Chapter 4. Enhancing professionalisation and capacity of the public procurement workforce in Nuevo León

This chapter focuses on Nuevo León’s public procurement workforce – that is, the public officials that conduct procurement processes day-to-day. The chapter analyses two areas: First, the chapter evaluates the overarching strategy to increase the capacity of public procurement workers in Nuevo León. Second, the chapter provides insights into how a system of merit-based career progression could help official’s better handle evolving challenges. Furthermore, this chapter assesses how general rules for Nuevo León’s public service sector have been adapted to a public procurement context, as well as to what extent public procurement is considered a profession in Nuevo León. Finally, the chapter identifies mechanisms Nuevo León could introduce to ensure continuous professionalization of public procurement.

  

This chapter analyses the capacity of public officials conducting public procurement processes in Nuevo León to do their jobs as defined by law and state regulations. In order for public procurement laws and regulations to take full effect, public procurement officials have to possess necessary skills. In addition, a sufficient number of procurement officials need to be available to handle the number of public procurement processes in Nuevo León.

Good public procurement cannot be realised without knowledgeable and skilled workers. Equipping individual public procurement officials with higher level skills and knowledge can support improvements in other areas. For example, in order for public procurement in Nuevo León to reach its full potential as a strategic function, the state will need highly skilled officials to manage its programmes. Specialised knowledge of all phases of the public procurement cycle is key. All tasks should be executed with skill.

Countries around the world are increasingly striving to hire and train more professional public procurers as they encounter similar challenges (OECD,(n.d.)[1]):

  • Public procurement is evolving from an administrative to a strategic function.

  • Public procurement rules are complex.

  • Public procurement and the public procurement workforce are multidisciplinary.

  • Public procurer is not always considered a profession.

Several tried and tested approaches exist to tackle these challenges. Based on these good practices, this chapter proposes two major areas for action:

  1. establish a strategic framework for the professional procurement workforce in Nuevo León;

  2. establish a system for merit-based career progression for public procurers that are fit to handle evolving challenges.

4.1. Establishing a strategic framework for a professional procurement workforce in Nuevo León

Nuevo León could create and cultivate a public procurement function that is regarded as a profession and cease seeing it as an exclusively administrative function. The state can accomplish this by equipping procurers with the adequate capacity both in terms of skills and number of procurement officials in the system to an adequate level. In so doing, the state will be better positioned to conduct efficient and effective public procurement. Currently, Nuevo León’s procurement workforce seems to lack capacity both in terms of numbers and skills. There is no reliable framework for developing the capacity of public procurers, or for conducting training in a strategic and structured manner.

By designing and implementing a framework to develop the capacity of Nuevo León’s workforce, the state government could reap the full potential of its purchasers. The framework could consist of a strategy for capacity building and competency-based role descriptions. By developing and conducting systematic capacity-building activities, targeted to the specific needs of Nuevo León’s public procurers, the government could increase the efficiency of its purchasers.

4.1.1. Towards professional public procurers

The quality of public procurement is highly dependent on the competencies of the individual procurer. In day-to-day procurement processes, it is the desk officer that takes the crucial decisions that make the difference between effective and efficient procurements and wasteful ones. At the same time, while smaller, less complex purchases require little specialised skill, complex procurement cases can only be negotiated beneficially for the public if the procurer handling the case has the professional knowledge to do so.

Not surprisingly, public procurement is increasingly recognised as a profession in itself. Several international bodies have developed guidance to define and promote what constitutes a professional public procurer. An example from the UK (see Box ‎4.1 below) illustrates this push of countries to increasingly recognise public procurement as a profession.

Box ‎4.1. Building a community of procurement professionals in the UK’s Government Procurement Service

The Government Procurement Service (GPS) has defined a strategy to professionalize procurement in the government. Though the GPS does not certify procurement professionals, it intends to build a “community of procurement professionals” distinguished by core competencies. These competencies include an understanding of commercial issues, such as profits, margins, shareholders, cost models, total costs of acquisitions and whole-life costs, as well as knowledge and understanding of procurement and contract law.

Procurement professionals are encouraged to engage in professional development on a continuous basis. Professionalizing the GPS helps raise the profile of procurement as a profession. It also presents procurement as an attractive career option. The UK has worked to increase capacity in the profession via entry schemes, and by creating skills frameworks to help raise standards. All of these efforts support the development of skills and capability.

Source: (OECD, 2013[16])

The OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Procurement (OECD, 2015[2]) considers three aspects of public procurement when measuring the capacity of a procurement workforce (see also Box ‎4.2):

  • high professional standards for knowledge, practical implementation and integrity

  • attractive, competitive and merit-based career options specifically for public procurement officials

  • collaborative approaches with knowledge centres.

Box ‎4.2. OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Procurement

The Council:

RECOMMENDS that Adherents develop a procurement workforce with the capacity to continually deliver value for money efficiently and effectively.

To this end, Adherents should:

i) Ensure that procurement officials meet high professional standards for knowledge, practical implementation and integrity by providing a dedicated and regularly updated set of tools, for example, sufficient staff in terms of numbers and skills, recognition of public procurement as a specific profession, certification and regular trainings, integrity standards for public procurement officials and the existence of a unit or team analysing public procurement information and monitoring the performance of the public procurement system.

ii) Provide attractive, competitive and merit-based career options for procurement officials, through the provision of clear means of advancement, protection from political interference in the procurement process and the promotion of national and international good practices in career development to enhance the performance of the procurement workforce.

iii) Promote collaborative approaches with knowledge centres such as universities, think tanks or policy centres to improve skills and competences of the procurement workforce. The expertise and pedagogical experience of knowledge centres should be enlisted as a valuable means of expanding procurement knowledge and upholding a two-way channel between theory and practice, capable of boosting application of innovation to public procurement systems.

