Ian McCabe, CQP MCQI, with quality apprentices Owen Tennant and Victoria Derbyshire (photography by Marcus Harvey). 

Published: 27 Apr 2017

Nuvia has pioneered a groundbreaking apprenticeship scheme to mould the quality professionals of the future. Quality World magazine speaks to quality manager Ian McCabe, CQP MCQI, about the changing requirements for apprentices and their importance for the future of quality.

The quality profession is facing a skills crisis and this is all the more evident in the nuclear industry. According to research by the CQI NucSIG, the nuclear industry will need to recruit 1,000 people a year between now and 2020, and many of these new recruits will need to be at apprentice and graduate level.

Those quality professionals entering the work force in the 1980s are heading towards retirement, leaving behind a void that young professionals need to fill. Project management and safety case authoring are both areas where organisations need to boost skills, and quality management and assurance are quickly being identified as an essential skillset. Quality World magazine spoke to Ian McCabe, CQP MCQI, quality manager and a CQI advocate, to find out how Nuvia is nurturing the next generation of quality leaders.

Why did Nuvia start the apprenticeship programme?

Ian McCabe: We felt we should put our money where our mouth is in terms of really championing the profession. I knew it was possible to take someone with no prior knowledge of quality and show them it could be a magnificent profession. The next generation of candidates were not what we were looking for and they were trying to command a salary that perhaps wasn’t commensurate with the skills set they showed because of how the market is. We want to take a longer-term view to ‘grow our own’ and know that in a few years’ time they will absolutely be worth the salary.

“No matter what your skills and knowledge are, the quality profession has a home for you.”

What are the benefits for apprentices?

I finished up in college and I didn’t have any particular plans for what I was going to do, all of the options were things I didn’t want to do. This scheme didn’t exist when I started out, now it does – we can guide them properly and in a structured way.

What do you look for in a quality apprentice?

We recruit on behaviours and attitudes first and foremost. So we thought long and hard about the assessment centre. We were looking for evidence of certain traits – working in a team and public-facing work experience. We are interested in them as characters, as people. No matter what your skills and knowledge are, the quality profession has a home for you. For the last nine weeks we have been trying to show them why this is the place for them. 

“There are other companies that will train people to do a specific quality role in an attempt to fill a resource gap but we are going to give them a grounding in the entire profession”

Why have you based the programme on the CQI Competency Framework?

We believe in it, we have invested a lot of our time in it as a company and as Chartered Quality Professionals. There may be people who debate the detailed elements of it but you can’t argue with the overall philosophy. On a personal level, I believe the profession can give you your own personal growth and also, as a Corporate Partner, Nuvia believes in the value of investing in the profession. It was the only thing to do.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Getting to know someone 20 years younger than you and trying to find out what they’re passionate about. Steve and I had a three-hour drive to the site with them during their first week and we each took it in turn to choose the music. The only rule was that ‘each of us could choose what we wanted (without being judged) but we had to say why we’d picked that specific song’. It worked well, they opened up and it allowed them to understand me and Steve a bit more without any of us ever really needing to ask any questions. Getting to know them was one big challenge but it was fantastic.

“We believe in (the CQI Competency Framework), we have invested a lot of our time in it as a company and as Chartered Quality Professionals”

What was the biggest surprise?

How correct we were with the two people that we chose. I don’t think there has been an apprenticeship scheme for quality professionals before. There are other companies that will train people to do a specific quality role in an attempt to fill a resource gap but we are going to give them a grounding in the entire profession. We have two fantastic people in our team and they will find a home in the profession regardless of which path they take. I’ve also been surprised by the speed at which they have picked this up – the confidence they have when talking about quality is amazing. They need support but they do step up to the challenge and really make us proud.

What advice do you have for quality professionals hiring apprentices?

Don’t be scared of it, commit to it and don’t try to dumb down subjects for them. Whatever you do, don’t see them as a cheap resource or cheap labour, see them as an investment in the profession for five-to-ten years’ time.