Growth demands professionalism

Caitlin Wong


Hong Kong's purchasing and sourcing industry has evolved over the past decade amid fierce international competition generated by globalisation.

Logistical efficiency and quality assurance were once the key selling points for wooing customers. Now they are expected of any operator.

Service and innovation are now the fronts in which the sector competes, and with the manpower expanding to more than 200,000, relevant industry training and education is being demanded.

According to educators in this field, school leavers and in-service practitioners have been seeking formal credentials, which points to a growing sense of professionalism.

This demand has been driven primarily by good career prospects in purchasing and sourcing, with practitioners expected to show knowledge, capability and innovation.

Josephine Kea Chi-shun, vice-principal of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) at Sha Tin, said that although the local sector had achieved impressive growth in the past two decades with OEM (original equipment manufacturing) and ODM (original design manufacturing), it now needed to bolster its competitiveness by establishing its own innovative edge.

'Our purchasing and sourcing sector needs to elevate itself to the more sophisticated level of OBM, or 'own branding and manufacturing', which is about creating its own brands through the synergistic combination of business management and marketing with innovation and creative design,' Ms Kea said.

'With the emergence of more competitors operating on a lower cost basis, Hong Kong can't rely on OEM and ODM any more if it is to maintain its lead as a sourcing hub.'

She said a survey by the IVE showed that many companies were interested in exploring OBM and saw a strong need for talent to bridge the knowledge and communication gap that commonly divided the creative and business management sides of purchasing and sourcing.

Heeding such demand, the IVE launched a higher diploma in business with design management course last year aimed at secondary school graduates interested in creative design, purchasing and supply chain management.

Ms Kea said the new course even had strong applications from A-level students - a group not traditionally recruited by the IVE. In light of this, the course's second intake for 2007/08 aimed to recruit two-thirds of its 90 places from matriculated students. The remaining would be Form Five graduates.

Ms Kea said demand for courses to meet the sector's needs continued to outstrip supply, despite the IVE's efforts to stretch the student intake for its merchandising and purchasing courses to 360 for the current academic year.

'It is not just students but employers and professional bodies who are all keen to see more professional education in the relevant disciplines so as to drive the sector's long-term upgrading and sustainable development,' Ms Kea said. 'They all see it as crucial to drive innovation and professionalism in the sector as rapid globalisation is making markets more demanding and unpredictable, while sourcing bases are also more volatile. Given this, a creative and highly professional workforce is our best guarantee for long-term competitiveness.'

The Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) provides part-time training in purchasing, supply chain management and relevant disciplines for people working in the sector.

HKMA senior marketing manager Glover Chan Wing-wah said: 'Many of the in-service applicants have good experience in the sector but no formal training or qualifications. Some of them are seeking to update themselves and beef up their formal credentials because employers are more demanding now. Others may have been promoted to a senior position and have a practical need to back up their experience with formal training and qualifications.

'Another important gain our students make apart from formal training and qualifications is the new contacts they meet and professional networking made on these courses.'

Although most of the HKMA's short-term certificate courses provided four annual intakes, demand often exceeded supply because the industry's manpower need was increasing.