Candidates for new-generation, technologically-sophisticated supply chain and procurement jobs need not worry about traditional ‘soft’ skills for these roles becoming obsolete. However, they will do well to combine them with digital tech know-how, experts in the field predict. Senior practitioners in managerial procurement and supply chain jobs are asking themselves how to prepare their teams with new skills to better exploit the power of digital tech. Procurement, as a profession, is engaging with these technologies at an unprecedented rate. But the skills needed to extract the best from these technologies have not been part of the brief for procurement jobs, even if a new generation of tech-savvy procurement interims are becoming more knowledgeable about them.

Supply chain tech expert, Julie Fraser, thinks that the old skills will still be needed – AI and machine learning can’t match humans for ‘soft’ but vital skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, flexibility, choosing what to prioritise on the basis of best available evidence, etc. She said: “Not only are younger people more likely to be digitally ‘savvy’, they’re also more likely to possess these ‘soft’ skills and competencies.”

It’s also becoming essential for today’s procurement professionals to know how to work with large data sets while combining that knowledge with a deep understanding of procurement, Practitioners holding procurement jobs would benefit from being training in analytics, perhaps by colleagues proficient in the field being deployed from other departments, such as finance. Procurement recruitment agencies can also play a part.

Wendy Tate, Professor of Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennessee, who also co-edits the Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, emphasises that tomorrow’s procurement professionals will be equipped with both the ‘soft’ and the harder skills of knowing how to leverage data analytics. Higher educational establishments, she notes, already include analytics in their curricula for a new generation of procurement pros.