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DCE Magazine

Career Spotlight: Contract Management

Summer 2017

It might not be as top-of-mind as some high-profile business positions.

In fact, some people don't know it even exists — but it continues to garner attention as companies empower this person to impact the bottom line. Take a hard look at the advantages of a career in contract management — not the least of which is a median annual salary of $105,000* — and suddenly it seems downright desirable.

Contract managers are often rising stars within a company, interfacing with nearly every department from marketing and legal to finance and HR. They devise and negotiate creative contract solutions that can save a company millions, streamline operations, and navigate a dynamic global economy. Not incidentally, it's also an excellent gateway to upper management positions.

It could be the hottest career you've never heard of — and the need for new blood has never been greater.

“Most people don't realize the level of creativity and innovation needed for the job,” said Ed Velasquez, a UCI DCE alumnus who runs his own contract management firm. “People picture us sitting at a desk all day shuffling papers and going over legal jargon. But there's so much more to it. You have to stay on top of economic trends, pay attention to foreign currency fluctuations, and come up with creative and complex solutions.”

For example, when Velasquez worked for L.A. Metro he devised an imaginative plan to ship an entire rail car by aircraft from Italy to LAX, by way of Iceland and Canada.

The entire trip took only 36 hours instead of the usual 40 days to deliver it by ship and truck, saving Metro valuable time and money.

“It's a lot more interesting than people might think,” he said. “That's why I have no plans to retire, even though my son keeps asking. I'm having too much fun.”

Contract management 101

Think of a contract manager as an in-house business consultant, someone who manages risk and compliance with a balance of legal and financial expertise, said Julianne Hagan, a Contract Management instructor and advisory board member at UCI DCE.

Whether on the buying or selling side, they draft and negotiate contracts, then manage performance once they're executed. “That's when issues arise,” Hagan said. “Project managers and others look to the contract manager to recommend a course of action in compliance with the contract.”

A highly valued skill set within a company, contract management expertise can easily transfer from one industry to another, anything from government agencies to multinational corporations and even small businesses, making it exceptionally versatile and portable.

With the profession dominated by Baby Boomers nearing retirement age and beyond, there's a looming shortage for this crucial role — and robust demand for new blood.

“Unfortunately, most young people don't know the position exists,” said Velasquez, who earned a contract management certificate in 1992 and now sits on the program's advisory board.

He points to an industry study that found 75% of contract managers in the U.S. are Baby Boomers. At L.A. Metro, the average age was 62.

“There is definitely a gap. More seasoned contract managers who have long careers are retiring,” Hagan said. “And there is a lack of people who have been groomed to fill those positions. There has been a big push in the past 15 years or so to try to fill that gap.”

First steps

The path to a career in contract management can take many forms. Since the job requires so much collaboration between departments, candidates from any number of backgrounds can jump-start their careers through continuing education.

“People come into the career in various ways,” Hagan said. “Many start out as secretaries, administrative assistants, contract specialists or procurement clerks. Others have a bachelor's degree when they get started — usually in business administration, public administration, finance, political science or accounting.”

Hagan started as a legal secretary at a computer company while working her way to a B.A. Once she got her degree, she began managing contracts for a number of companies over her career, from nonprofits to Fortune 500 corporations.

Velasquez was running his own company maintaining aircraft at John Wayne Airport when a client suggested he take the UCI certificate course and join his company. After retiring from L.A. Metro he launched his business, Capitol Government Contract Specialists, and even served on the board of the National Contract Management Assn. (NCMA) in Washington D.C.

“People often start in another department in their company, then go back to school and get their specialized certificate,” he said.

Offering a direct path to this lucrative career, the DCE's Contract Management certificate program addresses the core competencies recognized by the NCMA, including contract formation, negotiation, financial analysis and risk management.

Coursework covers the latest advances in commercial and government sectors, including new approaches to international business. Students get a solid background in managing federal contracts, strategic alliances, global outsourcing and more. Credits can be applied towards NCMA certification requirements, a valuable resource for career advancement.

“Some programs can be tightly focused on a single aspect of contract management, but UCI strives for a more comprehensive approach,” Hagan said. “UCI's program is more robust and broader in nature – including a balanced focus on commercial and government segments.”

Spreading the word

Although a career in contract management might be far off the radar for most Millennials, that could soon change. With demand rising, look for it to start attaining a higher profile.

“It's just a matter of educating people on the perks of a career in contract management,” Velasquez said. “For instance, I helped give a presentation to 25 guidance counselors at College of the Canyons, and none of them had heard of contract management as a career option. But once they heard the median salary was $105,000 a year, they suddenly became very interested.”

*NCMA 2015 Salary Survey