The work of a purchaser has a much greater impact on a company's performance than many people imagine. If the person in that role slips up when deciding about materials, timing, price or quality, there will possibly be serious repercussions for the cost of production, delivery dates and, consequently, for overall sales and profitability.
Donald Chan, acting head of business and IT studies for the School of Continuing Education at Hong Kong Baptist University, says that since purchasers play such a key part in the business cycle of manufacturing companies, they need expert training in the required skills.
"Purchasers are decision makers and they need the knowledge to make the right choices," says Dr Chan. "They can get that from the range of programmes our school now offers."
He explains that the general aim of the programmes is to give students broad-based business knowledge and the essential concepts of purchasing and supply. This is done by focusing on analytical techniques and the processes which are important for making decisions.
Programmes examine these processes from two perspectives: external evaluation and internal production management. The first teaches students about economics, accounting and finance, as well as the legal aspects of business contracts. The second covers production processes, the responsibilities of different departments, and solving practical problems.
"For example, if outsourcing is an option, there may be a decision whether to make or buy, so we teach students what they will need to consider," Dr Chan says.
The school offers short part-time programmes which are mainly taught in evening classes. Students can take the course units in whichever order they prefer, but are strongly advised to follow the recommended sequence.
"To assist students, we have made our programmes flexible, so people can attend classes at different times and places," Dr Chan adds. "We also realised the need to provide more support and guidance for mature students who may not have taken a formal course of study since they left school."
He admits that it is not easy to predict which specific sectors will experience most growth and offer more jobs for purchasers in the years ahead. This will depend on global trends, the strength of China's economy and developments in technology. However, he stresses that, whatever happens, purchasers will need more sophisticated skills in order to contribute to the production of high-quality goods and value-added items.
For this reason, the school's programmes are constantly evaluated to keep them relevant and updated. Dr Chan highlights that there is now extra attention on international standards and practices. Companies must be ready to redesign their products and restructure their processes if they want to remain competitive in the international market.
"In particular, purchasers should recognised the need to build long-term strategic partnerships with suppliers," says Dr Chan. "Therefore, they need to learn about quality control, managing costs and inventories, and creating win-win situations."