Source: (OECD, 2015[2])

The OECD Methodology for Assessing Procurement Systems (MAPS)1 (OECD,(n.d.)[3]) includes an indicator regarding a public procurement system’s ability to “develop and improve” (Indicator 8.) This indicator includes references to a system’s ability to provide training, advice and assistance with regards to public procurement. It also includes a sub-indicator that calls for procurement to be considered a profession. The sub-indicator includes assessment criteria that require a country to have:

  • a recognition of procurement as a specialised function as described by a diversified competency framework

  • competitive appointments and promotions

  • evaluation of staff performance and adequate promotion.

A supplementary MAPS module (currently under development) spells out elements of approaches to a comprehensive professionalization approach for public procurement.

These more overarching concepts must be realised through concrete measures. International best practices usually recommend the following elements of a system to promote public procurement capacity building (see for example (OECD,(n.d.)[4])).

  • strategies to outline capacity building and professionalization activities, supported by a concrete action plan that outlines steps towards implementation

  • tools to define and track roles and associated knowledge or skills, such as competency frameworks, job profiles and certification systems

  • clear responsibilities (i.e. who is in charge of capacity building with regards to public procurement specifically)

  • tools and activities to increase the knowledge or skills of the public procurement workforce (e.g. training)

  • incentives (i.e. the definition of a clear career trajectory combined with attractive and merit-based remuneration and progression)

  • analytical systems to identify needs and monitor impact

  • adequate financial resources for capacity-building activities

  • advisory services or helpdesks

  • exchanges with knowledge centres outside of public procurement institutions.

Many of these measures have been combined into a well-rounded overarching strategy that guides New Zealand’s efforts to enhance the capacity of its public procurement workforce (see Box ‎4.3). Box ‎4.4 details an example from Ireland, where template documents have improved the quality of tender documents.

Box ‎4.3. Key initiatives to professionalize and empower the public procurement workforce in New Zealand

Key initiatives New Zealand has adopted in order to professionalize and empower its public procurement workforce include:

  • Developing a model to assess the capability of procurement in agencies.

  • Assessing agency procurement capability on site, and providing action plans for development.

  • Requiring agencies that are not targeted for onsite assessment complete a self-assessment using measures described in the procurement capability model.

  • Developing standard role competency requirements for procurers, and implementing these requirements in government agencies.

  • Benchmarking key agency performance against the private sector.

  • Increasing hiring of skilled and qualified procurement professionals to fill the skills gap.

  • Ensuring government procurement salaries reflect market norms.

  • Contracting agencies to allocate resources to reform procurement practice.

  • Identifying opportunities for procurement in shared service centres.

  • Including procurement professionals in works project teams.

  • Establishing a small team of strategic procurement experts (also known as a commercial pool) to support high risk and high value projects across the government.

  • Allocating resources to support public-private partnership projects.

  • Determining procurement training needs and source providers.

  • Mandating that agencies use tools provided to assess procurement capability and capacity.

  • Mandating that agencies ensure that procurement staff are trained in order to fill identified skill gaps.

  • Providing e-learning to support procurers to gain a professional procurement qualification.

  • Targeting key procurement personnel within agencies to fast track their professional procurement education.

  • Developing and launching career development plans for procurement personnel.

  • Developing a New Zealand procurement academy.

  • Encouraging and subsidising public sector procurement professionals in gaining recognised procurement qualifications.

  • Launching a graduate programme in procurement.

  • Facilitating temporary transfers and career progression planning between agencies for procurement professionals.

  • Establishing and facilitating a procurement leaders group (for officials aged under 35 years) to cultivate future procurement leaders.

  • Developing the course “Demystifying Procurement”, a two-day introductory course to procurement in a public-sector context. Alternatively, this course is available for learning on line.

Source: (OECD, 2016[5])

Box ‎4.4. Development of template tender documents in Ireland

Ireland’s Office of Government Procurement (OGP) is responsible for drafting public procurement policies, and regulating and coordinating the national public procurement system. In addition, the OGP is in charge of the preparation of standardised tender documents, as well as guidance materials.

The OGP has created a standard suite of template tender documents to guide best practices, and to reflect the new EU procurement directives that came into force in 2016. The OGP’s website offers a section that serves as a repository of knowledge. The section provides an extensive amount of template documents and guidance materials. There are currently six model documents available, and more are planned. These templates cover the tender process and the contract phase of procedures.

To date, the government has asked that this suite of documents be used across the public service sector for procurement of low-to-medium risk goods and services. The popularity of these template documents is primarily due to their ease of use and clarity. These documents provide a further opportunity to help professionalise, streamline and standardise the procurement function of contracting authorities in the Irish state.

Source: Information provided by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP)

4.1.2. Building on Nuevo León’s general capacity strategy for the public sector to also make public procurement more professional

Many countries develop strategies to systematically increase the capacity of their public workforce, often specifically for the area of public procurement. Such capacity strategies for the public sector and specifically for public procurement can offer benefits as they aim to systematically increase the capacity of public procurers. This, in turn, leads to a more economical use of resources, as well as to good management and more efficient procurement. A strategy is important, as it helps officials to prioritise activities. Ideally, the government would opt first for an assessment of the procurement workforce, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, gaps and building blocks that should serve as the starting point for any capacity-building measures. A second step to determine priorities should consist of a careful consideration of the country context, as well as the maturity of the procurement system. In addition, a strategy can incorporate steps that involve stakeholders, or the gathering of resources (OECD, 2016[6]).

Nuevo León does not have a specific strategy for enhancing its public procurement workforce. However, the Strategic Plan for the State of Nuevo León 2015-2030 ( Plan Estratégico para el Estado de Nuevo León 2015 - 2030) addresses the need to develop the state’s public-sector workforce. The plan addresses not just public procurement officials, but public officials in Nuevo León in general. In 2015, Nuevo León’s Effective Government and Transparency Commission (Comisión de Gobierno Eficaz y Transparencia) introduced seven “pillars” for talent development in the public sector (see also Figure ‎4.1).

