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SaferPak: Food Packaging Safety, Food Safety, Business Improvement and Quality Management
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A Guide to Finding and Keeping Quality Engineers
By Roland Lee

Finding and keeping good engineers is a critical part of any supervisory / managerial role and one to which significant time should be allocated in order to achieve the desired outcome. Everyone wants to attract and retain top staff, but few assign sufficient resource to actually achieving this fundamental goal.

From the manager’s perspective, recruitment is often an infrequent part of his / her job and not one on which they are generally measured. Furthermore, there is often internal pressure to fill the position quickly. For a busy manager, getting the job done means they can get on with their many other responsibilities.

Long-term staff stability is nowhere more essential than in quality-specific roles, where consistency is especially important and where training costs are high. External facing staff are another example where continuity is paramount to maintain a consistent image for the company.

Thus, identifying and appointing the right people for the roles in question is absolutely essential to the future stability and consequent success of individual teams and the organisation in general.

All too often, however, this vital task is hurried and poorly executed, with a short-term fix applied rather than a long-term solution sought.

Minimising Training Costs
In any technical role, training is vital; but it is also time consuming and expensive. The need to retain those who have already undergone training may seem blindingly obvious; but many overlook the longer term cost implications in their panic at having to fill the skills gap left by the individual who has left.

By retaining those who have already built up their skill sets, training costs can be kept to a manageable level and a much greater diversity of skills developed within the team.

Internal v External
When looking to recruit, many organisations are unwilling to consider potential candidates from within their own ranks, choosing instead to look outside and appoint an unknown quantity into their midst.

Clearly there are benefits to both internal and external recruitment, but the former should not be overlooked in any situation. Internal appointments can prove highly motivational for other team members, demonstrating the loyalty of an organisation to its staff in preference to outsiders. The downside, however, is that a team may be left wondering why one member has been singled out for promotion above others.

External recruitment, on the other hand, provides the chance to introduce new blood, a different outlook and fresh thinking on all manner of issues. The danger here is that unless an in-depth, qualitative recruitment process is involved, little is known about the new person, their personality or their abilities.

There is a balance to be struck between internal and external recruitment, although this is only relevant on a multi vacancy recruitment process.

All these different aspects must be weighed up at the outset and the conclusions drawn must be carried through to the next stage of the process.

Define The Roles

The next step is to define, in detail, all the roles within the quality function so that the scope of the new position is clear and unequivocal. Most individuals perform better when working to an agreed set of goals and will – as a result - work more effectively as a team. Such goals should be regularly reviewed and both parties given the opportunity to offer input into future direction and any areas of concern.

The technical requirements of the role will depend on the industry and processes involved with services / products, components and raw materials also having an impact. Whether any experience of all, or some, of these aspects are essential, important or desirable is a further decision to be made at an early stage in the recruitment process.

The revolution in the whole sphere of quality, with the disappearance of the old style reactive patrol inspector, has brought individual responsibility for quality to all areas of a business – from the cleaner to the financial director and the design engineer to the production manager.

Proactive continuous improvement engineers now develop and implement new processes and systems across every function within an organisation to move towards even greater efficiency and higher quality levels.

Quality is very much regarded as a consultancy service in all functions, from design to after sales service - where interaction with customer and supply chains is all part of the quality remit. External facing staff have a unique role in reflecting the internal quality achievements and aspirations of the company to the outside world.

Although individuals now take on increasing responsibility for their own quality issues, junior quality technician roles continue to exist to support and administrate quality activities. Those recruited into these positions should ideally be the engineers and managers of the future who will carry with them an in-depth understanding of the business itself. Hence, time and energy must be put into their recruitment to ensure suitable individuals are appointed.

The Personality Game
Once detailed documentation of the technical aspects of the role has been produced, managers must turn their attention to the personality characteristics and academic abilities required and develop formal person specifications to assess against at interview or other selection process.

Often, those without the ‘necessary’ qualifications on paper are dismissed at the first hurdle. But, there should be a concerted effort at this stage to establish an individual’s potential to learn in addition to existing qualifications. Many do not fulfil their full promise at an early age and are capable of a great deal more, given the right environment and encouragement to succeed.

The comprehensive exclusion of an entire group of people based solely on their existing qualifications could rule out some very capable candidates who simply need the right environment in which to thrive.

The question of whether the new person will fit in with the existing group is one which cannot be overlooked. The dynamics of a team play an important part in its overall efficiency and effectiveness and should be harnessed to maximise the potential benefits.

These are difficult issues which may seem impossible to measure.

