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Public sector procurement is an exciting career pathway that offers numerous opportunities for progression, and the ability to really make a difference in your role. By understanding the responsibilities and specific challenges of public sector procurement, you can enjoy a long and successful career in this field.
If you have never previously worked in procurement, you may not be aware of the considerable benefits that this career pathway can provide. Far from simply being an administrative role, procurement represents a crucial function within any public sector organisation, and those working in the field can enjoy considerable opportunities for career progression and personal development.
By pursuing a career in procurement in the public sector, you will be able to take advantage of attractive workplace benefits, working alongside skilled professionals to tackle a diverse range of responsibilities. The function of procurement is only growing in importance as the public sector works to improve efficiency and remove risks from its supply chain, which means there has never been a better time to start a procurement career.
Here, we will explain the basics of public sector procurement work, and highlight the key skills and responsibilities you will need to know about when entering the sector.
In general terms, procurement involves the buying of goods and services that enable an organisation to operate their supply chains in a profitable and ethical manner. Procurement adds value and reduces risk across the supply chain by establishing the right working relationships with suppliers.
When it comes down to the specifics of what is involved in procurement work on a day-to-day basis, you will find that this will vary depending on the activities undertaken within your chosen organisation, and the sectors it serves. Key responsibilities may include any of the following:
As such, the procurement team should be seen as responsible for overseeing all steps of the procurement cycle, covering core department activities such as market research, sourcing, negotiation, contracting and supplier relationship management. Ultimately, procurement’s role is to obtain products or services for the organisation at the right place, for the right price, to the right quality and quantity, and delivered at the right time.
In order to deliver on all of these responsibilities, procurement professionals will need to be highly organised and able to meet multiple objectives for various stakeholders at the same time. The following skills should be considered essential for anyone entering the procurement field:
If you are looking to begin a career in public procurement, it is important to note the various ways in which public sector procurement differs from private sector work. Organisations that are financed by public money raised from taxes - such as the NHS, councils, educational institutions and government bodies - tend to have a lot more regulations for procurement contracts compared to the private sector.
Staff will need to apply additional due diligence to make sure that all contracts are awarded to qualified suppliers and deliver value for money for the taxpayer.
Here are some of the key differences that separate public and private sector procurement:
Purpose of procurement
Private sector procurement supports the business objectives of the organisation, designed to make a profit, whereas the purpose of public sector procurement is to support government operations and aid the delivery of high-quality public services.
Sources of funding
Private sector procurement activity is funded by the company itself, through owners and shareholders. Public procurement is funded through public money, including taxes, grants and loans obtained by the government; this means public procurement will often be subjected to greater scrutiny.
Public sector procurement is governed by binding public procurement rules, which are strictly enforced. By contrast, private sector procurement is intended to be compliant with contracts and commercial law, with methods of procurement only governed by internal policies.
Private sector procurement professionals will answer to a management reporting line and are solely responsible for their actions. On the other hand, public sector procurement professions are public servants, so they will be held directly accountable if they fail to manage public funds.
For all of these reasons, working in public sector procurement undoubtedly comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility, but the rewards for working and excelling in this area of the industry are considerable. Some of the key advantages of choosing a career in this sector include:
Industry-leading working benefits
Public sector roles are often known for their competitive benefits, and procurement is no exception to this. In addition to attractive salaries, public procurement roles offer generous pension schemes, various study support options, and a forward-thinking approach to flexible hours and hybrid working.
Good job security
Because procurement is such an important function within the public sector, capable professionals who do well in these roles enjoy significant job security. Procurement professionals are considered indispensable, being involved in projects right from the start to ensure that public bodies get the goods and services they need.
There is no end to the types of projects you can work on within the public sector. Whether you want to be working with IT categories in a busy NHS trust, or organising facilities and maintenance for outdoor locations, the available opportunities are highly varied. Procurement work is also often international, giving you an opportunity to work abroad or travel to meet suppliers.
Clear career progression
Most public sector organisations have defined roles and bandings, with clear succession plans and opportunities for progression. Even if you are unable to advance easily in one organisation, the skills and processes you gain can easily be transferred to another.
Working alongside a strong team
Working in public procurement allows you to form relationships with skilled professionals who are highly motivated and a pleasure to work with. Everyone is passionate about the work they do, and this environment fosters a sense of support and collaboration, rather than competition.
As such, public sector procurement should be seen as an aspirational career path that offers significant benefits on a practical, professional and personal level. If you want to wake up every morning and feel that your work makes a meaningful impact, this could be an ideal pathway for you.
If you are keen to embrace the career possibilities that public sector procurement can provide, you can benefit considerably from working with a recruitment agency with specialist knowledge of this sector, such as Sellick Partnership.
For those who are taking their first steps into the public sector procurement field, we can provide career advice and support you with all aspects of your job search, matching you with prospective employers who are looking for candidates with your skills and experience. We have established relationships with the leading public sector employers, and will be able to help you find the perfect role.