Sunday, March 15, 2015

Encourage the Next Generation of STEM Professionals



ASQ asks the question about the next generation of STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals.   My personal experience is that STEM is very much alive and well, with lots of opportunity to grow, especially in Canada and the United States.  

On a personal note, mentoring and motivating is what I do all the time.  
More importantly, both my sons went through science programs in their university years.  One moved on to the world of high tech and internet start-ups and the other to medicine (In an on-line survey [ http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig/2009/12/06/do-you-consider-medicine-and-t/ ] that asks the question are medicine and allied health professions STEM disciplines(?), over 80 percent vote to the affirmative).  Both have great careers, and importantly have integrated Quality and Improvement into their professional activities and development.

At my university, Engineering is thriving very well.  It continues to have far more applicants than places and continues to require extremely qualified students.  The faculty apparently offers courses in a broad diversity of sub-disciplines at a variety of levels, and apparently all are filled to capacity.

It is difficult to talk about how well or unwell STEM disciplines are doing.  In another fairly recent study [see: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/education/graduates-science-math-computer-science-engineerin.aspx] it appears that there is opportunity for growth in STEM education in North America (see the figure), although I have to say that if this figure is an example of the state of STEM knowledge we have a very serious problem. 


Measuring by percentage of graduates has to be just about the poorest application of statistical analysis, ignoring more important issues like, population size, numbers of universities, variety of faculty choices, and many more important variables.   Without looking too deeply, one can say with absolute and total confidence that the United States creates many, many, many fold more STEM graduates than does Finland. 

If we have an apparent increase in vacancies in STEM positions, I think there are a variety of factors that need to be taken into account, at least in Canada, and probably the United States.


  • At one time the United States dominated in science and technology positions.  Today the positions have become far more internationally distributed. 
  • Since the economic downturn in 2008, the pace of manufacturing job increase has dropped dramatically.  While certain parts of the sector, especially high tech has grown significantly, many other jobs are either sitting, or have left the continent.    As the economy becomes more stable and a sense of confidence returns, many positions will open.  They may look very different from what they looked like in the past,
  • The costs of university education have continued to climb, and many people are questioning the wisdom of leaving school with debt of $200K or more.  Scholarships can make the entry decision easier, but having the confidence of an opportunity when the smoke clears is probably at least as important.

  • If the classifiers of STEM disciplines classify their positions narrowly, they are excluding many graduates that are indeed science oriented. Fields including biotechnology, genetics, pharma, nano-tech, tele-health, are making revolutionary change who we are and what we do and will continue for many years to come.   







Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quality and the Quality Conference




Quality oriented conferences have become prolific these days, even in the Medical Laboratory arena.  This actually makes a lot of sense because Quality has become a very relevant issue at almost every level.  It is a HOT topic.

There are so many aspects of Quality that touch the Laboratory arena include Costs, Clinical Relevancy, Patient Safety, Culture, Risk.  It has become near impossible to keep up with moving trends and recent advances if you are not connected to the Quality community.  

For those of you that visit this site from time to time, you may recall a post that I wrote about 9 months ago:  see http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2014/07/quality-standardization-and-mh17.html  in which I argued the downsides of conference travel including cost, and risk.  Perhaps you may think that my now planning on hosting a meeting might seem a bit hypocritical.  

I would not agree.  Thinking in terms of Risk, one can look at conferences from both a occurrence/severity perspective and a risk/benefit perspective, and I can argue that if a meeting has high enough value of information and is held in a really nice and low risk environment and at a fair cost then the balance of factors leans strongly to the side of hosting and attending.  

So I will start from the positive high value side, or as Crosby would say it “Quality has to be defined as conformance to requirements”.  Will the meeting meet customer requirements?

In a short 2 and a half days, we will have speakers talking on Health-Quality-and the Law, on Safety as the Quality Imperative, on Modern Tools for the Modern Quality Manager, and on techniques to solidify the Culture of Quality.   It will be difficult to find a meeting that will provide a better array of topics.  Within those subjects we will talk about Teaching Quality to Adult Learners, reducing risk through Conflict Resolution, Establishing real time inventories of laboratory error and safety accidents and injuries,  We will look at calculating true costs of poor Quality (how Crosbyesque is that!) and determining risk in pre-and post examination processes.  

