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Having exclusively spent our careers focused on engineering and manufacturing, we have not seen a time when quality has played a more central role both for organizations focused on quality as a key strategic pillar and for consumers who expect high-quality, innovative products. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the quality discipline as organizations rush to shore up and diversify their supply networks, work at breakneck speed to get product to market, make data-driven decisions and proactively identify and solve future problems. These are all areas where quality provides value.

Pre-COVID, quality was already under enormous pressure as digitalization changed the landscape, leading to easier access to critical information and analytics to ensure every output was better than the last. Quality teams needed to manage the increasing number of data streams, address the reality of misaligned quality systems and processes, and meet rapidly changing standards. To top it all off, the pressure for quicker innovation forced quality professionals to balance the integrity and security of process and product standards, overall cost and groundbreaking design.

Today, the pandemic continues to force quality professionals to operate differently. Thankfully, digital technologies allow greater transparency to data streams internally and across the supply network, and many organizations have increased their investment in systems and tools to more quickly diagnose and predict quality failures in both design and deployed product. For many companies, the data already exists, but they need professionals with the right skills and experience to know how to effectively use the data.

Unfortunately, we continue to face a significant shortage of quality professionals across several career fields, including engineers, managers and technicians. This shortage of talent puts additional strain on an already-overtaxed team and the adjacent roles that together drive an organization’s total quality management system. COVID-19 also is accelerating an evolution of quality standards across multiple industries, further complicating the landscape and stressing talent resources.

5 tips to improve your quality team

The call to action for every quality organization is to be ahead of the game when evaluating talent. As we see in the headlines, a mistake in quality can cost millions of dollars and undo reputations that took decades to build. Those mistakes all too often are the result of failing to get the right talent in the door to deliver on the quality promise. Our message to companies building quality teams, especially in this post-COVID era, is as follows:

  • Invest in your search for the best quality talent on the market. The business case is simple: In a world where consumers expect high-quality products and can instantly share their experience with the masses, you need to make sure you have the best talent money can buy and who are committed to the quality mission. The future of quality at your organization is heavily influenced by the quality of your talent. The ROI of paying a little more to get the right person is more evident than ever before.

     

  • Understand when it’s critical to have industry-specific background. Industry experience may be essential, especially as the regulatory environment and processes differ widely from sector to sector. In other roles and industries, it’s more plausible to consider personality and transferable (trainable) skills and industry experience. Having clarity on where each strategy works best is critical. 
  • Consider communication and influence skills as necessities. In the report “The Future for Workers, By Workers: Making the Next Normal Better for All,” Manpower found that although technical and industry background are important, soft skills are equally critical. When was the last time you considered your quality personnel as marketers needing to influence and persuade? In order for quality to be integrated into the product life cycle in a valuable way (redirecting design, using advanced prognostics to predict failure, troubleshooting post-consumer deployment and evaluating quality practices in the supply chain), professionals will need to better communicate their value to teams versus being seen as the “Department of No.” Quality professionals are key advocates of customers’ interests, and the impact should be evaluated with this in mind.
  • Develop your talent attraction and retention strategy. Demand for quality roles has surged, especially in the last six months. Consider whether you want to hire direct or whether hiring contractors or training existing talent makes more sense and develop partnerships that will connect you to key quality talent communities. Also, keep in mind the importance of tapping diverse talent as a key link between quality and customer experience. 
  • Understand where the digital era is headed and upskill accordingly. Quality roles are not isolated from the winds of change; rather, they are evolving and broadening to encompass more disciplines. The key to your strategy is to offer not only a great role in a great environment, but a path for progression into more future-oriented roles. 

The quality discipline has always been critical. COVID-19 and the digital era have driven even more focus on this function as organizations seek to secure and protect the integrity of their product life cycle, their reputation and their supply network. The quality function will need to be ever-more resilient and adaptive, and that in turn will require growth and evolution of your quality teams.

Justin Michalkiewicz is based in Appleton and is the managing director for Manpower Engineering, overseeing the engineering and executive recruiting practice throughout the United States. Tony Del Preto is a vice president for Manpower Engineering and is responsible for helping manufacturers across the United States develop customized strategies to attract and retain engineering talent.