Why Quality Careers Are Still Important
Jobs like implementing systems, being the champion and providing training still remain important--but you have to be prepared
by Teresa Whitacre
The role of the quality professional has definitely changed in the last decade, particularly the last few years.
The traditional quality employee was an inspector who watched a product through its various manufacturing steps or checked the quality of a part or product before it was shipped. Traditional quality employees also included managers who oversaw the inspection or control function. But the times have been a-changin' thanks to what are known as the "new economy" and the "new organization."
The new organization strives to make the quality of the product or service every employee's responsibility. Over the years, old slogans like "quality is job one" became the mottoes of many organizations. Making quality everyone's job is an excellent idea, in a business sense. Each employee can take pride of ownership and responsibility for doing a job correctly the first time. The responsibility for shipping good parts does not just belong to the quality control department--it belongs to everyone.
Now that every employee is responsible for producing good quality, it would seem likely the quality control department's job would be made a little easier. But, instead of having less stressful or simpler jobs, traditional quality control department employees are frequently finding themselves without jobs.
Still a place for inspection
The new organization in the new economy still has a place for career quality professionals, however. In some industries, there is still a need for the inspection function--it's just not as prevalent. Heavily regulated industries (for example, nuclear, pharmaceutical and aerospace) have a need for constant, rigorous inspections. Other industries, in which the cost of one failure or defective part is astronomical, also need the traditional inspection function.
The question going through your mind may be, "What is prevalent in the new organization, as far as quality professionals are concerned?" Look through the classifieds in publications like Quality Progress, and view Web sites, such as Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com, and you will see a great need for those who can do more than traditional quality.
Some of the jobs are for implementing quality systems like ISO 9000, being a promoter of continuous improvement, effectively providing training throughout the organization, and understanding and implementing Six Sigma philosophies--in short, for being the overall quality champion and driver of the quality bus.
How to prepare
What can you do to prepare yourself for this evolution of quality in the new economy? If you are an inspector or technician, use your knowledge of the inspection process as a steppingstone. Inspection requires blueprint reading and measurement skills, but it also requires you to think about how to inspect or test a part, particularly in the absence of detailed instructions or blueprints. This involves problem solving skills.
Remember what happens when the truck is waiting at the dock and you have to tell manufacturing some parts are on hold because they did not pass inspection? Finding a solution requires interpersonal and conflict resolution skills.
What if you had to trace the reason a set of parts was defective? This involves root cause analysis and auditing skills. One activity every organization needs, in my opinion, is quality improvement. Take your inspection and test knowledge, plus the other hidden skills I just mentioned, and you have the makings of a certified quality improvement associate (CQIA). Sign up for a review course, if possible, and take the ASQ CQIA exam.
Another way to prepare yourself is through networking and research. I can personally attest this method is successful because I used it. Attend ASQ meetings, courses and conferences--anything that gets your name and face known. Research various sources of employment information: classified ads, newsgroups and Internet sites. These sources will give you a general idea of what skills, education, training and certifications are expected for those positions. Try to find a mentor who has done any or all of these things and can give you guidance.
Above all, don't be shy about getting involved in making things happen for yourself. It's your career we're talking about.
I see quality professionals extending beyond quality control to systemwide improvement. Think of quality as more than the parts you put into the box to ship. Rather, it is the ability to create change in the thinking processes and the quality of interactions within an organization.
Real improvements in the business systems require real improvement in thinking and interacting. This is the direction quality professionals need to take to be valuable resources in the new millennium.
Determine your skills and interests. Determine what you need in the way of training, education and experience to make the shift to the new organization's quality and business system. I personally did so--and I am much happier with my work. My life as a quality professional has taken on a whole new meaning and importance, and I am having much more fun.
TERESA WHITACRE is a quality systems manager for CTP Carrera in Latrobe, PA, and principal of Marketech Systems. She authored a quality technology text used by the ASQ Pittsburgh Section for instructing certified Quality Inspector and certified quality technician courses and has instructed both courses herself. Whitacre holds a bachelor's degree in quality engineering from Pacific Western University and holds ASQ quality engineering, quality manager, quality technician and quality auditor certifications. She is a Senior Member of ASQ.