Never-Ending Learning

by Mohammad Aanas Ruhomally

"You’ll have six questions, worth 25 points each, out of which you’ll be required to answer any four.”

As usual, we pressed for clues—more specifics on what would be included on the test.

“One of the six questions will be on ISO 9001:1994,” the professor said.

That was all she wanted to add, but it was more than sufficient for me. I didn’t want to answer anything on ISO 9001:1994, and now I was relieved to know I could avoid having to do so. I wouldn’t be forced to learn the 20 clauses by heart, which was the least she expected from us.

I passed the quality and reliability exam by answering the questions on statistical process control, internal auditing, failure mode and effect analysis, and reliability testing, thinking it would be my farewell to quality management. Of course, I was wrong.

A few months later, I completed my degree in chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Mauritius and sent application letters and curricula vitae to all companies with even the slightest connection to my qualifications. I received only one reply—a negative one.

Finally, I got an interview for the position of trainer/consultant at a company called TQM Consultants. I was immediately hired because the consulting firm was suffering from high staff turnover at the time. Not very reassuring, but I really couldn’t complain.

The first few weeks were extremely boring—sitting in the office, reading books related to quality, familiarizing myself with the standards and feeling a little envious of my colleagues who were always out of the office. And the fact that I had to wear a tie in the tropical heat of Mauritius, an island about 500 miles east of Madagascar, was a definite problem for me.

Then the big day came. I was to accompany a colleague on a consulting visit at an up-market furniture maker. I had to translate the quality policy into Creole, the language of most of the operatives. This was my first task related to quality.

A few weeks later, I got my first customer, a freight forwarding company that needed help with ISO 9001:2000 registration. The most difficult part of the project by far was learning the international commerce terms.

My induction into quality was complete when I was asked to do part of the training on internal quality auditing for the staff. It all went well, except that I finished half an hour ahead of schedule.

With more years in the business came the desire to learn more and keep myself abreast of the latest tools and techniques in this ever-changing field. I contacted several universities abroad, but the tuition fees were too prohibitive for my modest salary. So it was welcome news when I learned the University of Mauritius was launching a master’s degree program in quality management. I managed to secure a spot and graduated in 2006.

I’ve now been at TQM Consultants, which has been renamed Quensh (quality, environmental, safety and health) Dynamics, for more than five years. I have helped more than 45 organizations achieve certification for their quality, environmental and food safety management systems.

The most interesting part is that I have had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. I’ve discussed strategic issues, such as distribution of petroleum products throughout the country, and have wieghed in on more everyday matters like the replenishment of a first aid kit with a health and safety officer.

I’ve also visited companies in various business sectors—a sugar factory in the morning and a paint manufacturer the afternoon, for instance. In the process, I’ve gathered much more insight into human psychology and behavior than any book on the matter could offer.

My only complaint, perhaps, is that ISO 9001:2000 does not focus enough on employee satisfaction. I have seen companies get certified while the basic rights of employees are not being respected. Maybe this can be addressed in the next revision of the standard.

Still, each time I feel a little discouraged, I find new reasons to believe in the future of quality. Recent articles I’ve read on how quality can improve ethical conduct and corporate social responsibility have been a major boost indeed.

MOHAMMAD AANAS RUHOMALLY is a trainer and consultant for Quensh Dynamics in Moka, Mauritius. He has a master’s degree in quality management from the University of Mauritius in Reduit.

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