Noel Clarke- MSc in Quality (Online)

Name: Noel Clarke

Job Title: Safety Health and Environment Assurance Manager at ESB Group.[At the time of graduation, I was Quality Manager at ESB International.]

Course Name: M.Sc. in Quality (Online)

 Can you share your career path to date? 

I was Quality Manager in an INAB accredited calibration laboratory and that was followed by a period as Quality Engineer in a telecoms networking equipment manufacturer. I then worked as a Certification Auditor for an Accredited Certification Body followed by a period as a Management Systems Consultant. From there, I moved to ESB International as Quality Manager and have been with ESB since. I currently work as ESB’s Safety Health and Environment Assurance Manager.

 What does your current role involve? 

My current role is in Health and Safety but the knowledge I gained in the M. Sc. Quality is still applicable, particularly since the International Management System Standards (including ISO 9001; ISO 14001 and ISO 45001) have all adopted the core text from Annex SL. The primary responsibility of my current role is to ensure that legal and regulatory obligations associated with our work are addressed by ensuring that our management system is fit for purpose. It helps us to keep staff, contractors and the general public safe and is subject to audit by external Accredited Certification Bodies.  Data reporting and associated analysis of incidents, accidents and near misses, identifies trends and drives corrective and preventive action recommendations. As in all good management systems, there is a relentless focus on continual improvement.

What motivated you to start studying?  

When I undertook the course, I had lots of experience but no formal qualifications in Quality. Looking back on the course, I realised how much I enjoy research and always want to ensure that I keep my professional competencies up to date by consistently examining industry best practices. Those factors were the main drivers for me. The final factor was that the course curriculum was exactly what I needed and all the modules were relevant.

Why did you choose this course from ATU Sligo? 

The blended learning model enabled me to maintain my job while studying. While we have all become used to online learning because of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the time I did the course, blended learning was not so common. Because I travelled a lot for work, I have memories of logging on to live lectures from international locations. If the course was delivered ‘in person’ only, I would not have been able to attend, much less complete the course.

How did you find the process of studying online? What elements did you find helpful? Were there elements you found challenging?  

I had completed other online courses previously, so I was well prepared for the challenges. Online study can be a lonely place if you don’t put some effort into making connections with your classmates whether for self-formed study groups or formal group assignments. The minimal physical attendance required was a real help to me because of the extent nsive international travel requirements of my job.  One module (Transformational Change) required attendance over one weekend and that was a fantastic experience as we all got to meet in person for the first time, apart from the induction day. I have fond memories of that weekend, learned a lot and have remained friends with some classmates.  The main challenge of studying online is time management and keeping a healthy balance between the academic workload of the course, the requirements of the ‘day job’ and family commitments. My dad became quite ill during my second year and the academic staff were extremely helpful and supportive during that period. I was (and remain) extremely appreciative of that, to this day. In terms of workload, the thesis was for me, the most significant component. Fortunately, I had agreed on my topic relatively early with my supervisor and that meant I could work on it using the ‘little softened approach. However, for family reasons, I had to apply for a deferral of submission which was granted and the additional time enabled me to submit a document with which I was happy.

How did you balance work and study? 

The lectures took place typically after working hours, so it was a matter of being organised about my diary. Similarly, assignment and exam dates were flagged well in advance, so it was important to keep an up-to-date calendar. I blocked out times in my calendar for academic work which enabled me to meet family commitments, mainly at weekends when I knew I would be at home. During the week, particularly if I was travelling and staying away, I used the ‘away time’ for study and research.

In terms of your employer, were they supportive of your decision to study? Were there elements of the course that were particularly relevant to your current employer?  

My employer was supportive of my decision and the blended model meant that I could meet my day job obligations while studying. The module on Transformational Change was particularly relevant and with the current national (and corporate) focus on achieving ‘net carbon zero’, the module is still extremely relevant due to the need to switch away from fossil fuels for energy generation, to renewable energy sources.

What advice would you have for anyone considering studying online? 

Do your research before you sign up for any course. Is it really what you want? Ask yourself how motivated you are to complete the course as you will undoubtedly have some challenging times.

Talk to people who have been through the experience.  

Maintain one calendar which combines all work, academic requirements and deadlines and family/life commitments. Ensure you keep it up to date.  Arrange your informal study groups in addition to any formal group assignments. Plan your breaks / down time well, so you get the maximum benefit from them and make sure you take them. We all learn differently, so work your study routines around your preferred learning style. Do what works for you.

In what way has studied online with ATU Sligo benefitted your career? 

I was proud of myself for completing the course, keeping my day job and remaining married to my long-suffering wife! Looking back, I have probably applied the knowledge I gained during the course almost every single working day since, in one way or another. When I graduated, I thought to myself that I should have completed it 10 years earlier in my career! It certainly made me a better Quality Manager and I will bring extensive learning to my current (and future) roles.

Did this course provide any unexpected benefits to your career? 

It gave me a solid academic basis for espousing and implementing the disciplines, tools and best practices of quality, so I was far better equipped to address resistance to change using reasoned debate. I was also better able to identify the reasons why change programmes might fail and therefore avoid such pitfalls.

Did you find that the elements you were studying had practical relevance in your day-to-day role?  

In professional service environments, the tools of quality are applied slightly differently than in production environments. The course curriculum was relevant to many of my day-to-day responsibilities, so I gained a huge amount of knowledge which I could apply. Also, because of the mix of students from different industries and organisations, there was huge learning from that. I adopted an ‘a-la-carte’ approach and adapted various tools and techniques from other industries which I felt could be successful in our organisation.

What were the key skills you took away from your time studying at ATU Sligo? 

Listening skills – listening to understand rather than respond.

Technical skills – exposure to tools and techniques which I would not have encountered previously, particularly in relation to the management of change.

Academic skills – Despite the challenges, I enjoyed writing my thesis. Constructing reasoned arguments, backed up by the latest academic research and addressing conflicting opinions in the literature was a fantastic experience. It also enabled me to synthesise the course curriculum and material in a cohesive way that gave rise to practice al application of the learning, post-graduation.


Learn more about the MSc in Quality Online