Which procurement qualification is right for us? Everything you need to know to get your ticket…

What could be more important to government organisations, than getting best value for money within their limited budgets? Developing sharp, effective procurement skills is at the heart of the two best known procurement qualifications used by New Zealand Councils. But their methods of training and assessment, and their target audiences, are quite different.

In this article, we compare the updated NZ Diploma in Infrastructure Procurement Procedures and the Qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply – so you have a useful reference guide to help you decide which will be the best fit for procurement staff within your organisation.

The NZQA Procurement Qualification – a new name for a recognised standard

The NZ Certificate in Infrastructure Procurement became listed NZQA, but this qualification was simply an update of the qualification that’s been the staple of the transport industry for decades. The new version built in the latest procurement tools from around the world, and widened its applicability to all types of procurement.

It’s tailored to the NZ procurement environment, especially the aspects where New Zealand practices are acclaimed as leading-edge (such as the use of Price-Quality Method spreadsheets to trade-off scores for attributes and price components of evaluation.

Importantly, there is a strong focus on knowledge and application of NZ government’s five mandatory Principles of Procurement and its Rules of Sourcing, which are now relevant to all NZ government organisations including Councils.

Formerly known as the CPP and currently titled ‘National Certificate in Infrastructure Civil Engineering Procurement Procedures’, this Diploma has formed the backbone of procurement practice in the roading sector since the early 1990s. Because it’s an essential requirement that a qualified evaluator is involved in evaluating any NZTA funded project valued at over $200k, there are real incentives for Councils to have people available on their staff or consultant list with this qualification.

Many see this NZQA Level 6 Diploma as a fundamental driver of the excellent procurement practices that are recognised on NZ Transport Agency projects. In its re-vamp, this qualification received a major facelift – extending its relevance well beyond the transport sector into all types of infrastructure (and indeed, its principles extend to all types of complex procurement).

It’s an intensely practical qualification, requiring graduates to demonstrate skills within their workplaces such as developing procurement plans, managing development of RFx documents and procurement processes, tender evaluations and knowledge of tendering case law and ethics.

Assessments are carried out via observation, evidence of documents prepared for actual procurement exercises, professional discussions and attestations from senior management. A two-day training course is optionally available to bed down the core skills and knowledge needed for the assessments. This course also can provide some of the evidence needed for assessment.

There is a cost for registration and assessment fees vary from $1500 up. There are no ongoing costs and currently there is no requirement for further assessments to maintain the qualification.

This qualification is aimed for tender evaluators; procurement strategists, managers and practitioners; and procurement planners.

CIPS Qualifications – an internationally-recognised academic qualification

An interesting alternative procurement qualification suite is now available for government procurement personnel. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) is an international organisation (of UK origin) for procurement professionals, offering a suite of qualifications that are recognised by Ofqual, the qualification regulator for England and Northern Ireland.

Study for the qualifications is via traditional methods, including, largely, independent self-study, distance or e-learning, and/ or study supported by study centres (none in New Zealand yet, but there are two centres in Australia).

The New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development’s Government Procurement Development Group (GPDG) supports on-job training but recommends that procurement practitioners progress through the CIPS ‘ladder’ of academic procurement qualifications.

The focus of the CIPS programme is far wider and (understandably, for an academically targeted qualification) more theoretical than the NZQA Procurement Qualification. It covers a range of topics including purchasing, supply chain logistics, sourcing, negotiating, risk management and improving competitiveness of supply chains.

The CIPS qualifications are targeted for buyers, procurement practitioners and procurement professionals.

Assessment is via hand-written, paper-based examinations which can be sat in main centres in New Zealand. Some exemptions and flexibility is available for recognition of prior learning and experience.

Purchase of learning materials, exam fees and text books make up the costs of around $3,000 to $4,000 for the self-study course, for which some subsidies may be available to government employees. Maintenance of the qualification requires graduates to maintain their membership of CIPS (a joining fee and annual subscriptions are applicable).

So what’s the best solution for our organisation?

The answer, perhaps annoyingly, is ‘it depends’.

For fast-track, practical skills that will have an immediate impact on procurement efficiency and effectiveness within a NZ-based Council, the NZQA qualification is clearly the least expensive, fastest and most directly applicable solution.

That qualification is targeted to provide practical tools and skills that should be employed by procurement planners, RFx developers and tender evaluators on typical tendering activities. Because it has been developed directly to meet the needs of NZ public sector procurement personnel, it also builds in knowledge of applicable NZ tendering case law, which is helpful to avoid the increasing risk of legal challenge to tender processes.

Alternatively, for senior managers operating at a strategic level whose role focuses solely on procurement, the MCIPS qualification provides a broader and deeper understanding of the purchasing and supply chain functions alongside procurement. The CIPS pathway is, as yet, not tailored to the NZ procurement environment and is based on UK principles and practices.

It has the obvious advantage to graduates of having international recognition, but does not aim to equip graduates with operational knowledge or tools/ methods to assist them with procurement planning, management or tender evaluation.

There are most likely, a large number of ambitious procurement specialists and managers in New Zealand who would benefit from working to achieve both qualifications.

They will get the benefits of ready-to-use operational tools and methods that are directly applicable to their work tasks from the NZQA qualification. In strategic procurement roles, those practical skill-sets will be complemented by a CIPS qualification aimed to deliver more academic and theoretical knowledge of the broader context of international procurement.

If your organisation, like many, is faced with a pressing need to deliver better value for money through your tendering processes, both these options can help you. What won’t work, is doing nothing and hoping the problem will go away without you having to make any changes.

Whatever you decide there is overwhelming evidence that building procurement skills will save your organisation money – either through more efficient tendering processes, through more sustainable solutions, or both!

For more information see www.procurement.govt.nz or www.connexis.org.nz/qualifications/civil-qualifications/procurement or www.cleverbuying.com