Assessment programmes, designed to meet very specific recruitment needs, define the competencies required for individual roles and measure candidates against those roles in a consistent and objective manner. The in-depth interview and evaluation techniques involved in achieving this will help to highlight a candidate’s personality traits and intellectual capacity, thereby improving the likelihood of appointing the right person.

In this way – a more detailed picture of an individual can be developed and a more realistic view taken on whether they are suitable for a particular role.

Routes to Success

There are a number of accepted paths to a career in quality.

A move straight from school into an apprentice or other trainee role is common, whilst changing from another functional area into the quality side is also popular.

Qualifications in quality are available at all levels from ONC and HNC to degree and beyond. Graduate quality engineers – although still somewhat rare – are becoming more common. They offer proven academic capabilities and an understanding of the whole quality issue and should develop into a valuable member of the quality team with the right training and experience.

The most sought after quality engineers are those who offer functional expertise (whether in the form of qualifications or experience) supplemented with quality skills and / or qualifications. These individuals provide an in-depth understanding of their own area of specialism, together with an insight into the quality function.

Wherever the appointment is to be made, be sure always to use the same process. The more intense the process, the more time spent with potential candidates, the more organised and planned it is, the greater insight you have into each person’s potential. This will reduce the risk of taking on the wrong person and improve your chances of finding someone who will truly offer what the organisation needs – both now and in the future.

Select well and you should be able to appoint someone with a ‘hands-on’ style but of graduate calibre.

Retention Strategies

Whatever the nature of the individual concerned, if they are good at their job, you must look long and hard at how to retain their services within your organisation. The single most important element in achieving this is to establish what they want.

What aspects of the job do they most enjoy? How do they see their role developing?

Allowing staff to develop skills in their chosen area – even if this is not immediately relevant to the company or their current role – will encourage people to stay. Remember that a stable team is a productive team.

Developing a forward plan with individual members of staff (or ‘setting goals’ as mentioned above) will provide both parties with the opportunity to define areas of particular interest at an early stage in the relationship. Revisiting this plan at frequent intervals will ensure everyone is clear on exactly what is expected of both company and employee as time progresses.

In addition to simply acknowledging that staff have a particular area of interest, successful businesses will actively encourage staff to develop this interest. By facilitating further qualification of staff, motivation levels will be improved and team spirit boosted. This all adds to the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole and will positively affect the bottom line in the long term.

Clearly, the financial incentives offered to staff cannot be overlooked. But when questioned, many people cite a lack of emotional reward as a primary reason for moving on to pastures new.

A highly motivated team often comes down to the skills of a good manager who rewards with praise when targets are met or projects completed. Companies who instill into their management the skills to offer up public praise, or private acclaim where appropriate, will succeed beyond those who simply provide financial rewards to successful individuals.

Best Practitioners
Some of the best examples of consistently successful recruitment programmes come from the automotive sector, which adopts what may seem very time-consuming recruitment processes. But the life-cycle costs for individual employees are considerably lower than for companies who continually recruit to fill gaps left by dissatisfied staff.

Many of these automotive companies are at the forefront of recruitment and retention trends, offering their employees a highly structured approach to their future development and the opportunity to progress through the organisation on achieving specific, pre-defined goals. Workforces are stable, long term and highly skilled – often across a number of different functional areas within the business.

Identifying your needs is the most important step in the process of finding good, quality engineers. Without first doing this, the subsequent search will be directionless and will rely too heavily on personality, rather than in the search for the specific competencies required and the characteristics most likely to complement the existing team.

Technical requirements must also be considered and existing experience measured against the ability of someone to learn new skills if necessary.

The existing workforce should be the first place to look for people to fill a newly vacant role unless there is a very specific reason for wanting to make an external appointment. An external recruitment programme is the next step, though even internal selection creates an ultimate gap which may need filling elsewhere in the organisation. Hence, external recruitment may be required as a direct result of an internal appointment. This recruitment should, in turn, be handled in the same scrupulous fashion.

Once you have found and appointed your ideal candidate – look after that person. Find out what their aspirations are and help them achieve these. Help them to develop as individuals and encourage them along the way.

Managers and directors who take all these issues on board and invest the necessary time to adopt a thorough process will appoint the right people and reap the rewards of huge time and cost savings by building a stable, effective and happy team.


Although Roland Lee specialises in quality / Six Sigma recruitment, the same principals hold true for any recruitment activity. Anyone wanting to discuss their own selection or recruitment needs should call Roland on 01384 397555 or visit the Jonathan Lee Recruitment website at www.jonlee.co.uk




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