Let’s say you are purchasing a shirt to make an outfit complete. As you look for a shirt, you consider all of the attributes needed to make the right decision. You evaluate price, quality, and availability before selecting the best shirt for you. If you like the shirt enough, you may even settle on that particular brand as one of your go-tos for the next time you need a shirt. Millions of consumers go through this decision-making process every day.
This same decision-making process is conducted by a purchasing agent (or procurement agent) when purchasing goods. Rather than having a shirt to make an outfit complete, a purchasing agent buys materials needed to make a whole product, such as steel for a car. Much like consumers when purchasing items for daily life, a purchasing agent’s overall goal is to buy the best products at the lowest possible prices.
What Is a Purchasing Agent?
Purchasing agents/managers are also known as procurement agents/managers. This guide covers the work of purchasing agents/managers, procurement agents/managers, and buyers.
Purchasing agents play an integral role within an organization’s supply chain. If a company engages in production or warehousing, material purchasing contributes to the end product. Purchasing agents evaluate suppliers and the material they produce to determine what products would be best for their supply chain. Purchasing agents usually fall within their own department and work closely with operations to determine accurate ordering needs, material needs, and supply chain coordination.
What Do Purchasing Agents Do?
Overall, the goal of a purchasing agent is to keep cost-effective, quality material moving throughout the supply chain efficiently. Purchasing agents may also participate in demand planning and forecasting, in which their goal is to close the gap on material constraints and fulfill customer demand.
This is accomplished by keeping a close eye on lead times, scheduling order deliveries, and coordinating overall material flow. Whenever material constraints occur, purchasing agents may need to locate alternative vendors and negotiate new contracts. Without purchasing agents, supply chain operations cannot retrieve the material required to conduct production or fulfill orders.
How to Become a Purchasing Agent
Most purchasing agent positions will require a Bachelor’s in Supply Chain Management or a related field. While most related fields pertain to business, other degree fields work in this industry, such as mathematics, economics, or engineering. A purchasing agent role is rather math-heavy, so being knowledgeable in data and numbers is essential.
While you do not need a master’s degree to become a purchasing agent, it may be required to become a purchasing manager. A purchasing manager is a senior-level position that requires years of experience and, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. Some companies will allow advancement into top-level purchasing management roles without a master’s degree, while others prevent individuals from advancing without one.
Purchasing agents can be entry-level positions for college graduates seeking to get into supply chain. This varies from company to company, as some companies prefer one to two years of experience in some form of an inventory or purchasing role.
To move into a purchasing manager role, you will need to get a few years of experience under your belt. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, purchasing managers typically must have five years of experience as a buyer or a purchasing agent. As you progress throughout the management chain in purchasing positions, there will become overlap with other functions of supply chain, such as operations, planning, logistics, and marketing.
Professional certifications for purchasing agents are available but usually are not required. There may be employers who do want to see professional certifications, especially in senior-level positions. These certifications include the following:
- Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP)
- Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)
- Senior Professional in Supply Management (SPSM)
- Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB)
The Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) certification is specific to government workers who work in procurement. The other certifications apply to any other industry within supply chain and are great resume-builders.
Important Skills for Working as a Purchasing Agent
Purchasing agents need to communicate, analyze data, engage in problem-solving, and manage resources effectively. Purchasing agents also need to have a strong memory and attention to detail to ensure that they are on top of orders at all times. Organizational skills are also a must as nothing can fall through the cracks in customer fulfillment. Overall, here are the most important skills to have as a purchasing agent:
- Strong attention to detail/memory
- Math skills
- Effective communication
- Negotiating skills
- Analytical skills
Stress management is another crucial skill that will be useful within this role because supply chain environments are fast-paced and time-sensitive. Clients may reach out regarding constraints and need material to fulfill deadlines, requiring sourcing from alternative vendors and reducing lead times.
The Career Path of a Purchasing Agent
The career path of a purchasing agent may include a few different directions based on the company and what the individual seeks to do. Purchasing agents who stay within purchasing and want to continue moving into higher positions may become purchasing managers after a few years.
Purchasing managers oversee more complex procurement tasks and managerial duties, such as supervising a team of purchasing agents. Purchasing managers usually will be among the final decision-makers when it comes to onboarding new suppliers, negotiating contracts, and ultimately delegating duties among their team of suppliers. Once in a purchasing manager role, the options beyond that point include any senior-level management position such as purchasing director or supply chain manager. However, becoming a purchasing agent will not limit you to purchasing manager roles. You will be able to shift into other non-purchasing-related positions within the supply chain.
Types of Purchasing Agent Jobs
There are a few different titles that a purchasing agent can fall under, but all of the general tasks are relatively the same. Each company has its own version of a purchasing agent, but the most common titles/purchasing agent jobs include the following:
- Purchasing Manager (Next Step Up)
- Order Management
- Procurement Specialist
These job postings will have similar requirements in education, experience, roles, and responsibilities. The exception is purchasing manager positions, which will require more experience and potentially a higher degree.
Purchasing Agent Job Description
The specific job description will vary from each company, but the general role and responsibilities of a purchasing agent include the following:
- Negotiating supplier contracts and interacting with suppliers regularly to keep track of delivery times/fulfillment dates
- Analyzing consumer demand and forecasting to ensure they meet customer fulfillment dates
- Locating alternative vendors when material constraints persist or items are too expensive
- Evaluating prices, quality, and availability of material
- Traveling to supplier facilities and interviewing vendors about all aspects of a product
The job description of a purchasing manager will be nearly the same as a purchasing agent, with the main difference being the focus on management. A purchasing manager will do the same tasks as a purchasing agent but will handle more complex duties and oversee a team of buyers.
Career Outlook for Purchasing Agents
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for a purchasing agent is projected to decline roughly 4% from 2020 to 2030. Since procurement tasks do not require being in the office or a facility, a significant portion of purchasing agent positions are being outsourced and automated. There are still job openings for purchasing agents, buyers, and purchasing managers, but some of this reflects the need to replace workers who transition to other roles or retire.
Purchasing agent positions are a great place to begin your supply chain career, but they may not be the best long-term career path.
How Much Do Purchasing Agents Make?
Purchasing agents make roughly $67,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The range of wages depends on the industry. High-end purchasing agents work in government and make a median annual wage of $81,720 a year; the low end includes those working in retail trade making roughly $53,960 a year. Purchasing managers make significantly more than purchasing agents, as salary.com states the average salary is approximately $122,000 annually.
Individuals who are data-focused, effective communicators, and enjoy fast-paced environments may be the perfect match for a purchasing agent role. As the role is almost entirely data-focused, analytical professionals will thrive in this position. It is important to keep in mind that while career projections point to a decline, this is a great entry-level position for those seeking to get a feel of the supply chain industry.