by Peter Holtmann
I recently attended a national registrar event in the United States at which there was agenda item regarding the future of the auditor talent pool. Attendees of the conference were concerned that the lack of new talent coming into the profession would create a skills gap in the coming years.
Someone commented that it should be the job of trade associations for auditors to come up with the solution to this future concern. I say the problem stems from the roots of the auditing profession, not its branches. Let’s discuss why.
Auditors are generally bred in companies that operate conformity assessment programs. They spend years reviewing and assessing applications for certification. We see these internal auditors move through middle management to systems managers before they move beyond full-time employment into self-employed consultants or contract auditing. Such is the trend these days. What we see very little of is college students or students at private training centers planning a career in auditing. Why? Well, there are several reasons.
Experience is still the most sought-after qualification for personnel entering the auditing profession. I recently read an article by Jay Garcia that was published in The CEO magazine that discusses education vs. experience. In it, he argues that industries facing skills shortages are still seeking subject matter experts with college degrees and deep industry connections. Trouble is, these folks are usually not willing to move to accept new employment, cost more than the budget allows, and are in very short in supply.
The auditing profession faces this same challenge. We are forever seeking experienced auditors who will puddle-jump for career advancement; yet we all know who these folks are and they know us. It’s a seller’s market, so to speak. That said, we should be taking a page from thought leaders in other industries and train inexperienced professionals from available talent pools to “make” the auditor of the future. These newcomers are motivated to learn and advance up the career ladder, so why not tap this energy and mold them into future auditors?
This approach sometimes breeds the argument that bringing inexperienced personnel onto job sites leads to litigation, health and safety, and security issues, among others. Too many people on one site at a time with too few consenting clients leads to an occlusion of risk management and client outcomes, naysayers might say.
My response to this criticism is that ISO 19011 solves these potential problems. According to this standard, the audit program manager is obliged to construct audit teams of suitable skills and attributes, so there is nothing precluding the use of new recruits on an existing audit team—especially if they arrive from tertiary fields as subject matter experts. A balanced audit team has a mix of leadership, technical, investigative, reporting, and presentation competencies. It should be easy to find suitable new recruits that satisfy at least one of these competency requirements.
The value of conformity assessment to any organization is a chestnut waiting to be roasted. At the conference I attended, organizers released the results of an industry survey about the value of certification in the United States. Unsurprisingly, one of the top five complaints about auditing was the lack of consistency in audit outcomes between registrars and their audit teams. This leads to a lack of confidence in our industry and a hard sell for those working within it to demonstrate their value.
The constant need to defend the audit process, the value driven by outcomes, and the need to include ever-more standards into a single audit adds pressure to auditors. At what point is the auditor’s value optimized? When can the auditor conclude that he or she has achieved a constructive outcome?
Unfortunately, the cost of on-site third-party audits often makes achieving positive outcomes difficult. Clients want the audit to end as soon as possible to avoid paying additional day rates. This leaves the auditor in the unenviable position of trying to prove his or her value to both the client and the registrar.
This perception of value was reinforced by a presentation during the conference by a standards user in the security sector. The comments during the presentation were that registrars consistently send auditors to audit processes that they have no qualification, competence, or experience with. This is obviously a controversial position, but there was no push back from the registrars in the room. Only representatives from an accreditation body spoke up about it. Why is this? Is the complaint accepted as fact by registrars? Is there no evidence to support the case? Or is there no one who will support the auditing profession?
It’s not hard to see that our industry faces an image problem. Despite our best intentions and arguments, we have yet to address the key concerns of labor resources, value, and market appeal. Our demographics on the auditing profession indicates that the average age of an auditor working in the field today is 55 to 65 years old. Our talent pool is shrinking and we are losing—at an increasing rate, I might add—the largest population of our professionals through retirement.
Recruiting future auditors
We need to take action as an industry to face this issue. All stakeholders must be engaged to ensure that we have the focus, resources, strategy, and outcomes we need. We need to be clear on the root cause and work together to solve it. The initiative will require funding and commitment to attract the future auditors we are looking for and to retain the talent we have.
The career diversity, advancement opportunities, monetary compensation and comparisons to other industries, and the ease of entry into the industry needs be addressed and effectively communicated to potential future auditors.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this topic and I’m quite sure it won’t be last. Auditing is an important profession that changes daily according to the course of domestic and international trade. It improves quality of life for people around the world, ensures their safety, security, and market confidence, and assists developing nations to gain presence and economic acceptance in global markets.
To allow the auditing industry to devolve into a self-certified, internally controlled process would be a shame and a waste of years of effort to advance it.
About the author
Peter Holtmann is president and CEO of Exemplar Global (formerly RABQSA International Inc.) and has more than 10 years of experience in the service and manufacturing industries. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and has worked in industrial chemicals, surface products, environmental testing, pharmaceutical, and nutritional products. Holtmann has served on various international committees for the National Food Processors Association in the United States and on the Safe Quality Foods auditor certification review board.