Q&A with Sharon Stace

 Tell us a bit about your responsibilities at Naval Group.

I have a very exciting role with Naval Group. I will be certifying Australian suppliers to supply parts and equipment for our Future Submarine Program. This involves identifying and visiting suppliers from all around Australia for the purpose of auditing their systems for compliance. These audits are conducted to ensure the high level of quality expected of Naval Group suppliers is achieved. In the event that the supplier does not meet all of our standards, I work with them to get to a level that Naval Group is comfortable with.

What was your very first job and what was the best experience you took away from it?

I was first employed as an Apprentice 1St class welder for a company that manufactured agriculture machinery in Adelaide, South Australia. It was a good company to work for ‘back in the day’ and I particularly enjoyed working in the Research & Development section where we manufactured prototype machinery for Australian farmers.

I got to experiment in the field with the trial machinery until we destroyed them (all in the name of research, of course). This was the way we gained knowledge about what worked and what didn’t. Once we had conducted our field research we would make changes to the design to enable the machinery to be effective prior to release to the market.

I would have to say that what this environment taught me is there is always another way to do things. When or if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying until it does. I also learned that things can always be fixed and that the show must go on.

How did you get to where you are today?

I probably ended up in this career by accident really, although I was a keen welder and worked in many different industries, from heavy industry to prototyping of tubular steel furniture (light gauge steel and alloys) I always wanted more.

I moved into the car manufacturing industry in South Australia, working for Mitsubishi Motors Australia. This company encouraged their employees to undertake business courses as well as implementing massive quality assurance programs to help improve the quality of the product going out the door. I thrived in these areas as I have always been passionate about learning new things and always believed learning is essential to ones’ ability to progress, in both life and business.

I became a quality control auditor which involved statistical analysis of defects introduced throughout the manufacturing process. I enjoyed this type of detective work and later moved on to become a process engineer, mainly involved in root cause analysis of machinery downtime in the Mitsubishi Lonsdale iron foundry.

Later on I completed training as an industrial engineer involved in time and motion studies of workplace layouts. This involved introducing new machinery and streamlining process lines to maximize production outputs.

I was also asked to head up the quality assurance certification project for the iron foundry, aluminum foundry and engine machine shops. This was achieved as planned and was the true starting point of my Quality Assurance career.

I’ve always enjoyed helping people to do and be the best that they can be. I believe that quality assurance is all about helping people and businesses achieve the best that they can.

What would you say are the three things that have contributed to your success so far?

  1. Believe in yourself; my mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, which led me to become the first female 1st Class Welder in South Australia.
  2. Honesty and Integrity; I have always said that integrity is not just about what you do when people are looking, it’s about what you do when no one is watching.
  3. Every day’s a school day – Never stop learning from the people around you and from your mistakes.

What are the most critical problems faced by people in your field? How do you think those problems should be handled?

Supplier quality assurance auditing is a thankless job, after all, no one likes an auditor poking their nose around in their business, trying to uncover faults in their systems. I have never been a typical Supplier Quality Assurance Auditor (SQA); my goal is always to find the good attributes of a system rather than the negatives.

I believe human nature is such that we all want to do a good job or be good at what we do. In Australia, many of the companies I audit and work with are small “Mum & Dad” companies, all doing their best (and often financing the family home as security to that business) to stay afloat in a difficult environment. The last thing I want to do is insult or embarrass them.

My mission is to understand the companies I audit so I can best serve them, assisting them to become a certified supplier to Naval Group. This will be the ultimate reward for me professionally and indeed personally.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job, what makes it all worthwhile?

The most rewarding aspect of my role with Naval Group is to ensure Australian manufacturers and suppliers get the opportunity to put their case forward and in-turn, certify them for supply to the Future Submarine Program – the biggest thing to happen in Australia in my life time! This will be a career highlight for me as I have seen the decline of Australian industry over the last 10-15 years, so I’m very excited about being part of its revival with Naval Group.

What would be one piece of advice you could offer someone looking to take a similar career path?

You better like travelling to all corners of our nation and working long hours, oh and talking lots!

Seriously though, all it takes is passion, dedication, and an ability to assist in the empowerment of the capability that already exists in Australian industry and businesses.