According to a new Hackett Group report, Procurement's digital skills gap is expected to widen into a gulf over the next several years. While skills including "data and technology savviness" are moving up the list of priorities, organizations still struggle to nurture them. "This combination," the report reads, "of current gaps and projected increases in demand will only escalate the challenges of delivering on the potential performance benefits of digital transformation."

In a sense, Procurement's evolution has been a double-edged sword. While the shift into a more essential role has meant more buy-in and a better reputation, it's also meant a new set of challenges. More and more, the function is expected to empower the business with analytical skills and innovative solutions. Given the function's mostly tactical past, the transition into a data-driven, tech-enabled role hasn't been as easy one. On the contrary, results from surveys like Hackett's suggest it's been anything but. 39% of executives surveyed identify critical talent as a "high risk" in their efforts to carry out digital transformations. What's more, they expect talent will be the fastest-growing risk factor over the next two years.

Hackett makes it clear that addressing Procurement's talent concerns is not as simple as eliminating tactical resources and creating new roles for data scientists. Businesses will also need to design re-skilling programs for workers affected by automation and ensure managers are equipped to lead an increasingly digital workforce. Beyond the obvious technical skills, they'll need to cultivate skills related to business acumen, relationship management, and creativity at every level of the business.

Though Hackett paints a troubling picture of Procurement's incoming talent woes, the firm also offers suggestions for closing the skills gap. The key, Hackett suggests, is to develop a strategy for integrated talent management. Such an approach would break down the silos between recruiting, hiring, training, and development to establish a holistic program for optimizing Procurement's people.

They prescribe an integrated talent management strategy with four key components:

1. Identifying Talent Needs
The need to re-tool and re-skill Procurement will only grow more pressing over the next several years. It's more important than ever for organizations to take a proactive approach to identifying skills gaps, outlining their talent needs, and building a pipeline of qualified candidates. Predictably, this will be easier for mature organizations that have already developed effective formal processes for needs assessments. Less mature organizations will need to play catch-up to establish a better apparatus for skills assessments.

2. Developing Talent
The new skills Procurement needs are still challenging and expensive to come by. It could take some time for supply to get anywhere near demand and, until then, re-skilling  and re-assigning employees is likely Procurement's best bet. Hackett advises businesses to consider providing "lifelong learning opportunities that foster critical skills at all career levels." Professional certification programs, too, come highly recommended. By investing in these programs, businesses can ensure their resources build skills that are aligned to Procurement's shifting responsibilities. Finally, they encourage organizations to focus their talent development efforts on transferable skills. This, they assert, will contribute to a versatile, flexible workforce.

3. Acquiring Talent
Hackett reminds readers that a crowded and competitive market calls for a new, more aggressive approach to hiring. Leading organizations will increasingly leverage third-party providers and solutions to supplement their internal recruitment efforts. Partnerships with colleges and universities, they suggest, could prove especially fruitful. These will provide organizations with an influx of skilled, savvy resources.

4. Driving Talent Performance
The most successful companies, Hackett reports, will take a deliberate approach to building career paths that keep resources engaged, productive, and innovative. For many organizations, this process will entail rethinking their entire approach to career development and redefining their value proposition.

Integrated talent management will look different for every organization. Industry, maturity, and historical approach to Procurement will each impact the shape and structure of an organization's strategy. Hackett is clear, however, that all organizations need to make haste. "IT procurement functions that are not taking action now," they conclude, "will find themselves struggling to deliver on evolving enterprise objectives."
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