  1. connection between talent strategy and business needs;

  2. attraction and retention of talent;

  3. recruitment, hiring and bringing new employees on board;

  4. motivation and recognition of performance;

  5. creation of leaders;

  6. development of the organization;

  7. creation of a culture of talent.

Figure ‎4.1. Seven pillars for talent development
picture

Source: (Consejo Nuevo León, 2015[7])

This strategy includes the formation of competency standards for all public positions, staff training programmes and talent retention surveys, according to the state’s strategic plan.

Nuevo León’s State Development Plan contains a related commitment. Action item 2.1.4 under the objective, “Develop effective public governance”, describes the strategic goal of promoting professional career services that are linked to performance evaluation and recognition of merit (Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo León, 2016, p. 60[8]).

In this context, it could be beneficial for the government to consider measures that formally structure capacity-building efforts for the public procurement system. As mentioned above, a dedicated advisor or a unit should be tasked with analysing capacity-building needs and responses specifically with regards to public procurement. This unit could also be tasked with developing guidance material and trainings, as needed. Ireland, for example, could serve as a model for developing guidance materials (see Box ‎4.5 below).

Box ‎4.5. Development of national procurement guidelines in Ireland

One of the primary objectives of establishing the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) in Ireland was to improve the professionalism of the staff involved in procurement. The Irish state spends approximately EUR 8.5 billion every year on goods and services. In this context, it is essential that the public service operates in a co-ordinated and efficient way. Procurement is a key element of the government’s public service reform.

The OGP is currently finalising national guidelines for goods and services of low and high value in public procurement tendering competitions. These guidelines will be published as a dynamic document. This means that they will be available electronically. The document will contain links to relevant information, as well as policy and template documents.

The purpose of these guidelines is to promote best practices and consistency of application of the public procurement rules in relation to the purchase of goods and services. The guidelines have been written in plain language with the goal of providing a clear description of the rules. The guidelines form part of the OGP National Procurement Policy Framework, which consists of five branches:

  • legislation (directives, regulations)

  • government policy (circulars, etc.)

  • general guidelines;

  • the Capital Works Management Framework

  • detailed technical guidelines, template documents and notes that are issued periodically.

Source: Information provided by Office of Government Procurement (OGP)

In Nuevo León, several units are in charge of human resource activities. That said, the state does not have an active team or official in charge of bringing human resource activities to public procurement. In general, the Directorate for Human Resources (Dirección de Recursos Humanos) in the Undersecretariat of Administration (Subsecretaria de Administración) is in charge of questions related to professional development and performance review in the administration, including in the area of public procurement. Human resource matters are handled by the central administration for the entirety of Nuevo León’s public officials, including those employees working on public procurement. In total, the central administration’s Human Resources Directorate handles 18 000 files. All guidelines, tools and practices on human resource management are handled at this level; they also apply to everyone working on public procurement.

The Centralised Purchasing Body (Unidad Centralizada de Compras, UCC), in cooperation with the Office of the Comptroller for Government Transparency (Contraloría y Transparencia Gubernamental, CTG), is in charge of creating job profiles and trainings for public procurers. In 2015, the Commission for Effective and Transparent Government (Comisión de Gobierno Eficaz y Transparencia) set guidelines for professional development with the aim of achieving an effective and transparent public sector (Consejo Nuevo León, 2015[7]).

4.1.3. Being aware of strengths and weaknesses

Any training strategy to professionalize the public procurement workforce should be developed based on a realistic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce (OECD, 2016[6]). Different frameworks exist to assist in conducting a detailed assessment of the workforce’s strength and weaknesses. Some examples include a procurement capacity development guide by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2010[9]) and a toolkit for the same purpose by the European Commission (European Commission, 2011[10]).

One of the main strengths of the procurement workforce in Nuevo León is that officers usually focus on legal compliance and strive to ensure that public procurement processes follow the rules in all areas. This requires a thorough knowledge of the applicable laws and regulations in the state, which most officials have. Officials in Nuevo León are aware of the laws, regulations and guidelines that govern their areas of work. These officials do not only understand regulations as they relate to expected behaviour, they also understand the legal basis of these rules, which is a strength. However, it has to be noted that this close attention to legal compliance may be counterproductive, as officials sometimes end processes out of fear of not being able to meet a high level of legal compliance. They fear reprisal, or simply want to “be on the safe side”, i.e. they refrain from doing anything that is associated with the slightest risk of violating a law.

To some extent, weaknesses in Nuevo León’s procurement system relate to systemic factors. One of the most-stated challenges mentioned by public procurement officials in the state concerned the number of highly skilled procurement officials available to manage purchases. There are two facets of this challenge: the number of officials available to conduct public procurement, and their skills. These two facets are interlinked and cannot be separated. While a certain number of officers is needed to conduct different types of procurement-related activities (from more administrative, low-skilled tasks to complex high-skilled tasks), the staff also needs to be equipped with the right skills to be effective. Management not only needs to hire a given number of people to do a job, it also needs to ensure a sufficient level of knowledge. That is the only way the organisation can ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Across the board in Nuevo León, there seems to be a lack of sufficiently skilled public procurement officials. This results in overtime work or delays during peak periods, and also in inefficient procurements. Staff sometimes have knowledge gaps, or are sometimes allocated to the wrong processes. The administration is aware of this capacity gap, but training to increase capacity costs time, and managers are reluctant to free up their staff for training courses.

On a cultural level, public procurement is considered an administrative function, not a strategic function in Nuevo León. This means that the perception of the tasks to be delivered and the related incentive structure favours administrative behaviour. As a consequence, Nuevo León’s workforce – in both its skills, attitudes and motivations – is not equipped to approach complex procurements strategically.