We will have presentations and roundtable discussions, and presenter contact time and the opportunities for posters and sponsor interactions.  All in all, this will be a high content conference.  This is exactly the structure that meets the Andragogy criteria for Adult Learning. 

In terms of the potential for bad outcomes by every measure they are very small.  The conference is being held in one of the most picturesque cities in North America (Vancouver BC) at a time with little risk for inclement weather, and essentially no risk for personal adversity.  Vancouver is an ideal city; big enough to be world class, but not so big that you get swamped and hit with major costs.  It is a major travel destination, with easy access from across Canada, the United States, Western Europe and Asia.   Thanks to the recent Olympics there is a truly beautiful and efficient airport, to be sure.  

 So it would be fair, reasonable and accurate to say with conviction that the potential for downside risk from either the occurrence or severity perspective is low-low-low.  

Some of you will want to know more and for those of you interested the preliminary website is available now at:  http://polqm.ca/conference_2015/home.html .

I look forward to meeting with some of you in Vancouver from October 28-30, 2015.  

More information will be available shortly. 
I will keep you informed.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Should Quality “Go Global”?




Bill Troy asks an interesting question about the global nature of Quality, although I might argue the question could equally be framed in a number of other ways:  “Does Quality have a national identity?” or “Is the world being well served by the global nature of Quality?” or “Can Quality become even more global in 2015?”  or “Is there a global Quality community and what does it look like?”

Like most people I know who are involved in the Quality arena, Quality was something that I discovered long after my education and training.  If I had any prior experiences they tended towards the negative images:  “Quality means don’t use white-out, or don’t make scratch-outs when you write”.  But I was lucky and the opportunities for initially an interest in Quality found me (rather than the reverse).  Overtime that interest became passion and commitment in almost every aspect of my career. 

As I  moved along, I learned to appreciate that much of the modern Quality narrative is told from an early American perspective (Shewhart, Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum) but almost as quickly the narrative takes on international focus through organizations like the Japanese Union of Science and Engineers (JUSE), and British Standards Institute (BSI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua) and of course (waving my own national flag!) the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).  So from the very get go, the international community as been on-board and very active with the Quality movement.

The last several decades has seen great strides in Quality adoption, especially in the arena of healthcare, and in my particular little part of that world, the medical laboratory.  Through programs and initiatives including, but certainly not limited to World Health Organization, and the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, the landscape of laboratory Quality in many African countries has jumped forward through active programs in Quality Management (including the recently developed Strengthening Laboratory Management Toward Accreditation (SLMTA) initiative).  And importantly one can point to the activities and leadership of my friend and colleague through the Saudi Quality Council.

In my own small way I get to participate in providing training in Quality Management for participants around the world on a near daily basis through our own university based course and through international training provision in Proficiency Testing.  And hosting the UBC POLQM Medical Laboratory Quality Conference in October 28-30, 2015 (More on that later!!).

So that there is strong and active Global interest in Quality is not in question.  But the larger questions of coordination of efforts that could lead to more effective integration is still an open topic. 

Personally I see great hope for integration.  First off, within the limitations and realities of resources, the message around the world is the Quality is Quality, and matters not who is the messenger. 

As I get to move from meetings to conferences and on to international committees, I more and more see many of the same people, all working in a variety of roles surrounding Quality Partnerships.  One day the topic is standards, the next quality management, and the next quality assessment or quality assurance.  And all are involved in the arena of Quality Knowledge.  What this means is that many of the barriers that have existed between Quality Partner groups are very much breaking down.  The broad topics with Quality Partnerships are harmonizing.

And that is a good thing.

