Who, or What, are SQEP?

If you’ve been around the Aerospace or Defence sectors for any length of time, you find yourself constantly bombarded by an ever-changing lexicon of acronyms, jargon and so called ‘buzz-words’.  The latter are often deployed by those seeking to curry favour with their superiors by using the currently perceived ‘words of the month’ to show that they are both moving with the times and listening to their seniors’ pronouncements (who remembers the painful over-use of ‘granularity’ a few years back?). Acronyms are, on the other hand, simply an inevitable consequence of working in highly technical disciplines.  If you’re going to work with the military, regardless of uniform, jargon is a way of life and if you’re not up to speed with your ‘Jack Speak’ or ‘Squadron Banter’ it’s all too easy to quickly become confused.  Occasionally, a term appears which slots neatly into all 3 categories, and ‘SQEP’ is, in our opinion, one of them.

As an Acronym it passes muster; ‘Suitably Qualified and Experienced Personnel (or Person)’.  At prima facie it seems to be a simple and effective definition, but if we scratch away at it a little, we find its deep rather than shallow, and sometimes open to subjective interpretation.

For a start, what is ‘Suitably Qualified’?  Who decides what suitably qualified means or, more pertinently, whether an individual’s qualifications are suitable for a particular role or position?  For some roles it is clear and unequivocal; for example, if you want to fly a Typhoon fighter, ‘suitably qualified’ means being a qualified pilot (having completed a recognised course of flying training) and having successfully completed an accredited Typhoon conversion course and met the required standard.  In other areas it’s much ‘greyer’.  For example, how do you define someone as ‘Suitably Qualified’ to sit in an acquisition or engineering role?  For example, a Requirements Manager (RM) in a Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) Delivery Team is normally, for good reason, an ‘end user’, i.e. an operator.  However, someone lifted from the frontline and placed in a Requirements capture role, though well qualified in a role sense, may be notably lacking in a number of other credentials and qualifications.  It is highly unlikely the ‘lucky’ pilot has ever worked in a Project Management or Commercial environment before, nor is familiar with the strict regulatory framework that engineering and airworthiness demand.   Does the Delivery Team accept this, and ensure that a suitable range of courses are planned in?  Can the MoD ensure that a thorough Handover / Take Over (HOTO) takes place?  With tour lengths relatively short, there is often insufficient time to train a new incumbent from scratch to deliver a meaningful return on investment.  In the best case, a project can lose momentum as the new appointee needs to learn their new ‘trade’ and build relationships and trust with their colleagues and with Industry. In the worst case, the Project may suffer from unintentional mistakes and errors – leading to schedule and cost risk.  Ultimately, in the ‘revolving door’ of the military (and fast track Civil Service) posting systems, the time in post where the post holder is adding value may be relatively short.  They just ‘get it’ as they are posted

This is an area where SQEP Ltd step’s in and assists.  We bring the ‘Suitably Qualified’ rapidly to the table.  Our team of Suitably Qualified and Experienced technical experts from all disciplines bridge the ‘HOTO gap’ and provide temporary workforce substitution either in the event of a non-linear changeover of personnel, or to help mentor and guide a new team member as they acquire the crucial skills that enable them to become suitably qualified in their own right.  Moreover, at the genesis of a new Project, ie in the Concept Phase, SQEP Ltd can provide the expertise to prevent the need to post and train scarce personnel for a Project that has yet to prove it has the ‘legs’ to pass Initial Gate scrutiny. Whatever the scale of the task, SQEP Ltd will tailor the team to meet your needs; this is what we do, and do the best.

Continuing with Defence as an example, there are several key posts and roles that are now starting to have mandated ‘Suitably Qualified’ markers placed against them.  This practice understandably stems from the Haddon Cave review and the well documented strategic change to the approach to Airworthiness and Safety within Defence.  Triggered by the loss of Nimrod XV230 over Afghanistan in 2006, the paucity of SQEP in airworthiness and Safety Case management was highlighted in the report, which noted that;

“a recurrent theme is the challenge posed by an ever-decreasing pool of suitably qualified and experienced personnel and, of course, the constraints imposed by limited resources”

And recognising that a consistent theme was;

“The key issue raised in all discussion groups and interviews was the lack of suitably qualified and experienced people”.

Recognising that Defence and DE&S is working hard to recruit, train and retain the right type of personnel, including encouraging ‘qualified and experienced’ engineers to re-join, that will take time and the challenge for DTs is that they must continue to deliver support to the Front Line, whilst concurrently developing their workforce, all within cost and headcount constraints.  SQEP Ltd are, as ever,ready and able to swiftly accept, inter alia, technical, engineering and assurance contracts or, if deemed necessary, supply staff to smooth programmatic ‘bumps’ in the road.

So far, we’ve discussed the “SQ” of SQEP, but what about the “E”?

