Engineering a Quality Future – Ireland’s competitive advantage

At a time when the UK’s Prime Minister calls a snap general election and Ireland’s National Competiveness Council published its report  ‘Benchmarking Competitiveness: Ireland and the UK, 2017’, it’s time we started to place greater focus on the opportunities being created in this new economic landscape and not just the challenges it brings. In doing so, we must ask what are the key drivers to growing our economy and remaining competitive to attract investment and grow our reputation as a preferred trading partner.

As individuals, what do we look for when we are buying goods and services? Surely, at a macro level, trading partners and potential investors look at Ireland Inc. in the same way.

Is it low cost, value for money, quality, customer service?  As the saying goes “good, fast or cheap – pick two” you can’t have all three. Ireland is not a low cost economy so this rules out this as a pick. So we are left with “good” which is built on skills, innovation and quality and “fast” which is built on service, efficiencies and also quality. Quality is the common denominator.

Why Quality?

It is generally accepted that an enterprise-wide commitment to quality can generate a sustainable competitive advantage. Management invest considerable time and resources monitoring and measuring financial performance, market conditions and competitor analysis and rightly so, but poor quality can ruin a company and on the other side businesses with a strong commitment to quality will build competitive advantage.

In the multinational sector, especially in the life sciences, quality is embedded in the business and must remain a core focus as regulatory compliance to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), EU directives or FDA standards is critical. But it’s not just multinationals and the life sciences sector that can gain from a total quality approach – SMEs and therefore Ireland Inc. can create competitive advantage too. A study published in the European Journal of Innovation Management titled “Quality differentiation for competitive advantage: a contingency approach” (Beal & Lockemy) examines the performance consequences of aligning the competitive strategy of quality differentiation with each of the four fundamental industry life cycle stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The findings suggest that small manufacturing firms can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage vis‐à‐vis quality differentiation across three stages of industry evolution: introduction, growth, and maturity.

A different study over a seven-year period in the US by Hendricks & Singhalc looked at the impact of a Total Quality Management (TQM) approach by comparing the performance of companies who have won quality awards with those that have not. The study shows that quality award winners experienced increased income, sales and total assets during their respective post-quality implementation periods as compared to other companies. They also hired more new employees. And, finally, smaller companies that won quality awards showed more improved operating incomes than larger companies.

Quality can never be an accident and there are many quality methodologies used in industry today. But whether this is TQM, Six Sigma’s Quality Function Development (QFD) or others, they all can deliver competitive advantage when combined with an organisation wide commitment to quality and an incremental approach to quality improvement.

Ireland Inc. is beginning to realise the benefits of a quality approach – Quality Engineering is a key cross sectoral skill and a sector specific skill need in the life sciences sector as specified in the National Skill Strategy 2025. But more needs to be done to embed a quality culture in our economy and in our education system to build competitive advantage for the future.

Careers in Quality

Henry Ford said “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”. Although quality is everyone’s responsibility, dedicated quality professionals partner with the research & development, manufacturing and supply chain teams in multinationals to ensure the design, production and distribution of the product is right, every time and meets regulatory requirements as well as being key players in driving a continuous improvement culture in the organisation. The cross functionality of the role makes it very appealing. A third level qualification in quality, engineering or science is highly desirable for entry level positions in quality and career progression can be supported through post-graduate and professional qualifications.

“I’ve worked on some of the most challenging projects in the biopharma industry. It’s rewarding to be part of the team that develops and tests solutions to ensure the product is delivered on time to the highest standards” – Senior Quality Engineer at Team Horizon.

The ultimate focus of quality professionals in the life sciences sector is patient welfare and quality of life. From initial design to drug/device delivery, it’s all about safety.

At Team Horizon, we see quality careers develop in many different ways, through management progression or into specialisation in areas such as process improvement, health & safety, systems, products or technologies. Currently the areas of quality systems and compliance (QA/QC) and new regulatory introductions are showing a strong demand for good quality professionals. This may grow further depending on Brexit and if this leads to a breakaway from EU regulations for the UK market and the impact this will have on Irish exporters.

Increasingly, we are seeing that quality roles are no longer exclusive to large manufacturing operations as SMEs are recognising the importance of a quality culture and their customer base is also demanding it. Either way, a quality approach is here to stay.

Robert Grealis

CEO, Team Horizon

Robert Grealis is Managing Director of Team Horizon, a dedicated resourcing and recruitment solutions provider specialising in engineering, technical, quality and scientific expertise to the Life Sciences sector, working closely with leading biopharma and medical device companies throughout Ireland and internationally. Team Horizon is ISO 9001 accredited and currently has a number of open roles for Quality professionals.