STEM has no steam?!

The month of February is usually very uninteresting to me every year, however, in his recent blog post, ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski has brought up something that has been on the back of my grey cells since after I completed my engineering back in 2001. And what better way to make my February fabulous than to blog about it!

First, congratulations to ASQ and particularly to Mr. Paul Borawski and his team for completing one year of effective blogging through the Influential Voices program and View from the Q. I believe this is an awesome medium of spreading the word of quality simply through connecting peers. Yet, as Paul mentions ‘But there’s more work to do ….’!

Coming back further to Paul’s blog, Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics or STEM was one of the most sought-after fields for students all over the world since time immemorial. Don’t get me wrong here when I say ‘sought after’, it does also mean ‘time consuming and difficult yet extremely interesting, rewarding and highly respectable’. The way I see it, is just the new packaging. I like the term ‘STEM’ though, the main body of all the worlds fields of education.

I have always loved Science, particularly biology and maths. I had dreams of becoming a surgeon which were eventually thwarted due to my unexpected ‘low score’, despite a high score, and also the regular round of jokes that I would probably leave a towel or scissor inside a patient before stitching ‘em up! Back then (1994 is not even too long ago), it was not about getting high marks or simply cramming books, it was the natural love of science that overcame the requirement to getting high marks and reading more books! I doubt that exists amongst the large section of students today. And if it still did, there’s a lot of evaluation to the pros and cons and cost benefits in the long run than just the passion for it!

Very close to reading Paul’s blog, I also came across this article of 31st Jan 2012 on the ASQ website, where an almost equal percentage of U.S. students wailed over:

(i)                 the cost and time to get a degree in STEM (26%),

(ii)               grades in STEM subjects not being good enough (25%) and

(iii)             STEM degree careers involving too much work and studying compared to other careers (25%).

Closer home – INDIA – STEM education used to live (and probably still does!) in every parent who saw their children educated and self-reliant. Ask any Indian parent about what they wanted their child to become, and the ready-to-kill answer was ‘Doctor or Engineer’! This, I realized over the years, had nothing to do with pure interest of the child, or a mature thought process involved in taking up the vocation. The result of this was abundance of mediocre level engineers at the end of the course. Despite this, nothing worth noticeable has been done to change the way engineering is looked at. Take a look at this – from my class of 63 engineering students (year 2001), roughly 60% of them are today in a profession totally different from what they basically did. More than half have become IT professionals of some kind or the other. Despite these alarming figures, I wished there were more competent engineers in India than anywhere else in the world, merely due to its population! India currently produces an annual bulk of 400,000 engineers by statistics, a major chunk shipping themselves to greener pastures, including me.

After some googling, I came across this very interesting research conducted by the Department of Energy Science and Technology of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai in 2008. This research report gives some valuable insights into science education in India. In India, the problem in question is not the lack of students taking up STEM education, but more of its degree of sustainability towards the field of education they pursue. Something has to be done to change this before it is too late.


‘The Cost of Quality’ Disaster Stories

I wanted to follow up my latest post on ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski’s blog, with a compelling video. After some searching, I came across this very inspirational video giving a snapshot of the gigantic amounts of loss caused due to that one single ignored quality process. Do take a look, and post your thoughts in the comments box.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The not-so Economic Case of Quality

Cost of Quality (COQ) is a subject I have longed to master in order to present the most accurate scenario to my management, however with negligible success. Working in the Middle East, I have never got the liberal opportunity to understand the benefits that a US-centric Malcolm Baldrige National Quality (MBNQ) program has to offer, yet Paul Borawski’s take on the value of quality in his recent blog, after decades of efforts (and still continuing) to push the importance of quality even in the 21st century, is not only a matter of debate but a matter of deep concern.

To continue to convince a convoluted top management the benefits that implementing quality has to offer, after decades of doing quality in all sectors possible in the world, improving product quality to the 6th sigma level, streamlining business processes, developing works-for-all international standards, etc. and the most sought-after benefit — saving billions of currencies across the length and breadth of the globe, makes me point in only one direction – Lack of Awareness.

Paul’s blog on finding answers to justify the importance and value of quality through the economic study on Baldrige Performance Excellence program is a tip of the ever-bulging iceberg. Despite this, the MBNQA was discontinued by the ‘enlightened’ US government. This, from a nation where Quality is considered a healthy priority in doing business, comes as a lightning jolt to me. Where on earth stands the rest of the world then, it makes me think.

It made me recall an ASQ white paper I had read, ‘Making the Economic Case for Quality’ by John Ryan which recognized a groundbreaking research called PIMS linking quality and financial results going way back in the 1970’s! “In the long run, the most important factor affecting a business unit’s performance is the quality of its products and services, relative to those of competitors.” – Buzzell and Gale said from their findings. Of further significance is the histogram on Page 4 of the study comparing performances of award-winning companies to those of control firms. Please find the time to read this enlightening white paper. I leave the rest for you to ponder.

[P.S: I would like to know which year was this white paper published. If someone could apprise me, would be greatly appreciated]

Another abstract paper I read on quality costing is here done by Steve Eldridge and Mohammed Balubaid, for those interested. It provides insights into difficulties encountered during quality costing and the use of knowledge management tools as a possible solution.

Looking from Paul’s insights based on the social value study, the above two studies and the countless economic cases of quality worldwide, what made the authorities throw MBNQA out of the budget window? Probably the same reason why many top management of companies all over the world look at a QMS from a non-value adding perspective.

Its lack of awareness, my friends. Simple. And that is the single most difficult part.