Purchasing agents buy items and services for use by their own firm or organization such as finished products, parts and raw materials for manufacturing. They make sure the company has the goods and services it requires to operate efficiently.
When making purchases, balancing quality with cost is a major consideration. They perform extensive research in order to locate the best deals for their company. Purchasing agents consider various factors such as price, quality, technical support, availability and reliability when choosing goods and suppliers. Choosing the best suppliers is one of the most important elements of a purchasing specialist's job.
Purchasing agents that are employed by small companies sometimes purchase all the goods for the company. Large companies employ numerous purchasing agents and each agent specializes in specific types of parts or raw materials.
The timing of purchases is an important part of the job. If a manufacturing company runs out of raw materials or parts the production delays can be very costly. Purchasing specialists coordinate their company's production schedule with the suppliers schedules.
- Select and order goods and services
- Prepare purchase orders
- Stay current with prices and market trends
- Negotiate prices and discount terms
- Monitor shipments to make sure goods arrive on time and resolve problems regarding undelivered goods
- Evaluate suppliers
- Work with expediters who take care of a lot of the paperwork, arrange for shipping and perform other tasks
- Attend trade shows
- Authorize payment of invoices
- Analyze pricing proposals
Purchasing professionals sometimes attend meetings, trade shows and conferences to meet with suppliers and stay current with the latest industry trends. They also visit suppliers' plants and distribution facilities to evaluate their capabilities.
Purchasing agents should be proficient with spreadsheets and word processing. Purchasing specialists need the ability to evaluate the technical data included in suppliers' proposals. They should be skilled at performing financial analysis. They also need good planning, mathematical and communication skills.
Employment of purchasing agents has been projected to grow by 14 percent from 2008 to 2018 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008 the median annual earnings for purchasing agents was $53,940. The highest paid 10 percent earned more than $88,790.
Experienced purchasing agents may move up to assistant purchasing manager, purchasing manager, supply manager and director of materials management positions. Typically, a graduate degree in business is helpful in acquiring a higher level position.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Most companies prefer applicants that have earned a bachelor's degree. Some employers seek those with a master's degree in business administration. New purchasing agents usually are provided with extensive on-the-job training.
Many manufacturing companies emphasize formal training and seek applicants that have a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in business, engineering, economics or one of the applied sciences. A master's degree is required for many high level purchasing manager positions.
Beyond education requirements, purchasing agents need to learn about the specifics of the company's business. Purchasing agents also need to be knowledgeable about various software packages and the Internet. Purchasing specialists typically have training periods which last from one to five years.
Many purchasing specialists and purchasing managers attend seminars provided by professional societies and take college courses in supply management. There are several recognized credentials available to purchasing agents and purchasing managers. The American Purchasing Society and the Institute for Supply Management offer certification.
The major employers are private industry, the government, hospitals and schools.
Schools for Purchasing Agents are listed in the Browse Schools Section.