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Merchandising

Diverse skills required for upholding industry benchmarks

by Sophie Leung

Michael Lam (left), executive director
P C Chan, director of operations
Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency
Photo: Keith Cheung

Non-profit body helps organisations increase productivity and efficiency

Competing in the global business arena, it is important for manufacturers and merchandisers to ensure product quality and comply with industry regulations. However, these factors alone are not enough to ensure success in today's competition-driven market.

"Our mission is to help industrial and commercial bodies develop management systems," says Michael Lam, executive director, Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA). The agency has also diversified its services to support entities to keep up with the latest standards for environmental and ethical supply chain production.

The Hong Kong Government founded the HKQAA in 1989 as a non-profit-distributing public body to help manufacturers meet new standards set out by European governments and importers. The agency, which regards ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) standards as the means to increase productivity and operational efficiency, plays an important supporting role in training and assessing Hong Kong-based industrial bodies.

Apart from providing certification services, HKQAA also helps companies to implement technology updates, enhance management practices and comply with international standards.

Varied role

"Although the agency initially concentrated on manufacturing, we now provide certification services to a wide range of other types of organisations," notes Dr Lam. For example, with food suppliers and retailers increasingly concerned about food safety and hygiene, HKQAA provides internationally recognised guidelines for food safety implementation.

The agency also offers regular seminars to increase awareness of good management practices and to educate the industry on the interpretation and application of standards. It keeps the industry informed of revised regulations and current market needs through international forums featuring overseas experts as guest speakers.

"Through these initiatives, we aim to create an interactive information exchange platform for the industry and to enhance the long-term competitiveness of companies," Dr Lam stresses.

"Globalisation has taken consumers' social consciousness and demand for accountability to a new level, intensifying the already fierce competition in the open market," states P C Chan, director of operations, HKQAA. Mr Chan notes that terms such as "green and ethical supply chain" were unheard of in the manufacturing sector 20 years ago.

The agency's team of professionals benefits from overseas study trips to update themselves on the latest environmental requirements and ethical standards. HKQAA, in turn, disseminates this information to the industry through the internet and seminars. The issues addressed by the agency include how to eliminate and reduce hazardous substances and how to ensure that the production environment conforms to international standards.

HKQAA is dedicated to helping organisations to be socially responsible Xb oth for their own benefit and for the long-term good of society. In doing so, the agency sets an example by implementing such practices itself.

"We invest in education and long-term community development and believe it is the right way to harness benefits for the Hong Kong economy," Dr Lam points out. HKQAA is also dedicating HK$10 million from its Business and Community Support Fund to supporting an array of upcoming charity initiatives. After running a successful writing and drawing contest to inspire young people last year, the agency plans to organise a similar event this year.

Regional support

Dr Lam regards shorter production cycles in the dynamic business environment as the greatest challenge to the industry. "As a comprehensive support centre to the manufacturing and merchandising industry, the agency also focuses on management and soft skills training which will help companies to retain top quality, multi-skilled staff," he stresses.

In response to economic transformation and greater collaboration with mainland China and other Southeast Asian countries, HKQAA also extends its support beyond Hong Kong and has set up branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Suzhou, as well as a representative office in Chicago in the US.

"For region-wide companies, effective cross-cultural management is the key to success," says Dr Lam. "For this reason, the agency embraces local excellence as well as global perspectives."

In order to provide a consistent and quality service, the agency has a constant demand for experienced professionals and industry experts, says Mr Chan. "As a gatekeeper of international standards, the agency has high expectations of its staff," he notes.

Even though all HKQAA staff members have a tertiary education, some with doctorates and professional qualifications in different disciplines, the agency provides cross-sector and continuous training to get staff up to speed with changes and trends in the marketplace.

The agency is currently seeking environmental experts, as well as information security and food safety professionals. "We are looking for candidates with more than just technical expertise, as technical marketing and assessment also require good communication skills," says Dr Lam, adding that the agency also has a demand for customer service professionals.


 

Taken from Career Times 15 August 2008, p. B4

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