Aside from these systemic, overarching factors, OECD interviews with procurement officials in Nuevo León identified knowledge gaps with regards to concrete aspects of public procurement. A more comprehensive and targeted analysis of these knowledge gaps could shed substantial light on the source of the issue (OECD, 2016[6]). During OECD interviews, procurers and suppliers cited a need for additional knowledge or training with regards to negotiations (of prices and terms), as well as a need for procurement-specific knowledge (as opposed to government-specific knowledge). Training could address these issues. In some instances, public procurers report, there have been challenges related to basic education, such as basic language skills with young hires.

4.1.4. Implementing targeted measures to build capacity, including training

The following section focusses on avenues to increase the competencies of individual public procurers.

Options range from more structured approaches like formal, academic training, to more ad-hoc and unstructured approaches like exposure or mentoring from senior to junior officials (Train4Dev, 2011[11]) (Pearson Jenny, 2011[12]). Table ‎4.1 provides an overview of different approaches to building capacity, their applicability and their strengths and weaknesses

Table ‎4.1. Different approaches to build capacity, their applicability, strengths and weaknesses

 

Description of the learning process

Level & application

Strengths

Challenges

Coaching and mentoring

Tailored and contextual learning process Coaching: generally focused on workplace challenges; time-bound Mentoring: generally a long-term process of supporting an individual's career and personal development

Individuals and groups at various levels; ideal as follow up to training

Provides focussed / tailored guidance

Ideally: separation from line management structures, focus on specific skills

Degree-level study

Specialised university study at masters' and doctoral levels

Individuals; young / midlevel professionals

Positive and quantifiable impacts

Long absence from work (need cover); difficulty adapting and applying new knowledge to workplace; risk of brain drain

Distance learning

Programmes offered by universities or institutions for participants to follow from home

Individuals

For contexts in which high quality training is not available locally and where travel/relocation is not an option (financially or personally)

Provides training opportunities while maintaining geographical, financial, and time-flexibility

Students are isolated; needs high level of intrinsic motivation and study skills; needs good quality and affordable Internet access

E-Learning

Technology-supported or web-based learning systems. E-learning can happen across distances and borders or within one organisation and therefore not necessarily at a distance.

Individuals and groups highly technical content geographically dispersed groups

Individual and flexible learning opportunities; can be very cost effective

Students are isolated; needs high level of intrinsic motivation and study skills; needs good quality and affordable Internet access

Experiential learning

Processes to support individuals to learn from their experiences, such as action learning, critical incident analysis, on-the-job training, work-based learning, work/job shadowing, etc.

Individuals and groups Can also be used to monitor training achievements

Departs from the participant's own level of experience; grounds learning into workplace practice; works well for those not academically inclined

Can create resistance where this learning style does not match the culture or expectations; difficult to deliver theoretical or fact-based knowledge

Exposure

Exposure visits take people to see what others are doing in work situations similar to their own; attending conferences and other events provide exposure to new knowledge, ideas and influences within sectors

Individuals and groups

Makes learning about new ideas more practical and grounded in reality; stimulates the spread of good practice and the fertilisation of innovation

Exposure can be expensive and not cost effective (e.g., international travel); clear learning objectives need to be specified and followed up effectively

Knowledge management

Process by which organisations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets by documenting what staff and stakeholders know about the organisation's areas of interest, and then sharing that collected data back to those who need it to enhance their performance

Groups, organisations and sectors, particularly in multidisciplinary areas

Enhances communication and connection within systems to ensure that they are using all the available knowledge assets to best effect

Can be very complex and time consuming to implement; requires constant attention and updating; can become overly technical and dependent on data management system

Partnerships and networks

Mechanisms through which diverse actors with mutual interests come together; can include twinning

Organisations and sectors

Provides opportunities for sharing knowledge and experience across borders

Can be difficult to co-ordinate and keep functional; power relations can become unbalanced, having a negative impact on opportunities for learning

Source: Adapted from (Pearson Jenny, 2011[12]) (Train4Dev, 2011[11])

As recommended by the OECD checklist on public procurement capacity, a team should be dedicated to overseeing capacity-building measures. This unit should be tasked with analysing needs for capacity development, such as training, and then with determining and developing appropriate activities in response. This should not only include structured assessments of the procurement workforce, but also the development of guidelines for trainings and training programmes, as well as certification schemes. (OECD,(n.d.)[4]).

Trainings warrant a specific mention. The OECD recommends the following elements (OECD,(n.d.)[4]):

  • Training curriculums that consider the multidisciplinary nature of public procurement, including an emphasis on integrity aspects.

  • Formal on-the-job training programmes.

  • Measures to ensure that trainings are accessible. For example, trainings should include advertising measures, provide sufficient funding and use flexible learning methods.

  • Certification for trainers to ensure quality trainings.

  • Review and feedback loops to keep trainings up to date.

In Nuevo León, there does yet not seem to be any systematic training related to public procurement. The state offers training related to transparency, ethics and integrity issues. The new ethics code will be accompanied by training – highlighting the areas of the general ethics code that are relevant for public procurement. In addition, it offers training to help individuals use the federal public procurement platform, Compranet. The training includes a 300-page manual. Compranet accounts are issued only upon successful completion of this training. Public procurers mentioned a similar course with regards to the Electronic System for Public Procurement (Sistema Electrónico de Compras Públicas, SECOP). When asked about a general course on public procurement, procurers cited a non-mandatory training in 2008. With regards to the control and audit function, Nuevo León currently offers no training to audit officers. That said, the government is currently analysing whether and how training specific to audits and the audit of procurement should be introduced.

Officers currently training Nuevo León’s public service employees have strong expertise in human resources and labour psychology. They are a good foundation to build on, but Nuevo León would benefit from hiring additional trainers with procurement-specific expertise. At present, trainings appear to be organised around general human resources tools and techniques. Available specialisations include change management, how to handle time and conflicts, and psychological factors. However, no current trainers seem to have experience that is specific to public administration or work in government. In fact, many seem to come from the private industry. This raises questions, for example about the extent to which private sector experience can be directly translated to the public sector. At present, the government does not have trainers who have sufficient knowledge of public procurement to conduct meaningful training on these issues.