There is an old aphorism that you only really learn to drive once you have passed your driving test.  As with many similar pithy observations, there’s more than a grain of truth in it.  Even if you are a freshly minted Project Manager, airworthiness engineer, Requirements Manager or Safety Case manager, those first few weeks and months ‘solo’ can be quite daunting.  Individuals are keen to both make an impression, and not make a mistake.  The learning curve in the Defence and Civil Aviation sectors can be dauntingly steep at times.  The consequences for error can be correspondingly severe; mistakes can cost £millions and months to discover and rectify.  In a civil context, companies haemorrhage profits, destroy reputations or are even driven to the point of failure.  In the worst case, in aviation or Defence, platforms and lives are endangered.

The trouble is, you can’t buy experience.  Well, at least that’s how the saying goes.  However, experience can be leveraged if you think laterally about a problem.  Some readers will be familiar with the ‘Red Flag’ exercises conducted by the US Air Force in Las Vegas, ahem, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.  Which is very close to Las Vegas.  The UK has had a long history of sending platforms and crews to take part in ‘Red Flags’ as they offer some of the most realistic training available – albeit at a not insignificant level of investment.  Often lost in the mists of time, and beer/mimosas on the Las Vegas Strip, is why Red Flag actually exists, and why it has endured despite the enormous cost in more financially stringent times.  The potted history is that the USAF was losing a significant number of aircraft and crews over Vietnam in the late 1960s and something, patently, needed to be done to staunch the flow. A highly classified set of reports, known as the ‘Red Baron’ series, gathered hundreds of pages of data and witness testimony in an attempt to answer questions over the high attrition via objective analysis.  One of the stark outputs was that the loss rate for new aircrew reduced substantially once they had passed the 10-mission mark; in short, only after they had been seasoned with enough experience to be both desensitized to the fear of real combat and acquired enough ‘smarts’ from their more experienced peers to boost their chances. The trick was keeping them alive that long to learn these valuable lessons and to exploit their increasing awareness to good effect.  ‘Red Flag’, in its simplest form, is designed to let new crews fly those first 10 ‘combat’ missions in a realistic and demanding, yet safe, environment to improve their odds of survival in a real shooting war.  The results seem to vindicate the investment; USAF losses in subsequent campaigns have been significantly less than over South East Asia.  Of course, improved technology helps, but so does training and experience – which, in turn, breeds enhanced confidence. 

Whilst SQEP Ltd can’t promise to help you fly your first 10 combat missions (and we’re not sure even our substantial liability insurance would cover it!), we can assuredly help with the seasoning process.  Putting one of our experienced SQEP Ltd consultants in harness with a qualified, but inexperienced, post holder, is an effective way of allowing learning to take place whilst minimising the risks of mistakes.  It’s also a great way of holding onto hard-worn lessons; nearly all of our stable of consultants have experienced a similar process as the junior member of the team.  We know what we did right, and also what we did wrong.  The advantage of using any sort of intervention from SQEP is that the permanent head count need not rise, and our input is only there for as long as it’s needed – we’ll take the stabilisers off the bike when the time is right

We’ve discussed the ‘SQ’ and the ‘E’. Ultimately, however, we think it’s all about the ‘P’.  The right personnel make the critical difference.  Nearly all of SQEP Ltd’s team have ‘been there’, either in a uniform or a business suit.  We’ve felt your pain and understand your issues – and if we don’t, we’re always keen to learn what they are.  Our people and our organisation are agile and flexible.  We’re responsive to both your needs, and the changing environment we all work in.  We’re big enough to cope, and small enough to adapt.  SQEP Ltd provides expertise and personalities across the spectrum from solo workers (audits/niche technical expertise in pinch points) to fully integrated team leaders delivering full programmes of work – in other words a ‘turn key’ outsource solution.  Our people understand the value of not just technical and safety expertise, but also the importance of leadership, mentoring and encouragement and how that can positively impact individual and team success.  Notwithstanding all the discussion of “SQEP’ness”, we fundamentally understand the importance of ‘fit’ within a role or team and work hard to ensure the right expertise and person is allocated to tasks – we’re categorically not a ‘bums on seats’ company and provide people who can do the job, not need a job.  Finally, we provide assurance by holding the appropriate clearances and technical qualifications and are accredited to ISO 9001-2015.  

Whilst we come to terms with the impact of the Global Pandemic, there is no clarity over what a new ‘normal’ will look like, or even when it may start.  SQEP Ltd is fully configured to work remotely – both in terms of outsourcing technical and assurance work or providing individuals to support a particular project.  This enables business to continue, and permits work to be contracted without the need for lengthy and difficult face to face meetings, nor interviews and difficult ‘on-boarding’ processes  We’ve adapted to the current ‘normality’, and we’re agile enough to continue to do so as the situation changes.

SQEP.  An acronym, a Defence colloquialism and a ‘Buzzword’.  Via the dedicated and skilled team at SQEP Ltd, it’s also an answer to a multitude of problems in the Defence, Aerospace and broader engineering sectors.  Give us a call and see how we will help to solve yours.

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