With the sustained growth of export business from both Hong Kong and the mainland, anyone who decides to become a buyer can currently look forward to good career prospects and a wide range of exciting opportunities.
According to a survey by the Institute of Purchasing & Supply of Hong Kong (IPSHK), 82 per cent of their members are optimistic about the outlook for 2007 and 10 per cent even describe themselves as "very optimistic". Perhaps as a sign of this, the study also found that 30 per cent of respondents plan to change job, if they can find something that pays a higher salary.
Timothy Lam, who is chairman of the IPSHK, says the findings of the survey show that people are generally positive about the future of the profession. He believes that the robust economy and closer links with the mainland will continue to benefit Hong Kong.
One direct result of this is that purchasing and supply professionals now have to travel more frequently. Over half the respondents said they visit the mainland three days a month, while 19 percent are there on average four to six days a month.
The IPSHK was established in 1973 and has a membership of around 1,300. According to Mr Lam, two other local associations exist specifically for professionals in the hotel and catering and electronics industries. The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, based in the UK, and the US-headquartered Institute of Supply Management also have a presence in Hong Kong.
Of the different types of specialist in the sector, Mr Lam says experienced garment merchandisers are in greatest demand. This is attributed to rapid expansion and a comparatively high rate of staff turnover. "It is widely known that merchandisers have to work long hours and that the job can be tough and stressful," he explains.
Besides being ready to work hard, a merchandiser, or anyone in a buying role, should be outgoing and eager to learn. "They need the ability to achieve the 'five rights' of purchasing and supply, which relate to time, quality, quantity, price and source," Mr Lam says.
Nowadays, competence in using technology is increasingly important and professional buyers must be skilled in conducting Internet searches or checking e-catalogues for ideas and updated information. So-called e-procurement is becoming more common, making it possible to handle the entire buying process, from enquiries and quotations to order placement and tracking delivery, by electronic means.
Since buyers are involved in negotiating high-value commercially sensitive contracts, they must show discretion and maintain a high degree of integrity.
The IPSHK is always available to answer members' questions about possibly doubtful practices and organises regular talks, together with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), to clarify key principles and areas of uncertainty.
To join the IPSHK requires a relevant degree and at least two years' practical work experience. Associate degree or degree holders are entitled to associate membership.
Mr Lam stresses that members must follow the institute's code of ethics and adds that, as a member of the International Federation of Purchasing & Supply Management, the IPSHK follows an internationally approved code of conduct.
In order to enhance standards of professionalism, the institute also focuses on training and education. This involves organising conferences, seminars, company visits and study tours. There is close collaboration with local universities and with the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education to offer advice about relevant diploma programmes.
To take account of the demands on buyers in full-time employment, the courses are designed to be flexible and many classes are taught at weekends.
Mr Lam says the institute also creates a valuable platform for professionals in the sector to network. He stresses that this is very important for buyers both in their day-to-day work and to develop new contacts.
To be a buyer
The following qualities or attainments are needed:
- Great integrity
- Eager to learn
- Good communicator
- Negotiation skills
- Relevant degree
- Solid experience