In addition to these general efforts, some organisations in Nuevo León have made individual efforts to provide training. Certain contracting authorities reported offering specific trainings, like the Water and Sewer Services of Monterrey (Servicios de Agua y Drenaje de Monterrey), which uses external trainers. Some municipalities conduct ongoing training sessions related to customer service.

Nuevo León’s public procurement system does not conduct training activities related to bringing new employees on board. Many public procurers reported that new hires usually acquired knowledge about their new public procurement role on the job. They did this by reviewing the laws, previous cases and guidance on procedures, as well as by engaging in some self-training online. Nuevo León provides limited introduction to general operations and procedures as stated in the Operation Manual Book to new government employees. However, each position also has an operations manual. The government is currently developing a manual for the Ministry of Administration.

Nuevo León’s Human Resources Directorate has recently increased efforts to provide training. The state has embedded a Professionalization Institute within the government that is in charge of educating instructors on general topics in the administration. The Professionalization Institute selects trainers for this work following an evaluation that narrows the field to only four or five individuals. These trainers then provide face-to-face training and online training. However, the majority of the training courses seem to still be in the planning phase, attempting to match the training to different levels of competences. In addition, the government does not have trainers in the area of public procurement.

4.2. Establish a system of merit-based career progression for public procurers that are fit to handle evolving challenges

Nuevo León could build a more professional workforce in the medium and long term by setting up a structured system for career progression. Currently, no competency-based framework guides different procurement roles, associated hiring, evaluation or promotion processes. There is no structured, transparent system for hiring public procurers, and no transparent process to decide on promotions.

By setting clear requirements for new hires and promotions in the public procurement system, Nuevo León could ensure sustained, high-quality performance from its procurers. At present, the state is undergoing an exploratory, 360-degree evaluation of its public procurement workforce, whereby not only subordinates are reviewed by managers, but managers are reviewed by subordinates. Expanding this evaluation, and linking it to career progression could ensure that the best performers are rewarded for good work. Overall, career progression in the public procurement system (as in the entire public administration) should build on a competency framework. This competency framework should be rooted in transparency, and should provide incentives for good performance and for retaining good staff. This is particularly important in a situation of budget constraints, where the administration cannot make new hires and every peso spent on public procurement has to be as effective as possible.

4.2.1. Smart human resources management in times of budget constraints

Public procurement is increasingly considered a strategic function. International guidelines, such as the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Procurement, recommend this (OECD, 2015[2]). In trying to make public procurement more strategic, procurement officials face increasingly complex tasks that require specialised knowledge. Therefore, one of the first measures public procurement officials should take to cultivate highly skilled procurement personnel is hiring officials with required competencies that can hit the ground running.

Nuevo León’s challenges in the area of public procurement capacity are related to the state’s immense budget deficit and austerity measures. While stakeholders (both on the government and supplier side) report shortages of a sufficient number of qualified procurers, there is no room to increase the procurement workforce due to budgetary constraints. Currently, the public service is reportedly dismissing public employees. Not enough funds are available to pay all the benefits that public officials are normally entitled to.

Overall, there is awareness among high-level officials that the average professional profile of the current public procurers in Nuevo León’s central purchasing unit is less than ideal. Most procurement personnel are subject to the same general specifications all public servants must meet in the state, per the Law on the Civil Service in Nuevo León. However, there is no defined specification for the area of public procurement. Therefore, most of the procurers in the UCC do not have a specific background in public procurement. As a consequence of this, capacity is lacking, particularly with regards to market research (i.e. retrieving quotes) and tender design (drafting the call for tender and structuring public consultations).

As a remedy, the state has increasingly tried to absorb procurement personnel from decentral agencies into the UCC. It has done this in order to push for the greater centralisation of purchases. Human resources management at the level of the central administration is currently developing a proposal to identify personnel needs as a consequence of centralisation. It is also exploring to what extent capacity needs in the UCC can potentially be covered by absorbing personnel from decentralised purchasing units.

All public officials – and public procurement officials – should be hired via transparent and structured processes. These processes should establish that the skills and knowledge of the applicant match the competence level that is needed for the particular role. The OECD recommendation and associated checklist for public procurement implementation and capacity highlight the benefits of structured, competency-based hiring and promotion (OECD, 2015[2]) (OECD,(n.d.)[4]).

At present, however, Nuevo León does not seem to require advanced, procurement-specific skills when hiring procurement officials. To be hired, applicants only have to have one year of procurement-related experience. Other hiring criteria consist of formalities and procedural issues, such as submission of specific forms, passing a health check, etc. Several procurement officials mentioned that having contacts within the political leadership was necessary to be hired in Nuevo León’s public service.

As stated earlier, candidates for public procurement positions have to have at least one year of experience related to public procurement. In addition, they have to provide documentation establishing their identities, criminal records, medical and psychological examinations, and similar documents. For negotiators, hiring managers request experience in purchasing and skills, like computer proficiency and negotiation and communication skills. There are no other requirements beyond these more administrative requisites.

In addition, compared to the private sector, Nuevo León’s public sector is unattractive as an employer, mainly due to lower pay. Most of the employees (111, as of 2017) are employed under limited-term contracts (empleados base). The employees are unionized, and have been employed since the previous administration in Nuevo León. Only three employees are employed as officials (honorarios asimilables a sueldo). The turnover rate is 4.3%. These factors present challenges, particularly with regards to attracting highly skilled, highly effective individuals that might have more attractive offers from the private sector. A comparison between the average monthly salaries of Nuevo León’s public procurement workforce and the average Mexican salary illustrates these challenges (see Figure ‎4.2) In this context, it has to be noted that more that 60% of the workforce are on a assistant level or below, and, accordingly, earn less than the levels of analyst and above (see also Figure ‎4.4).

