Thirty years ago I was a new college graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Management and Organizational Behavior. I remember feeling that I was prepared to do almost anything and at the same time almost nothing at all.  What was I going to do and how do I start?

Armed with my newly earned degree I hit that pavement looking for a job.  (Back in the eighties this basically meant reading the “want ads” in my local paper and talking to people who were already working – the original thought process behind “networking”).  I came across an ad for a Purchasing Clerk at a local manufacturing company. So I mailed my resume in and a week or so later received a phone call to come in for an interview.  I was offered the position immediately upon the conclusion of the interview.  Although I was given a typing test and had answered a few questions asked by the manager of personnel I really had no idea what the position would entail.  I quickly learned that I would be typing, filing and answering phones for the department that ‘bought stuff’.    

The Purchasing department consisted of a manager, four buyers, an expeditor, three clerks and a secretary. The training I was given was how to correctly type a purchase order, file and answer the phone.  Within a year we would advance from typing purchase orders on an electric typewriter to entering them into a computer system via a 2 lb. keyboard and a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor.  What a huge leap in technology this was.   It was unbelievable how inefficient the process of simply creating a purchase order was.  I recently mapped the process and it was comical how cumbersome and time consuming it was.  The same piece of paper would travel back and forth to the same desks several times. First, a requisition was received from the Production Planning department and it had to be approved by a buyer. The buyer would then forward it to a clerk. The clerk would request a drawing (or blueprint as they were called) from the Office Services department, type the order, send it to another clerk to be proofread and then back to the buyer for his signature.    The order, a 5-part form, would then be returned to the clerk to be distributed.  A copy would be mailed to the supplier, the Receiving and Accounting departments would each get a copy and two copies were maintained in the Purchasing department.  [A side note to this 5-part form is that if a typing error occurred the form would need to be removed from the typewriter, erased from all 5 pages and then returned to the typewriter correctly aligned to continue.]

In 30 years the changes that have taken place in the Purchasing arena are enormous.  Simply looking at the then and now of the functionality of my first job the changes are clearly recognizable.

First of all, Purchasing is now only a small portion of what has become an entire industry, Supply Chain Management.  Today I would have graduated with a more specific degree.  The options available for an education are impressive:  Logisitics, Planning, Procurement, Supplier Relations to name just a few.  Not only are degrees available in Supply Chain but certifications from accredited institutions and groups are available to a much greater extent.

The entire interview process that I went through was one simple question and answer period with a typing test, all coordinated by the Personnel manager (now known as Human Resources).  Today, even an entry level position would require a rigorous interview process.  If you are fortunate enough to have the education and specific experience an employer is looking for, you might land a pre-screen on the phone or Skype. Clear that, and you’d likely have a first in-person interview where you might even be tested on your commodity knowledge or ability to navigate Excel like a pro.  Crush that interview and you’ll probably get a second and quite possibly a third interview. By the end of the process an applicant will probably have met with no less than five individuals.  For good measure, throw on a requirement for a background check and drug screening before a final offer, and now you can work in purchasing. However, the good news is, there are no shortage of jobs available!

A 10-person Purchasing Department for a small-to-medium manufacturer is simply not needed today.  If for no other reason the tasks that I was performing have become obsolete.  It is highly unlikely to have an individual doing nothing but typing, filing and answering phones – and why would another individual proofread someone’s work? 

And lastly, Supply Chain Management has become much more efficient in all of its processes.  Not just as per this simple example but in all tasks both in an office environment and the manufacturing floor. Today a process would be mapped out to look for non-value added steps (inefficiencies) and the process would be reviewed for any possible improvements. A specific plan would be implemented and periodic reviews would take place to assure that the intended outcome was achieved.

So yes, things may have appeared simpler back then, but they were also laughably bad compared to today’s standards.  We can actually look back at the redundancies and inefficiencies and come to the conclusion that when it comes to the evolution of purchasing, the old days should not be called the “good” old days.

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Lisa Nyce

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