Six Lessons Can Steer Your Career Path

Flying lessons and quality principles

by Teresa Whitacre

When I started writing this article, I was stranded out of my home state due to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. At the time, I was struggling with my own career direction, wondering if I was following the right path.

As the national networks constantly covered the attacks and vigils, my first thoughts were of the flight crews' and victims' families. This situation played close to home as my husband is a corporate pilot. Fortunately, he was on the ground when these incidents took place.

My husband's 16-year career as a professional pilot and those whose careers are no more taught me some important lessons:

1. Make keeping your skills current your constant vigil. The Federal Aviation Administration requires recurrent training for airline and charter pilots, so every six months, it's back to school time. This is the only way to assure the flight crews are kept up-to-date about revisions to policies, procedures and regulations.

Think about this like a quality professional. ISO 9000 and QS-9000 standards require training to be performed and evaluated for effectiveness. How many of our organizations do this? How many of us do, for that matter?

ASQ recertification every three years is one vehicle for keeping current. Attending section or division meetings, volunteering, reading articles and Internet discussion boards or just networking with peers are other ways.

2. Know your aircraft (your product--yourself). All the pilots I have ever met would not even consider taking control of an aircraft without thorough knowledge of the equipment. Why should you change or modify your career direction without a thorough knowledge of yourself?

3. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. What are your abilities and assets? What can others in the organization rely on you for? What tasks are you unable to do because you do not have the experience or knowledge? What tasks do you just not enjoy doing?

Taking a thorough assessment of your situation is mandatory. If pilots do not like what they see, the aircraft is not airworthy. If you do not like what you see in yourself, then your flight path may not be "careerworthy" or at least on the right track toward your goals.

4. Keep your wheels chocked to the ground until the time is right. Airplanes will not move from the ground until the pilot in command gives the final go-ahead to remove the chocks (blocks at the wheels). The aircraft is kept firmly in place until the proper time to take off.

The same applies to quality careers. We need to stay grounded when driving quality home. Take the same approach--do not be a fly-by-night quality professional. Consistency in your work and belief in your cause are what keep you grounded.

5. Check your gages regularly. Pilots must complete checks preflight, inflight and postflight. These checks must be done regularly for both corrective and preventive action purposes. Any indications of problems or improvements are identified immediately. Less experienced pilots can learn quite a bit about their profession from working with the captain in charge.

Do you check your quality profession career gages regularly? Do you know how to gauge (benchmark) yourself against others in the profession? Read the job openings in Quality Progress classified ads, on the Internet or from other sources. See if your skills, education and experience are listed. I do this periodically to strive toward keeping my career up-to-date.

6. Steer a straight flight path with your eyes on the sky. Keeping an aircraft on the straight and narrow is one of the most important flying skills my husband taught me. He taught me to watch the horizon gage on the instrument panel. It resembles a line graph. As long as I kept the gage on a straight line and my eyes on the sky ahead, I could handle any situation.

Does your quality career path follow the same advice? Work toward and steer toward a goal. The sky is the limit for competent quality professionals who keep themselves properly grounded and fly a straight path.

These six lessons can help you. Remember, only you can steer your career path. Others can influence what you do or how you do it, but only you can make the final approach and assure a smooth

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.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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