Purchasing agents usually focus on the day-to-day purchasing tasks, sometimes specializing in a group of products or commodities. They follow price trends, market conditions, and futures markets. Purchasing agents attempt to secure the best merchandise at the lowest cost for their company or organization. Purchasing agents determine the type of goods or services that need to be purchased, choose the suppliers for those goods and services, and ensure that orders are filled correctly and at the appropriate time. They determine suppliers based on criteria such as price, quality, service support, availability, reliability, and selection. They research this information, as well as the reputation and history of the suppliers. This is done over the Internet, or in person, such as at trade shows, conferences, or at a supplier's production facility. Once a supplier is determined, purchasing agents award a contract that often lasts several years.
Purchasing agents need to be proficient in word processing, spreadsheet software, and the Internet. Besides good communication skills and the ability to analyze data, other skills include mathematical knowledge, knowledge of supply-chain management, and the ability to negotiate and perform financial analyses. They should be excellent decision-makers and planners, and also possess leadership qualities.
In 2002, purchasing agents, except those who worked in wholesale, retail, and farm products, earned a median annual salary of $45,090. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10 percent, who earned less than $27,950, and the highest 10 percent, who earned more than $73,990. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of purchasing agents:
- Federal Government - $101,290
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing - 98,000
- Management of companies and enterprises - 97,420
- Local government - 90,030
- General medical and surgical hospitals - 89,520
Training and Education
The type of degree candidates are required to have depends on the size of the organization that hires them. Large wholesale and retail stores usually require applicants to have a bachelor's degree with an emphasis on business, while manufacturing firms prefer candidates with a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, business, economics, or an applied science. However, for those who wish to advance to management positions, a master's degree is essential. New employees spend 1 to 5 years learning their specific business from experienced employees, and gradually receive greater responsibility.
In 2002, purchasing agents held about 264,000 jobs. 42 percent were employed in wholesale trade and manufacturing, 15 percent worked in retail, and the rest worked in service establishments, such as hospitals and government.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of purchasing agents is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Purchasing information is now easier to obtain, thanks to electronic commerce over the Internet. This has greatly increased the productivity of purchasing agents and slowed demand for these positions. In addition, companies can now deal with fewer suppliers on a less frequent basis, due to the introduction of exclusive supply contracts and log-term contracting.Please visit our section on Business Administration Degrees for more information on becoming a Purchasing Agrent.