LEARNING CURVES INTERVIEWS A QUALITY ASSURANCE SPECIALIST

originally published in the February/March 2010 Issue

As part of our ongoing profiling of careers and the people who work in them, we interviewed Gerard N. who works for a global engineering company based in Oslo, Norway.  It has a 100,000 square foot engineering-manufacturing facility in Pickering to which it has just moved after fifty years in Don Mills.


L. C. What was your first job?


G. N. Working for the Post Office— the Eglinton/Kennedy Postal Station, which is no longer there— as Christmas seasonal help. L.C. Could you describe that job a little? G.N. I worked the evening shift after school, in secondary sorting, i. e., manually sorting mail into pigeon-hole boxes. It was a very tedious job that I’m sure is now fully automated.


L.C. What education did you have at that point?


G.N. I was still in high school at that time as a full-time student, but I knew I didn’t want to do that job for the rest of my life.


L.C. What is your current job?


G.N. I am Quality Assurance Manager for an engineering/manufacturing company in Pickering, Ontario.


L. C. How did you get from there to here— from the post office to engineering?


G.N. I went to college for broadcasting (a 3-year program). Following graduation and a few years working in television Channel 13 in Kitchener and radio CKJD in Sarnia and CFBK in Huntsville, I realized that the money to be made in the Canadian broadcasting industry was pitiful, and I wasn’t interested in being poor all my life. (Very few people make really decent money in broadcasting in Canada.) I was fortunate enough to get a job in the shop of the company where I now work, an international company that designs, manufactures and services pressure equipment for sulphuric acid and oil and gas industries. I started at the bottom – “B” Class Helper. Regardless, I was making more than twice what I made in my previous job in radio—and with full benefits. The job did not require any specific skill-set. I worked in the shop at night with personnel for whom English was a second language. They were good guys, but it was hard to communicate with them not only because of language, but because they were quite happy with their lot in life and had no ambition to do anything other than what they were currently doing. About a year after I started, I was laid-off. Since the shop had a union and I had the least seniority, I was the first one out. During the lay-off, I was able to use my broadcasting background to get a temporary media position with the Workers’s Educational Association (WEA). After about 3 months, I was called back. Once there, it became obvious to me that much like those I worked with, I would never have control over my future if I did not upgrade my skills. Ninety-five percent of shop personnel learned the job they did from someone else, without formal training, and were quite limited in what they could do or where they could go. L.C. So did you get more formal training and how did you end up in Quality Control? G.N. Not long after coming back from the lay-off, an opportunity came up in the Quality Control (QC) department for a junior inspector, as there was soon going to be a retirement. Though I was less experienced than most of the shop personnel, I was comfortable with technical reading and writing as a result of my broadcasting background, so I was asked if I would be interested in the position. I worked in that position for about five years, mostly on the afternoon shift, while at the same time taking courses in Nondestructive Testing. The company sponsored my participation in those courses.


L.C. How did you benefit from participating in these courses?


G.N. I have benefited in so many ways. My career has been varied, interesting and filled with opportunities to use my skills and learn new ones. The opportunity to work internationally came in 1990, when I was asked if I would be interested in an opportunity to work for the company on a project in Taiwan for six months. At the time, I was single and very interested. For six months I worked as a Quality Assurance Inspector (QA) on the company’s behalf. This opportunity turned into an exceptional learning experience. Following the success that I had in Taiwan, I was immediately sent to Belgium on a project that lasted over a month. In the years following, I not only worked in the office as a Senior QC Inspector, but I was also sent on numerous global assignments to provide QA oversight as well as technical service for our proprietary equipment. During this time, I did not take many upgrading courses since I was doing so much travelling. In 1998, I was appointed the QC Manager, with a staff of 4 inspectors. The frequency of my travel was reduced which gave me more opportunity to go back to college to upgrade. As the position is both administrative as well as technical, it was imperative that I improve my skill-set in both areas. I spent the next nine years doing that. Perhaps the most difficult education was the one that I received as a result of taking a company sponsored Project Management program. The Project Management program was held in Houston, TX, hosted by our parent company. The curriculum was a collaborative effort between the University of Calgary and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Students came from as far away as Chile to attend. It spanned almost eight months and required the participants to be in Houston for week long classes every few months with most of the seminars presented as webinars with everyone back at home-base. We were split into project teams of three in order to work on project tasks and presentations. My team consisted of a member in Houston, another in Vancouver and myself in Toronto. To work full-time, work on the assignments and participate in e-learning was very demanding. Even our final exam was done online. (four hours long). In the end, it was a tremendous experience and an exceptional example of how the classroom has changed and maybe, more to the point, how the mode of information transfer has become instantaneous. In 2007, our Vancouver office (projects and engineering) needed a QA Manager who was familiar with the company and its procedures, since they had many projects on the go at the same time and not a lot of time to get someone new and get them up to speed. I was asked to be the QA Manager for Vancouver while still retaining my position as QC Manager in Toronto. Until March of 2009 I held both positions. Once the level of work subsided in Vancouver, I was able to focus on just the Toronto operations. In June 2009, I was appointed QA Manager for the Pickering operations (the company moved from Toronto to Pickering in June 2009). I am now responsible for the company’s Quality Management System as well as the pursuit of Nuclear Design and Manufacturing Certification (along with the Business Development group). The position requires continuous training along with accreditation.


L.C. What satisfaction do you get from your current career?


G.N. The challenge and opportunity to improve myself against past successes and failures. L.C. Do you anticipate any more changes? G.N. Yes. Manufacturing in Canada is constantly evolving, and not always in a good way. Being flexible in technology and in expectations, as well as viewing change in a positive way, allows you to deal with challenges effectively. At my present company, I believe I have been successful by being receptive to new opportunities and developing through continuous education. It isn’t by any means a guarantee of success, but it decidedly improves your chances. In today’s economy that’s as good as it gets.

Toronto, Canada