Figure ‎4.2. Average monthly salary of employees in Nuevo León’s central administration, Acquisitions and General Services unit (Adquisiciones y Servicios Generales), 2016, per category, Mexican pesos
picture

Source: Central Administration, Nuevo León; OECD: average annual wages.

To structure the hiring of procurement officials, certification systems have proven useful, for example in the United States (see Box ‎4.6 below).

Box ‎4.6. Certification of capabilities for procurement in the United States

The American Purchasing Society (APS) is a professional association of buyers and purchasing managers in the United States. It was the first organisation to establish a nationally recognised certification for buyers and purchasing professionals. APS offers three different certification programmes:

  1. the Certified Purchasing Professional Programme directed at professionals who have demonstrated the skills to successfully implement improve purchasing and supply chain practices as part of a business solution in an organisation;

  2. the Certified Professional Purchasing Manager Programme aimed at those in managerial positions and those who have managerial experience; and

  3. the Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant Programme aimed at certified purchasing professionals who either consult or teach purchasing to people outside their own employer.

Source: (American Purchasing Society, 2016[13])

4.2.2. Building on elements of Nuevo León’s public procurement roles

While Nuevo León has public procurers in a variety of different contracting authorities, the core of the state’s public procurement workforce is located in the General Directorate for Acquisitions and General Services. This unit in Nuevo León’s central administration consists of 114 persons.

Article 75 of Nuevo León’s Acquisition Law (Ley de Adquisiciones) provides the legal basis for the formulation of profiles for public officials working on public procurement in different roles, as well as performance evaluation and training. The Central Purchasing Body (UCC) is tasked, together with the Comptroller of the State, with creating guidelines for the creation of job profiles as well as training. Profiles, training programmes and performance evaluation are to be published in the SECOP, and in the corresponding transparency portal.

Section II (Article 19) of the Interior Regulation (Reglamento Interior) contains guidance on human resource management in the public administration in general. This guidance appears to be applicable to the public procurement system as well.

As opposed to working with isolated role descriptions, countries increasingly use competency frameworks to organise their public procurement workforces. The competency frameworks build on competencies that are represented in different procurement roles to a different extent. Employees can increase their competencies and move from one level to another (see Box ‎4.7). In Scotland, competency frameworks have been applied in order to develop the skills of public procurers (see Box ‎4.8).

Box ‎4.7. What is competency management?

Competency management is a way of defining the abilities employees need to have, as well as the behaviours they should practice to do their jobs well. Competency management links several human resource management activities to ensure that an organisation is staffed by people who perform effectively. The use of competency management in OECD countries has increased steadily in recent years, and has been linked to demands for increased flexibility and autonomy in workforce management.

Source: (OECD, 2015[14]) (OECD, 2011[15])

Box ‎4.8. The Scottish procurement competency framework

The procurement competency framework of the Scottish government identifies the skills and competency levels required by all staff involved in the procurement process. It has been developed by the cross-sectoral people and skills working group to support the delivery of the recommendations in the Review of Public Procurement in Scotland (2006) which related specifically to people and skills. The framework is intended to compliment, not replace, existing personal development tools in organisations.

The framework identifies thirteen key competencies candidates should have:

  1. Procurement process: has the sufficient knowledge and understanding in sourcing and tendering methods to carry out duties associated with role.

  2. Negotiation: has the ability to negotiate within the scope of the role.

  3. Strategy development and market analysis: has the strategy development and market analysis skills necessary to carry out duties associated with role.

  4. Financial: has the financial knowledge and understanding needed to carry out duties associated with the role – elements include appraisal of suppliers’ financial positions, total costing and the compliance frameworks that exist for public sector finance and procurement.

  5. Legal: has sufficient understanding of legislative frameworks relating specifically to procurement to carry out duties associated with role.

  6. Results focus: is aware of how personal and team objectives contribute to the success of the organization, and continually demonstrate commitment to achieving these.

  7. Systems capability: has the knowledge and understanding of systems and processes utilised in the procurement of goods and services. Specific system competencies may be localised to specific systems.

  8. Inventory, logistics and supply chain: has the knowledge and understanding of materials management solutions to carry out duties associated with role. Elements include inventory, logistics, warehouse management, etc., Knowledge and understanding of supply chain management techniques is also important, and is not restricted to organisations holding stock.

  9. Organisational awareness: clearly understands roles and responsibilities, how procurement should be organised and which units within the organisation are in charge of it.

  10. Self-management: responds quickly and flexibly when required, supporting others while striving to improve skill application in line with organisational requirements.

  11. Leadership: contributes to the achievement of team goals by providing support, encouragement and clear direction when appropriate.

  12. Communication: openly shares relevant information and communicates in an effective and timely manner using a variety of means.

  13. Relationship management: identifies different types of customers and stakeholders and formulates strategy for managing relationships.

Source: (OECD, 2013[16])

Introducing a competency-based system to manage public procurers from a human resources perspective can offer benefits in Nuevo León as well. It can contribute to a clearer understanding of expectations of employees on different levels and in different roles. In addition, such a competency framework can identify officials who need training and development (Scottish Government, 2016[17]).

In creating a competency-based system for the area of public procurement, Nuevo León can build on two elements: the current division of labour between different colleagues in the General Directorate for Acquisitions and General Services, and the efforts at the central administration level to develop a more professional civil service.

For practical purposes, the implementation of a competency-based system should start at the central level. However, it can easily be translated to the purchasing units within other contracting authorities. Officials in the General Directorate for Acquisitions and General Services are distributed between different roles; the requirements for professionalization differ accordingly. The following roles are differentiated (see also Figure ‎4.3 below for an organisational chart):

  • The Directorate for Procurement (Dirección de Adquisiciones) is tasked with public procurement that relates to goods, while the Directorate of Maintenance and General Services (Dirección de Mantenimiento y Servicios Generales) is in charge of the procurement of services. Both units are tasked with duties before and after the actual public tendering process (e.g. they conduct market studies, determine needs and set evaluation criteria). They also sign contracts with selected bidders.

