Should you be licensed to practice?

Published: 04 Nov 2013 Average Rating: unrated Print

CIPS (the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply) is pushing for procurement to become a licensed profession, similar to accountancy or the law. They suggest that the growth of supply chain risk makes it more desirable to have the rigorous standards that licensing implies.

it is an interesting proposal and merits debate. A few of the observations that come to my mind are:

  • is this push for licensed professionals anything but self-serving? To what extent does licensing actually improve quality of decision-making? So far as I know, the accounting institutes were relatively silent in the wake of the banking and financial collapse, but what were their 'skilled and qualified' members doing throughout the period of uncontrolled risk-taking? And what about the medical profession? Yes, they perhaps restrain or act on some of the most obvious abuses, but do they not also tend to 'protect their own'?
  • As guardians of a standard, doesn't licensing constrain innovation? Every professional body I can think of struggles to adapt to changing market and business needs. It is slow to respond and faces inevitable push-back from established practitioners who face a need for dramatic re-learning and should be required to re-certify.
  • Is this really any different from the old closed-shop mentality of the craft guilds and trades unions, both of which led to terrible abuses of power?
  • Why Procurement? Why not instead move to licensing suppliers based on their visible achievement of standards. This would be far more efficient than having thousands of buyers all doing the same tests to validate the supply network.
  • Isn't this positioning by a procurement association rather opportunistic? For years, the procurement associations have been claiming that their members are professionals and they have been beating the drum over commoditization, cost reduction and squeezing suppliers through unrelenting competitive bidding. Many outsiders have long pointed out that Procurement practises such as these damage quality and undermine supplier integrity – in other words, the very things that this call for licensing says it now wants to guard us against!
This discussion builds in some ways on the series of ethical questions posed in recent blogs and in IACCM's Contracting Excellence. It is a good debate, but to what extent are supply risks directly related to the quality of commercial leadership in companies? If top management doesn't care and fails to set examples with the right questions and actions, will licensing of junior staff really help? and isn't the whole idea of 'licensed professional bodies' becoming rather anachronistic in today's fast-changing world?
I certainly support the raising of trading standards and this lies at the heart of IACCM's mission. it is why we promote a consistent body of knowledge for buyers and sellers; it is why we push for an integrated commercial function operating as a knowledge center to spread capability and competence; and it is why we bring buyers and sellers together into collaborative forums where we work on shared answers, rather than unilateral rules.
I'd welcome your comments on this important topic.

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