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Becoming an NQA Aerospace Auditor - Nigel Hammond

25 May 2021
Find out what the last year of auditing has been like for new NQA Assessor, Nigel Hammond. He shares his insight into the inner workings of his journey to becoming a qualified auditor and the challenges he came across in an unprecedented year...

I have worked in the Aerospace sector all my working life. From my apprenticeship at a major prime, to my last job which I was at for over 24 years.

Whilst in that job, I had been for various other job interviews but deep down I knew that I wouldn’t accept the job even if they offered it, which happened a few times. However, when I went for the interview with NQA it was different, I knew I wanted the job and if it was offered I had no doubts that I would accept it.

I had been audited by NQA for a number of years, with each auditor being thorough but fair, explaining issues in an easy to understand manner and adding value to the business.

Preparing for the role

My first week in audit with NQA, was November 2019 and I was plunged straight in to the ISO 9001:2015 Lead Auditor course and exams.

In my previous job I was responsible for our internal audits – defining the audit schedule and carrying out the audits themselves. On top of this I conducted audits on our suppliers, hosting customer audits for major primes and for Nadcap Special Processes.

Now however, sitting the other side of the table, 180° opposite to what I had been used to, it to seamed so different. It is one thing to answer the questions you are being asked by an assessor, but it’s a whole different ball game asking the questions without trying to give away the answer or what you are ideally looking for - that becomes a skill in itself.

Thankfully I passed the course and started attending client audits, shadowing experienced auditors within NQA, who were more than happy to pass on snippets of information to help me develop my skills as an auditor.

When the time was right, I was put forward for my 'witnessed assessment' in early 2020, which I passed with flying colours and meant I was ready to go out into the big wide world of auditing on my own.

Making the move into Aerospace assessments

At the same time as carrying out audits for ISO 9001, I had been sitting my Aerospace online modules, to enable me to attend an AS9100 course and exams in Wales towards the end of February 2020. I had by now carried out approximately half a dozen ISO 9001:2015 audits on my own, with these starting to feel more natural, with better flow and more confidence leading up to the audit itself. Funnily enough, once the audit started, there was no stress at all other than that put upon by myself in order to ensure I was providing NQA clience with an excellent service. Ultimately, the AS9100 course in Wales was cancelled and the only other available venue was in Dallas, Texas, USA.

So, I flew set off Dallas at the end of February 2020. A number of people had told me the course and exams were mentally gruelling. WOW – they were not lying. The breakneck speed with which the course was carried out (including the time allocated for the 2 exams at the end of the course) definitely put me though my paces.

The tutors were exceptional, friendly, knowledgably and couldn’t have been more helpful. The problem I had was adjusting to the time difference. I was straight into the course the day after I arrived, would sit the course during the days, revise at night and then find I couldn’t sleep when I finished, getting by on about 2 hours sleep a night. Looking back, it was an adventure but definitely not one I'll be rushing back to complete again any time soon.

The impacts of Covid-19

Shortly after returning from my training Covid-19 struck. With the initial onset of panic from organisations who thought they would have to shut, various audits were cancelled. This was the time when the word 'furlough' was an entirely new and slightly daunting prospect.

It was when I was part of NQA's furlough scheme for four months that I stared to fully realise what good leadership was all about. Throughout my time on furlough, there wasn't a week that went by when I didn't get a call or text from a senior manager to ask how both myself and the family were doing. The NQA Aerospace Director set up a WhatsApp group for the team as well as arranging a Teams meeting each Friday to keep me feeling involved, with just general chit chat (non work related) and micky taking, generally at my expense, which I cannot stress highly enough, how much it was appreciated – I still felt involved to some degree, even if not for work.

Overcoming new challenges

I returned to audit for ISO 9001 in August and found that there were some new challenges that I had to face. Whilst I was away all audits had been scheduled remotely and were all being done successfully via video calls. This made me nervous as many of my colleagues will vouch, IT is most definitely not my strong point.

Due to Aerospace regulations, audits were being held via a mixture of remote and on-site audits, exposing me to new methods of communicating with our clients and encouraging extra discussion points and working in a new way. The hardest part of the AS process for me was getting to grips with OASIS (Online Aerospace Supplier Information System). It was not something I had come across before but with some guidance from my colleagues was pretty easy to pick up.

Eventually the time came to sit my witnessed audit which was a one-and-a-half-day audit with a chemical treatment company. This fell within my comfort zone due to my previous experience with Special Processes.

The audit went off with no issues at all however I did receive feedback to 'smile more'. It turns out that through worrying about being witnessed and 'marked' I had forgotten to show any emotion, something that I am still teased about to this day by by colleagues and definitely something that I have improved on. As it turns out I didn't have to be worried at all, and am now a fully fledged and qualified member of the team.

So, what have I learnt from my first year in audit?

Firstly, auditing is definitely the right job for me and something I have developed a huge passion for. The work can sometimes be tough, time consuming and tiring for both parties however it's all worth it when I can recommend a client for certification and help them celebrate their achievements.

Secondly, I have learnt, in my opinion, that my favourite way to audit is face-to-face and in person because of the extra little details you get to see out of your peripheral vision. However I can also appreciate how much technology has helped to progress remote audits and have found that often clients are more comfortable speaking over a video call. Without all the travelling I have found extra time to spend with organisations to help them make sure their management systems are working to improve their processes etc.

And finally – The importance of GREAT LEADERSHIP. From my time on furlough, the communication and customer focus, is of paramount importance. The weekly calls, Teams meetings and WhatsApp group got me through my first year AND continue to do so, by a very special team which I feel lucky to be a part of.

Written by NQA Regional Assessor, Nigel Hammond.