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On Thursday, September 26, 2019, Public Spend Forum hosted two procurement leaders to share how they’ve used the Public Procurement Workforce Competency Model, created as a collaboration with NIGP and informed by procurement leaders, practitioners, experts and academics across public procurement. 

Our procurement leaders, Patricia “Patti”’ Innocenti, Deputy Director of Procurement and Material Management at Fairfax County Government, and Paul Brennan, Director of Purchasing for Rockland County, NY (he also serves as President of ProcurePath, a provider of training seminars for state and local procurement professionals), shared case studies of how they use Workforce Competency Model to improve staffing initiatives and procurement outcomes.

Raj Sharma described the origins of the competency model, which was a collaboration of multiple working groups and experts striving to create something that would be simple to use but would have real-world applications. And as our panelists shared in their case studies, the model certainly achieves that goal. 

In Patti’s case, her office began using the competency model after recognizing a misalignment between the work performed by their contract specialists and the work they were actually performing on the job. As agency and customer needs changed, the position descriptions no longer reflected the complexity of the job, nor a salary range commensurate with these new duties. There were skill gaps as well. 

“We’d been struggling with analytical skills and being able to hire individuals who could do market research and translate that research into our solicitations, instead of just what had been done in the past. We want to improve the scope of work, the requirements, and to use market research to ensure we have the best possible strategy when we go out to market.” 

Using the Public Procurement Workforce Competency Model, Patti approached her Human Resources department and successfully reclassified position descriptions and compensation tiers. They also added an employee evaluation process demonstrating to their workforce how they could progress through their series, and prepare themselves for the next step in their career. The competency model played a major role in this effort, mapping each career series to the new functional requirements of the job.

Ultimately, Patti’s team convinced Human Resources to raise pay grades in key roles and enable higher pay ranges to attract better talent for Fairfax County procurement. A true win for the competency model!

Paul has a similar experience at his office, where the model is used to improve the selection process for new positions. Shortly after receiving approval to create a Procurement Center of Excellence to increase the capacity of the smaller buying units in his district, they used the competency model to quickly and easily identify gaps in competency between current staff and their appointed role.

So to address these skill gaps, they changed the way the interview for new positions. Step one, completely rewrite all the job descriptions, which was necessary housecleaning given that most were outdated and not matched to the new responsibilities of public procurement. Sound familiar?

“Once we started the interview process and reviewed our old interview questions, we quickly realized they didn’t match up with this new competency model. So now we’re mapping competencies to the positions we offer, as not all of the competencies align to each position … some are more management-level, others more staff-level. But you need to look at your organization and map which competencies should be attributed to your positions.”

Today, the model is crucial in interviewing and identifying the best candidates for open positions, but it also helps to identify gaps in personnel skills so that formal training programs can be created for each employee based on their position and the competency model areas. 

“We also used the competency model to get additional funding for training. We could demonstrate, with evidence, just how much procurement has changed over the last decade, and justify our need for reskilling and upskilling the workforce.”

Raj rounded out the panel with a thoughtful question about where staff competencies can provide the greatest return for procurement organizations. Patti was the first to answer:

“Every day we solve problems. We are looking for people with good problem-solving skills, and that’s not always reflected on a resume. We tease that out through interview questions that look at key skills but also behavioral questions. That helps us appreciate soft skills, tenacity, which are essential parts of the job. Problem-solving combined with the analytical and market research skills is at the heart of this business.”

Paul identified some of his organization’s biggest gaps around market analysis. “Truly understanding what we’re buying, not just tweaking old solicitations and putting them back out. Do we really understand the industry? Do we understand the best time of year for going out to bid? Spend management is another area…do we spend enough time analyzing and learning from that data?” Additional areas he identified were developing specifications, which he observes are getting more difficult to write, and crafting communication strategies for engaging with internal stakeholders and that can help everyone embrace change and innovation. 

“Getting the workforce to accept change is the biggest challenge. The demographics have a high number of people nearing retirement, and most people, as they get closer to retirement, are less receptive to change, naturally.” 

Patti shared the concerns around organizational change. “Often in our profession, we complain about not having a seat at the table. So being able to demonstrate how we can positively impact [Fairfax] County strategy is very important, but we have to be able to demonstrate how we can make an impact.”

For more great insights from these leaders, watch the recording of our webinar. And if you are ready to begin using the Procurement Workforce Competency Model in your organization, it’s free to download here!

You can also watch other relevant videos from Public Spend Forum on our YouTube channel!



Patricia Innocenti
County of Fairfax, Virginia
Deputy Director
Paul Brennan
County of Rockland; President at ProcurePath
Director of Purchasing
Raj Sharma
Public Spend Forum & GovShop
Co-Founder and CEO
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