More and more food companies are experiencing difficulties attracting or, at the very least, retaining the right QA personnel. While the vacancies remain unfilled, not only does the focus on quality and food safety threaten to wane, but the gap that potential candidates must bridge at the start is also growing. “There is an urgent need to invest in QA personnel”, is the sentiment at KTBA. Although managing director Kobe van Looy and regional managers Lien Thoen and Valerie Vanhove (all KTBA Belgium) are not necessarily talking about financial compensation.
A real war on talent is raging. After all, there are not many potential candidates for a QA position, while the need for those profiles is steadily increasing under the influence of stricter standards. “As a result, the pressure on both food companies and personnel is increasing,” says Kobe van Looy. “If employees experience insufficient support from their employer, they will quickly look for other places. Ultimately, we end up in a vicious circle.” KTBA sees several possibilities to break the downward spiral of staff shortages. Both the own engagement and that of the sector are decisive.
Show the daily practice
Van Looy starts at the basis. “Students are not sufficiently aware of exactly what a QA manager does. In fact, in many relevant courses it is simply not discussed enough. Students do not know that it is a possibility, and those who do know often have a distorted view. For example, they think it is a purely theoretical profession.” “Unjustified”, Lien Thoen adds, “because as a QA manager you are completely immersed in the practice. You get a lot of responsibility and there is a lot of variety. Anyone who has an internship in a quality department will notice this immediately. That is why we encourage food companies to sign up for internships as much as possible.
Invest in training
Higher education, however, is just the beginning. Thoen: “The quality requirements in the food sector are so strict and versatile that a QA manager needs a lot of knowledge and expertise. They need to be a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, who knows about food safety as well as sustainability, labeling and digitalization. Not to mention the inherent changeability of all those standards.” Anyone who wants to evolve with the market, therefore, has no choice but to update their knowledge regularly. “Unfortunately, there are very few QA managers who actually have the opportunity to do so. It is up to the food companies to create room for this and to invest in training for their staff.”
Utilize the right knowledge and tools
Yet there is no such thing as the complete QA manager. Van Looy: “It makes no sense to look for someone who has all that specialized knowledge. That person does not exist. But you also don’t need all that knowledge every day either. Sometimes it is enough to get notified and support when something actually changes. That is the task of our knowledge center, for example, so that the QA manager himself can remain on the work floor.” “In addition, we are making more and more tools available to increase efficiency in the field,” Thoen adds. “Think of digital inspection reports and databases. This quickly saves a QA manager a lot of typing and research, which again relieves the pressure on his shoulders.”
Should the QA manager be out of commission and the vacancy is not immediately filled, then, according to Valerie Vanhove, it is above all important to safeguard the continuity. “If you neglect the duties, not only will safety and quality be compromised, but in many cases, you will also build up a backlog. That is not an optimal start for a new employee, and if the gap is too large, you run the risk that they will even retract themselves.” There is no point in temporarily shifting responsibility to other staff members. “On the one hand because they often do not have the right knowledge, on the other hand, because this will increase the workload once again. Then it is better to outsource the role to a specialized partner. KTBA employs dozens of consultants who can be flexibly deployed in such cases and monitor everything. This way you not only take care of your current, but also your future personnel.”