company’s product quality, performance, growth and reputation. ‘Procurement at Thales is a key function that supports and leads the business to an improved top line (sales) and bottom line (profits). We are the only function that directly contributes to both,’ explains Chris.

Who will you be working with at Thales?

As a procurement graduate, you’ll be communicating with stakeholders at all levels of Thales, as well as at external businesses that the company works with. ‘I love working with knowledgeable professionals who are so generous in sharing their expertise,’ reflects Paniz. This collaborative culture is brought about because everyone is keen to do what’s in the interests of Thales – which includes knowledge-sharing. ‘We are all ultimately driving for the same outcomes,’ says Chris.

Not only do Thales employees work with people in different roles, but they do so at an international level. Alastair explains: ‘The nature of Thales being a global company allows for collaboration across multiple countries and the developing of relationships with colleagues across the world.’ Chris, for instance, has had opportunities to visit Paris and Canada, where he sat inside a flight simulator designed and built by Thales.

What is the procurement graduate scheme like?

The procurement graduate programme consists of four six-month placements in different areas within procurement, such as category management, procurement project management, subcontract management and supplier performance management. Each rotation provides a new set of challenges, so graduates interact with multiple teams and develop a solid understanding of how procurement functions at Thales.

Thales recognises that learning from each other is particularly important at graduate level when you’re getting to grips with procurement. Chris, who sponsors the procurement graduate scheme at Thales, is heavily involved in facilitating this. ‘I have set up a system whereby procurement graduates meet bi-weekly, creating an open environment where we can communicate efficiently, and share knowledge and experiences,’ says Chris.

The graduate scheme also offers…

Training and development opportunities

As well as starting training from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) in the second year, procurement graduates are offered virtual training sessions from the European Institute of Purchasing Management (EIPM) and online modules throughout the programme. ‘I have received training in cost analysis, negotiation techniques and supplier relations,’ recounts Paniz.

Well-being and flexible working initiatives

The company doesn’t focus solely on helping graduates with their work, however. With smart working charters that promote well-being and work-life balance, as well as half-day Fridays to help ease the transition into the weekend, Thales is working at making sure welfare is priority.

Colleagues also provide support at a personal level. Every graduate is given a ‘buddy’, who helps them settle in and answers any questions they have, as well as dedicated placements managers. ‘There are regular meetings put in place to track progress and to simply ask how we are doing and what extra support we need,’ says Paniz.

Independence

Thales gives graduates the freedom to own their work and follow their own interests. ‘The responsibility that Thales allows its graduates enables them to have a sense of ownership over their work, be that a bid, project or supplier relationship. While help is at hand, you are encouraged to be independent,’ says Alastair. ‘You are also given the freedom to take up different opportunities that come up. I have been able to get involved in projects and pieces of work that fall outside my job role.’

Progressing your procurement career at Thales

Ian and Chris both started out as buyers for Thales, before working their way up to management positions. The development of understanding and skills throughout the procurement programme allows graduates to progress in similar ways, if that is their ambition. As Ian explains: ‘The graduate scheme at Thales is there to take the right people to the most senior roles in Thales.’

How to get a job in procurement: Thales’ tips

Thales’ recruitment process includes an online application form, online game-based assessment, telephone interview and assessment centre. Below are some tips for how to impress throughout these stages.

Do your research

‘Preparation is the best advice I can give: think about the company, its markets, its customers and how procurement as a function fits in to the business to add value,’ advises Chris. Use Thales’ website, alongside content posted on its social media pages and news stories about the company, for research. The website of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) will give you a better understanding of the procurement industry, too.

After researching, reflect on the ways in which your interests, values and skills (see below) are suited to the company and procurement. This will allow you to confidently explain and show how you are a strong fit for the company.

Demonstrate key procurement skills

Below are the skills and qualities regarded as crucial by Alastair, Chris, Ian and Paniz. So, it would be a good idea to show you have them during the recruitment process – and work on them beforehand if you need to.

  • Communication
  • Confidence
  • Problem solving
  • Resilience
  • Attention to detail
  • Curiosity.

Chris also mentions relationship management: ‘Solid relationships are the foundation to effective procurement when dealing with internal stakeholders or third parties, or bringing them together to resolve issues or drive innovation.’ This skill goes further than strong communication: it requires creating lasting impressions and connections.

Find out more about Thales and apply for open vacancies on its organisation profile .

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