Buyers and purchasing agents need a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Purchasing managers need a bachelor's degree and work experience as a buyer or purchasing agent.
Educational requirements usually vary with the size of the organization. A high school diploma is enough at many organizations for entry into the purchasing agent occupation, although large stores and distributors may prefer applicants who have completed a bachelor's degree program and have taken some business or accounting classes. Many manufacturing firms put an even greater emphasis on formal training, preferring applicants who have a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, business, economics, or one of the applied sciences.
Purchasing managers usually have at least a bachelor’s degree and some work experience in the field. A master's degree may be required for advancement to some top-level purchasing manager jobs.
Buyers and purchasing agents typically get on-the-job training for more than 1 year. During this time, they learn how to perform their basic duties, including monitoring inventory levels and negotiating with suppliers.
There are several recognized credentials for purchasing agents and purchasing managers. These certifications involve oral or written exams and have education and work experience requirements.
The Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) credential covers a wide scope of duties that purchasing professionals do. The exam requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of supply management experience.
The American Purchasing Society offers two certifications: the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) and Certified Professional Purchasing Manager (CPPM). These certifications require at least 3 years of purchasing-related experience or a combination of education and experience.
The Association for Operations Management (APICS) offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential.
The National Institute of Governmental Purchasing offers workers in federal, state, and local government, two certifications: Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB) and Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO).
Purchasing managers typically must have at least 5 years of experience as a buyer or purchasing agent. At the top levels, purchasing manager duties may overlap with other management functions, such as production, planning, logistics, and marketing.
An experienced purchasing agent or buyer may become an assistant purchasing manager before advancing to purchasing manager, supply manager, or director of materials management.
Analytical skills. When evaluating suppliers, purchasing managers and agents must analyze their options and choose a supplier with the best combination of price and quality.
Decision-making skills. Purchasing managers and agents must have the ability to make informed and timely decisions in choosing products that will sell.
Math skills. Purchasing managers and agents must possess basic math skills. They must be able to compare prices from different suppliers to ensure that their organization is getting the best deal.
Negotiating skills. Purchasing managers and agents often must negotiate the terms of a contract with a supplier. Interpersonal skills and self-confidence, in addition to knowledge of the product, can help lead to successful negotiation.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition