How can we tackle procurement skills shortages in higher education?

Participants in the first NEUPC CIPS induction (pic credit: NEUPC)
Participants in the first NEUPC CIPS induction (pic credit: NEUPC)
The higher education sector is facing difficulties in finding and recruiting procurement professionals with the right skills. NEUPC’s CEO Frank Rowell talks about how the consortium is addressing the issue.

Employing suitably qualified procurement staff is vital for our member universities to deliver efficiency and value for money, but a skills shortage in the profession means a lot of them find filling these positions a challenge.

The higher education (HE) sector is experiencing difficulties in finding employees with the right skills. Research from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) shows this isn’t just an issue in HE, as 73% of businesses have struggled to hire suitably qualified and experienced procurement professionals.

But why is this? As public sector bodies come under increasing budgetary pressures and look to reduce non-pay spend from procurement, the demand for suitably experienced procurement professionals exceeds supply. The public sector very often fish from the same pond, which has a ripple affect across organisations in the area. In the Leeds region alone, for example, we have three universities, Leeds City Council, NHS and the Department for Work and Pensions.

In order to address this skills shortage and develop talent in our sector, the North Eastern Universities Purchasing Consortium Ltd (NEUPC) has become a CIPS accredited study centre and has launched and invested in a match-funded apprentice programme for our members.

The programme is specifically aimed at growing our own home-grown talent and increasing future procurement capability and capacity within the HE sector. It also ties in with the government’s apprenticeship levy, which will come into force in April 2017. This requires all employers operating with an annual pay bill over £3m to make an investment in apprenticeships.

Universities can benefit from this investment by training apprentices. NEUPC is able to provide apprentices with the necessary training and support which will lead to a CIPS qualification.

Apprenticeship programmes are one way that universities can ensure that they achieve a return on the financial outlay of the apprenticeship levy, invest in their own staff and tackle the capacity shortage in procurement. It will provide an excellent opportunity for young people to embark on a purchasing career and will develop a talent pool for member institutions as the apprentices become more proficient.

In addition to the apprentice programme, our member-owned study centre, the first of its kind in the sector, will provide high-quality CIPS qualifications, with learning contextualised and tailored to towards HE. Level three and four qualifications are available now, with Level five and six courses available from 2017.

This arrangement was initially available only to NEUPC members, but is now also available for members of other UK university purchasing consortia. The courses are flexible and can be studied by blended or distance learning, and are led by our procurement team’s CIPS centre course leader, who has five years’ experience of leading a CIPS Centre of Excellence.

Our blended learning offer provides a CIPS e-learning package and a tutor-led revision day for each module in addition to the support available for distance learning.

For more information about CIPS qualifications and apprenticeship programme, please contact Debbie Shore on 0113 3443961 or email

Frank Rowell
Frank is the chief executive officer of North Eastern University Purchasing Consortium (NEUPC Ltd)