  • The task of administering the competition lies with a separate unit, the Directorate of Public Tenders (Dirección de Concursos). This unit is in charge of planning and conducting the selection process. This includes choosing the selection mechanism (e.g. open tender, exception, reverse auctions, among others), communicating all required information in a timely manner, interacting with the bidders and handling the electronic communication related to the procedure.

  • Operations Control (Jefatura de Control de Operaciones) provides administrative support to the public procurement system in Nuevo León. The unit receives requests, supervises a national warehouse, checks whether necessary rules and requirements are being complied with, manages invoices and payments, and archives documentation.

  • Communications (Jefatura de Administración y Comunicación) is tasked with communications around public procurement both internally in the administration and externally. That means that this unit provides guidance to contracting authorities and gathers information from them, including data and statistics about their public procurement processes. In addition, the unit engages with the wider public via social media.

Figure ‎4.3. Organisation chart of Nuevo León’s Central Purchasing Body
picture

Source: Information provided by the State of Nuevo León

Table ‎4.2 and Figure ‎4.4 provide an overview of the proportion of these different roles:

Table ‎4.2. Areas in Nuevo León’s public procurement workforce

Role

Number of Employees

Dirección General de Adquisiciones y Servicios Generales (General oversight)

1

Dirección de Adquisiciones (Directorate for Procurement)

11

Dirección de Mantenimiento y Servicios Generales (Directorate for Maintenance and General Services)

28

Dirección de Concursos (Contest Management)

9

Source: Information provided by the State of Nuevo León

Figure ‎4.4. Distribution of roles in Nuevo León’s public procurement workforce
Number of employees
picture

Source: Information provided by the State of Nuevo León

Across the functional divisions within Nuevo León’s public procurement workforce, in terms of hierarchy and pay grade, there are 20 different levels, grouped into seven categories. Currently, Nuevo León has employees in the following categories:

  • one contracted expert (level 3)

  • 41 auxiliary workers (levels 4-5)

  • 21 assistants (levels 6-7)

  • 28 analysts (levels 8-9)

  • 9 managers (levels 10-12)

  • 5 coordinators (levels 13-14)

  • 1 division lead (level 18)

  • 1 director general (level 20)

There is a lower number of managerial positions; workers at the assistant level are in the majority. Taken together, these assistant-level workers take up more than half of the procurement workforce. During the analysis it remains unclear, however, how exactly the responsibilities are defined at each level. However, the relatively low number of roles with an analytical, rather than administrative focus suggests that the system does not consider procurement to be a profession that requires a defined set of qualities or strategic focus. Rather, procurement is seen as a system with a bureaucratic or administrative focus. Figure ‎4.5 summarises the proportion of job types according to the different categories.

Figure ‎4.5. Number of employees in the General Directorate for Acquisitions and General Services, per category, 2016
picture

Source: Central Administration, Nuevo León.

A competency-based framework for human resource management of Nuevo León’s public procurement function could build on these roles. In so doing, the framework could describe the competencies that each role should have, according to the different hierarchy levels in each division.

In addition, general efforts by human resources management at central administration level could be translated into the area of public procurement. The Human Resources Department has been developing a framework that describes the specific competences of individual officials. This appears to allow HR to match existing capabilities with the requirements of the different roles. It also appears to help with developing and targeting training measures. The Human Resources Department is tasked with developing the trainings. There are no specialised trainings for roles such as audit or risk management. There does not appear to be a certification mechanism for public procurers.

The human resources department for the central administration in Nuevo León is currently developing a competency model. Previously, Nuevo León drew on a catalogue of profiles, and officials have rotated from one position to another based on their skills (matching with the roles to be filled). The new system of competencies will be focused around four different norms and behaviours. The four pillars are:

  1. a culture of legality: the capacity to understand, respect and promote legal standards and institutional culture to create an environment of trust and harmony between the public official and the citizens;

  2. leadership focus on service: capacity to form, guide, develop and participate in teams while focusing on the service;

  3. results orientation: capacity to direct actions towards the achievement of expected objectives with speed and a sense of urgency, to set challenging goals maintaining high levels of performance by committing to on-the-job learning and professional development;

  4. innovation for transformation: capacity to innovate, with efficiency, austerity and sustainability, throughout all government processes.

In addition, the model will have three levels:

  1. governor to director level;

  2. staff reporting to the leadership level;

  3. professionals who do not have a reporting manager.

Currently, the human resources department in Nuevo León’s central administration is finalising the content for these four pillars. It is doing so in collaboration with the departments leading the different government agencies, as well as with an external certification expert. Once established, trainers will be selected and budgets will be secured to deliver training around the competency model. In a first pilot stage, the competency model will undergo an evaluation. There is no specific consideration of roles specific to public procurement. Conflict of interest has not been identified as a topic of the competency model or training.

In continuing the development of the competency framework and its adaptation to the public procurement function, Nuevo León’s administration could follow examples from international good practice, as described in the OECD checklist on public procurement and capacity. It is recommended that competency frameworks for public procurement have the following elements (OECD,(n.d.)[4]):

  • a description of the specific functions, skills and competencies needed to implement the organisation’s mission with regards to public procurement

  • coverage of a multidisciplinary portfolio of expertise necessary to deliver public procurement (i.e. knowledge of the underlying laws as well as professional, technical and personal effectiveness skills – including negotiation, risk management, teamwork, communication, leadership and the management of people, projects and large resources, as well as integrity and information technology)

  • description of expectations and prerequisites for each job.

  • delineation of the different jobs and levels in terms of knowledge and practice requirements.

  • a mandate that officials put in place and undertake regular professional development to refresh knowledge and build new skills to ensure that procurement officials meet high professional standards of knowledge and competence.