And if I have not made my point clear enough, let me be very specific.  ASQ has been a leader in Quality for a very long time, and its broadening interests to the arena of International Quality can and will and does may Quality better.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Teaching Quality – Part 3: Practical Suggestions




In the previous parts of this series I have addressed that education theorists have long ago determined that adult learners are different.  When it comes to learning, the adage “adults are just big children” does not apply.  Andragogy is the theory (science?) of mentoring adults is not the same as pedagogy (mentoring children).   The challenge and message to us is that if we want to mentor our adult co-workers about Quality Management in the workplace then we are well advised to use the mentoring and teaching skills that work best for adults.  

The problem is that most of us (a) are busy learning ourselves about quality (b) have never sought out training as teacher/mentors and (c) don’t know, indeed have probably never heard words like andragogy or pedagogy.  The best we have to go on is our past experience as learners, which was unfortunately mostly during the time of our own childhood and adolescence which usually means standing in front of the group, usually with a PowerPoint file and drone on, point after point, for 40 minutes and then ask if anyone has any questions.   And then wonder why most wander out, no questions asked, and usually no information absorbed.

Adults like to learn what they want, when they want, and are very specific in their expectations.  Adults highly value their own experiences and usually like to share them, and importantly prefer learning by asking their own questions rather than by being pumped by others.  And if it isn’t working they move on.

We also have another problem; many of us work in organizations like to talk about continuing education, but rarely like to support it with time or money or resources or even top management engagement.  

So many of us step up to the plate with two strikes against us before we even get started; we don’t really know what we are supposed to do, and tend not to have the money or resources that we think we need.  

So with that sort of an ugly start, let me share some ideas that will allow you to mentor Quality more effectively.  That way when you do get some money, you can save it up for a bigger ticket item, like supporting a special speaker, or sending someone to a Quality conference, or perhaps subsidizing a person taking a course.  Some of these come from Roberta Silfen’s book Teaching the Adult Learner; others are mine from my own experience.

First off, avoid the turn-offs.  Forget the sign-in sheet.  The notion of mandatory training is a crock.  Mandatory education is something that kids get.  And keeping “numbers of people taught” as a metric is a fool’s joke.  The point is not how many bodies were there, it was how many brains you stimulated.  If you really want to know how successful you were, try have a BRIEF post session satisfaction questionnaire.  
 
And if you are putting on successful mentoring sessions, the audience will either coalesce into a small core of the focused and  interested, or will grow.  

Try an “open mike” session by giving people the opportunity to share their experiences on Quality.  A person stands up and tells a Quality story, and then the audience can ask a few questions about it.  In an hour you can get maybe 4 or 5 speakers.  You get a chance to understand what your colleagues think about Quality.  The Quality Manager can introduce the session and perhaps do a summary at the end and maybe start the questions off, but otherwise keep quiet.  This is not your time to speak; it is your time to listen. 

Try an interview session.  Set up two chairs at the front of the room.  You invite perhaps the laboratory director to participate, and have a Quality interview.  What does Quality mean to them?  Did they learn Quality through courses, or was it something that they learned to experience and osmosis?  The point is not to pin them to the wall, or show off how smart you are or to throw in the gotcha question; the point is to give them the change to engage with the staff on why Quality is important for your laboratory.  Staff might even get a chance to engage in some of the questions as well.

Try the journal club approach, where the Quality Manager finds a Quality oriented article or book (article is better) and share it with the group in advance.  You might want to consider, for example, taking one or two blog entries or a current newspaper article, both of which might be ideal because they tend to be short.  Someone presents the article and then gives their opinion which might range from “pearls” to “pin-cushion”, and then open the article to discussion where folks can relate to their own experience.

Try a lecture, but do it in an adult fashion.  If you have 50 minutes for a session, don’t lecture for any more than 25.  Appoint someone as the question person who can start off with two or three questions, and then open up to others.  

The bottom line is always the same.  Put out the information towards adult mentoring and learning strengths.  Don’t hog the time.  It is not about you.  It is about exposing your adult staff to new ideas.  Keep things moving, and allow your audience to get engaged, and participate and share.

So, what do you think?