Workforce shortage? Have you considered emerging talent?

Workforce shortage? Have you considered emerging talent?

Article by Dana Dembrow (State of MD), Intro by Olivia Hook Frey (NASPO)

Introduction by Olivia Hook Frey:

Many of our states have expressed concerns associated with their retirement-age workforce. Even more stress-inducing is not knowing where or how to recruit new talent to fill those gaps. As part of NASPO’s higher education initiatives, student recruitment at the college-level has been a priority. This emerging talent is oftentimes overlooked in the public sector, but NASPO is working to change that. Through our partnership with impressive colleges and universities across the country, we work to place these quality students in both internships and full-time positions within our state purchasing offices.


 width=A critical component of this work is public relations. As public sector professionals, we are constantly competing with private sector companies who promise high pay and fun perks. For these students to consider public sector work, we need to get the word out that there are fruitful career possibilities.  We urge you, state purchasing officials, to join us in these efforts. You can do this by reaching out to local colleges and universities to attend student group meetings, supply chain classes, and career fairs. The more often you can get your agency in front of students, the better.

Dana Dembrow, Director of Procurement for the Maryland Department of Health, recounts his experience attending a career fair for the first time. His experience interacting with students in this capacity was a positive one. He even walked away with several summer interns and possibly a few full-time positions!

Article by Dana Dembrow:

As part of NASPO’s initiatives to develop a future public procurement workforce, I had the pleasure recently of standing in for Bob Gleason working with Olivia Hook Frey at events she organized surrounding the Supply Chain Management program at Penn State University.  We started with a classroom presentation to a group of attentive Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) students who desired to learn more about government contracting, which we explained was related to but different from what most were studying in their classes in private sector supply chain management.

What struck me most about the students’ reaction to our remarks was their response to one of Olivia’s questions.  “What will you look for when you seek employment after graduation?” she inquired.  Salary?  Surprisingly, no.  Pension and fringe benefits?  No, that consideration doesn’t take root until much later in most careers. Workplace culture seemed to be at the forefront of many thoughtful young minds.  They wanted to feel good about their job resulting in a larger contribution to society.  Suddenly I realized that I could capture the attention of this audience.  “I work for the Department of Health,” I explained.  “We buy a huge assortment of goods and services that save people’s lives.  I feel good about what I do for a job.  It’s important and interesting as well.”  Perhaps the priorities expressed by these students may have been different outside of an elite university, but this crowd certainly appeared to be quite receptive to using their degree in service of the public good, perhaps something that many had not considered before.

Most of us in public procurement fell ‘accidentally’ into the profession of acquiring goods or services. Maybe it was part of your assigned duties as a member of the armed forces, or it may have been gradually incorporated into your job description simply because it turned out that you had to buy a lot of stuff or hire personnel.  But for students in the specialized supply chain management program at Penn State, they have deliberately selected supply chain management as a likely career and were preparing for a lifetime of opportunity in professional purchasing. Recognizing the possibility of going into the field of purchasing for the benefit of the public welfare appeared to be an eye-opening moment for many.

When we attended the on-campus Supply Chain-specific career fair the following day, it again became quickly apparent that a lot of these promising young students wanted to pursue their chosen profession by engagement in public service. The career fair was full of representatives from private companies recruiting future employees.  But many were also drawn to the NASPO table, perhaps only out of curiosity as to what NASPO was all about, and upon visiting learned about the internship opportunities available at a dozen different state governments, including my home State of Maryland.

By the time the fair was ending and we were packing up to go, I had already interviewed 15 promising candidates for an internship opportunity in Baltimore.  Most were in their junior year, but a few were on the verge of graduation, so their resumes are now being considered for full-time permanent employment rather than merely a 10-week internship.  Some of the applicants in their junior year had already completed a prior summer internship in supply chain management and appeared to be capable of independently performing tasks like market analysis and outreach while learning the specific details of government contracting under Maryland law, regulations and policy.  Those students understand already that skill and experience in these areas can open many doors to attractive employment opportunities.  Almost without exception, the students we met with were sharp, articulate and motivated.

Recently, several higher educational institutions have made the wise decision to offer career training in professional purchasing, a skill that is essential to innumerable business processes, particularly in manufacturing.  They would also be wise to offer additional courses which may educate talented students in the somewhat specialized arena of public procurement.

Like other states, in Maryland we suffer from a severe shortage of prospective new personnel who know the processes and rules surrounding public procurement.  We are excited in the ongoing transformation of procurement in our State, including the coming creation of the Maryland Procurement Academy.  In the meantime, we are fortunate that NASPO is opening our awareness of the existing pool of impressive students graduating with degrees in supply chain management.  The universities like the ones named above are performing a real service to their students by rendering training that can result in rewarding careers, including especially those in public procurement.

My advice to those thinking about setting up or attending a career fair?  Please don’t do it.  I want to recruit as much of this talent as possible to come to Maryland.

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