Alex Lawrence, Assistant Category Specialist, Procurement, University of Derby
At just 22, Alex Lawrence is making impressive inroads into a procurement career. He started in the accounts department at the University of Derby after he left school, before becoming a procurement apprentice. Recently he has been promoted to assistant category specialist. He has extended his knowledge and practical application of EU and UK procurement regulations by training, managing and evaluating tenders and improving his stakeholder and supplier management. He is also the subject matter expert on the University's new Oracle finance system and is part of the team that are instrumental in ongoing enhancement.
Talking to B News, Alex explains how he came to the role and what he wished he'd known as a school leaver.
About the University
"The university is excelling in a challenging environment. We have more than 20,000 students across three campuses, in Derby, Buxton and Chesterfield. We're ranked in the top 30 in The Guardian's university league tables and we've achieved Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework, which is something that only a few universities achieve. We're aiming to go event higher and reach the Guardian's top ten.
A journey into procurement
"After I left school, I started on a level one apprenticeship in accountancy through a training provider in Derby. I needed 100 hours work experience so, through a family member who worked here, I came to the university. At the end of my time in accounts I did a week with procurement and they asked me to stay on for a couple of weeks to help them with a procurement card audit.
"After that I started my level two at a private company, which unfortunately ended up going out of business. I was still able to complete the level but had to start job hunting. A vacancy came up as procurement administrator at the university and, thanks to my previous experience, I was offered the role. Two years ago, I started an apprenticeship in procurement. I've just completed CIPS level three, which is equivalent to two A-Levels and I will be starting my CIPS level four, which is equivalent to a higher education certificate, shortly. Ultimately, I'm aiming to achieve level six MCIPS, which is equivalent to a degree.
"I've been here nearly five years and in procurement for the last two. When I first started in procurement it was mainly around administration, so my work included supplier management and liaising with both purchase ledger and sales ledger. Currently I'm managing tenders, mini competitors and working with stakeholders.
"The team I'm part of includes our Head of Category Management, Denise China, Senior Category Managers Anna Salt and Jane Brailsford, and our Procurement Assistant, Jeanne Withers.
"The University recently became one of the first in the country to implement Oracle Cloud for its finance and procurement functions, and I had a big role in this. We did it all in six months, which is quite a feat as other organisations are still working through this after 18 months. I think its down to good project management, commitment to change and knowing who to involve in each area.
"I'm now the Oracle Cloud subject matter expert for procurement, so if anyone has any questions, they come to me for assistance. We are now utilising the tender module through Oracle and have a self-service requisitioning system that anyone in the university can access. Before this the central buying team was raising requisitions, but now it just has to check them. It has definitely sped things up.
Advice to my younger self
"When I left school, I didn't know procurement existed, but I'd probably have come into it sooner if I'd known about it. Accountancy, and all the journals, graphs and charts, just wasn't for me. I love numbers and maths but found accountancy boring. Awareness for procurement as a career option may have improved since the apprenticeship scheme was launched. North East University Procurement Consortia is now running the apprenticeship scheme for CIPS procurement qualification and this may help more people get into this as a career.
"I enjoy it because you never know what's going to come up next or what you'll be buying. The other month it was an ultrasound machine and the month before a sports kit. It's completely diverse and I really enjoy getting out there, meeting people and building relationships."
Working with Banner
"We wanted to group all our stationery spend under one supplier so about four years ago, we went out on a competitive tender, which Banner won. They're very good at responding to queries and have been very helpful with Oracle and implementing catalogues onto the system, which was a key driver for our senior management team. Getting the stationery catalogue onto Oracle was a big plus. There has been a lot of testing with the new system and Banner have been very accommodating, further enhancing our already good relationship. They are also working with us on our sustainability agenda, initially looking to reduce packaging and waste.
"Banner are helping us achieve our goals. Their next day delivery is a lifesaver for many of our people. For example, we had law students needing filing cabinets for a mock court room the next day and Banner were there, delivering the very next day."