4.2.3. Ensure that there is a merit-based career progression based on transparent rules and evaluations

Requirements for public procurers should be commensurate to the complexity of procurement cases they deliver. Countries that follow international best practices are working towards giving public procurement a more strategic role. Individual public procurers in these countries are expected to deliver these changes – and will only be able to do so with more advanced skills (OECD, 2015[2]).

In this context, retaining talent in the public sector is a paramount aim (OECD, 2015[14]). To do so, being a public procurer has to become an attractive career option, (OECD,(n.d.)[4]):

  • recognizing public procurement as a strategic function with defined professional and hierarchical levels (by describing jobs, qualifications, competencies)

  • establishing procurement-specific careers paths with vertical and horizontal mobility, including between public institutions and sectors

  • engaging in recruitment and promotion based on the competency frameworks

  • paying adequate, transparent salaries and making competitive, performance-based promotions

  • certifying public procurement expertise

  • giving regular performance evaluations.

In Nuevo León, there are elements of a structured, professional public service. However, the government gives limited consideration to the specific functions and requirements of the public procurement workforce.

Some of the recent developments could be expanded to specifically suit the public procurement function. As mentioned briefly before, the Human Resources Department has recently implemented a feedback and performance review system allowing for 360-degree evaluation of all public servants. This evaluation is intended to increase the professionalization of public workers on all levels. The 360-degree review allows HR to give employees grades on a scale from 0-10, with 10 being the best score. Four competence areas are assessed:

  1. leadership and management (directivas y gerenciales);

  2. vocation and commitment to the public service (vocación y compromiso con el servicio público).

  3. basic or general competencies (básicas o generales).

  4. technical or specific (técnicas o especificas), only to be filled by director level.

The tool will be managed online, and is based on self-evaluations as a first step. It contains definitions of each competency and a description of the behaviour that should be observed as part of this competency. Following the 360-degree review by individuals online, the Human Resources Department will discuss the results of the evaluation with the managers. In addition, the programme provides the expectation that human resources, together with managers, creates a training plan for the entire year, as well as specific follow up to be delivered. Two of these evaluations will be carried out per year (in the beginning of the year and at the end.)

The 360-degree review was implemented to identify priorities for certain areas. As part of the roll out of the 360-degree reviews, the Human Resources Department provided face-to-face trainings on the tool in the spring of 2017, and offered limited support online. The tool was tested in a pilot phase in the central administration, with results expected for May 2017.

This performance review system could, in combination with a structured competency framework, provide the basis for a merit-based career path for public procurers in Nuevo León. At present, public procurers have no career trajectory that is based on professional considerations or specialisation. Employees are assigned to different positions based on considerations of grade or seniority. Issues like specialisation or procurement-specific performance do not seem to play a role. As a consequence, specialisation within the public procurement workforce at the central level has not been pursued. Within the same unit (dirección) procurers usually conduct the same tasks. These are at times specialised in an ad-hoc fashion based on recurring needs. For example, while one procurer conducts all procurements related to the maintenance of buildings (cleaning services, renovations, carpenter services, paint jobs, etc.), another one focuses on the information technology infrastructure (voice, IT, data, etc.) There is no specialisation according procurement types or methods.

There is no structured system at the moment to manage promotion in Nuevo León’s public service, including public procurement. Based on current role descriptions, there seem to be initial guideposts that allow officials to identify whether an individual is performing above, below or at average levels. However, the descriptions of the competencies per level, as well as the specifications underlying the 360-degree review, are often not clear enough to allow for a robust assessment of an individual’s performance or position.

Once hired, promotions throughout Nuevo León’s public sector are made based on criteria that are unrelated to the official’s job performance. In fact, there are no clearly stated criteria. This disenfranchises good performers and keeps underperformers in the workforce, taking up resources without delivering. In addition, civil servants reported that the workforce overall was aging and increasingly unfit (e.g. unable to handle computers.) This is because it is difficult to dismiss officials. In times of budget constraints, younger employees with more flexible contracts are dismissed first.

4.3. Proposals for action

Nuevo León has taken first steps to build the capacity of its public officials to be effective in their positions. The State Development Plan sets out the framework for what constitutes a public service professional. A 360-degree review mechanism and competency frameworks are being introduced. However, gaps remain with regards to specific measures for public procurers. Nuevo León could build on its recent progress through the following proposals:

4.3.1. Systematising capacity building efforts to ensure a comprehensive approach

Nuevo León should improve the foundation of its efforts to increase the capacity of its public procurement workforce by ensuring all avenues are followed:

  • Nuevo León should develop a professionalization strategy by:

    • summarising approaches to professionalising the public procurement function in a professionalization or capacity-building strategy.

  • The state should utilise all avenues for capacity building. It can do so by:

    • developing and providing training courses for public procurement officials that are specifically targeted at different profiles

    • introducing a help desk function that provides support for contracting authorities in case of doubt

    • introducing an incentive scheme tied to a clear career path for public procurement officials. This can be accomplished by:

      • launching twinning arrangements to learn from more advanced colleagues in the region or in the organisation

      • co-operating with academic institutions and others.

  • Nuevo León should create clear aspirations by introducing a certification mechanism that:

    • communicates clear goals that have to be fulfilled in order to receive a certificate

    • and offer incentives based on the certification scheme.

  • The state should respond to needs for specialised knowledge by:

    • providing targeted training in those areas that require additional skills, such as in complex procurement procedures or when incorporating complementary policy objectives.

4.3.2. Offer targeted capacity building beyond the public procurement workforce

To ensure maximum effectiveness of capacity building measures in the area of public procurement, Nuevo León could target suppliers by:

  • Offering measures that will help suppliers build capacity. These can include:

    • increasing the success of public procurement procedures by increasing the market’s ability to respond to contracting authorities’ demand in terms of offers

    • providing training for companies on how to respond correctly to a tender, how to avoid mistakes, etc.

  • Raising awareness around public procurement issues. The state can accomplish this by:

    • communicating changes in rules and requirements

    • and communicating opportunities for capacity building.

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