by Peter Holtmann
New management systems are hybridizing toward environmental and social change, and governments are pushing businesses to be early adopters of these shifts. But where is the skilled work force to implement and monitor compliance to these systems?
In a previous article on the future of the auditing profession I predicted that the need for auditors will remain. What I didn’t elaborate on is the rapidly growing demand for specialized auditors in the developing fields of social standards, energy management, social responsibility, organizational resilience, and the like. Where are these skilled professionals? How do we mobilize them globally? How do we ensure that their competencies meet the requirements of government and industry?
I recently participated in the American Society for Quality’s (ASQ) study on the future of quality. I was selected with 49 other “thinkers” to assist ASQ in defining what the future of quality looks like. Please note that in the context of the study, “quality” relates to all industries seeking change through consistent processes. The study was an effort to examine what quality would look like in 15 years. The results were interesting. They pointed to a significant factor: competent personnel capable of deploying quality concepts through novel methods locally and globally. Another key point that emerged was how to retain and motivate these highly competent personnel when the global stage offers so much scope and opportunity?
To look at these factors I went back to the source—my register of certified professionals—and recent social developments in areas such as security, safety, resilience, energy performance, and control of base commodities (e.g., food and water). I found that the register was growing because of service and market control and external factors such as diversification of traditional audit industries. The quality management system (QMS), environmental management system (EMS), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and food safety sectors were being broken down into smaller, more selective, and highly specialized certification offerings. In other words, they are social systems aimed at demonstrating best practices to the community.
One such example is with carbon emissions and greenhouse gas inventory. You would expect this to be the realm of an EMS auditor, but it’s not. An ideal auditor in this category would be someone who’s competent in financial analysis and audits, engineering, law, business management, and project management. He or she would be even more qualified with a background in an industry sector such as mining, health, or logistics.
This specialization provides a lot of confidence to the customer that he or she is using experts who will deliver value, but it pressures the existing limited number of auditors to improve their skills to meet the demand for niche work or to seek fresh, warm bodies to simply fill the personnel gap. But where are these warm bodies? According to my figures, the number of people who actually enter the auditing profession after completing certification remains well below 10 percent. People are being trained as auditors but they are not entering the audit profession. Where are they going?
The answer in part lies with organizations seeking to improve their employees’ skills as they attempt to keep existing customers and gain new ones. A well-trained salesperson or engineer could bring millions of dollars of new business with a presentation that addresses innovation in corporate social responsibility, for example.
But where is the backup? Who is implementing the innovation and who is checking it? The answer is contractors; specifically, skilled contractors from abroad. Another point the ASQ study highlighted was that skilled labor is highly mobile and can easily be transported country to country. Where a country’s market is developing toward a quality system or practices faster than it can internally resource its implementation or assessment, contractors fill the void. Large certification bodies have known this for a long time: agility and acuity ensures a well-serviced international clientele. But is there enough of these agile professionals to go around? Let’s look at practical example.
I have a client developing an energy management certification program. This is anticipated as being the start of an initiative that will roll out into the Group of Eight (G8), which represents the world’s largest national economies. The first requirement of the program is to roll out the certification program locally and then have an estimated 10,000–15,000 businesses certified by the end of 2012. To accomplish this, we would need approximately 625 general auditors, 3,000 examined and scoped specialists, and 25 certification bodies accredited to provide certification to the standard. Because this is an emerging industry, the time frame was unobtainable.
This is true of a number of emerging areas: social responsibility, greenhouse gas emissions and reduction, and organizational resilience, etc. So where are we finding the people given the lag in training and the global shortage of competent professionals? Some of the resource should be coming from recent university graduates; however, we are not seeing an escalating trend in them coming into the auditing profession. It’s true that the average age of auditors is trending downward, but the audit profession is not “sexy” and not perceived as a financially rewarding career. “It’s one for the zealots,” I recall a colleague remarking once.
What about the use of internal quality system managers as specialized auditors? Are they a source of talent? Well, yes, but their organizations need to be able to take them out of internal management processes and expose them to other sources of standards management within their industries.
Another choice is to retool the current auditor work force. This will occur naturally over time as industry moves toward systems that carry environmental, community, or financial incentives—especially when motivated by governments. Given the current development of personnel certification schemes, the move is away from existing certified auditor personnel and toward new talent in other skilled professions such as engineers, accountants, statisticians, mathematicians, and social scientists.
Where does this leave existing auditors? They are poised to serve as the team leaders of these new skilled professionals; the people with the competence to lead audit teams and apportion audit activities, compile results, and present them to the consumer. This isn’t much of a change from their existing duties, except that they must become broadly knowledgeable with the professions they are leading.
Change is evident; systems are hybridizing to meet government initiatives aimed at promoting environmental or social change. The uptake of these systems will be governed by the number of skilled resources capable of delivering and monitoring to the social standards. This pace will be governed by where and when the skilled talent pool becomes available.
About the author
Peter Holtmann is president and CEO of 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.