Map Your Future Through Exploration

by Teresa Whitacre

Business sections of newspapers and magazines have highlighted occupations expected to have shortages of qualified workers within the next decade. These shortages are coming from retirements as well as lower numbers of individuals choosing certain career paths.

Engineers, pharmacists, trucking and transportation workers, medical technicians and veterinarians are just a few occupations predicted to have large numbers of vacancies in 10 years or less. Truly a job seeker’s dream!

If you read the above list and wonder where the quality jobs are (other than engineering), look a little deeper. You will see a need for skills we as quality professionals have. While that need may not be obvious, it is definitely there even if you don’t have training or experience in that industry.

Think about occupations in much the same way you did when you first started down the career exploration path. My 14-year-old son, Brad, provided me a reminder.

As a soon-to-be high school freshman, Brad has to pick the right coursework to achieve his chosen career. One way Brad is doing this is by attending career exploration seminars. Geared to eighth and ninth graders, these seminars help the students make the connection between their interests and what courses to take to achieve the end results.

In Brad’s case, attending these career exploration seminars helped show how his interests—constructing things, engineering and military history—and properly chosen courses in high school will best prepare him for college and a career he will enjoy. Would he be a match for one of the predicted vacancies?

It Can Work for You

The same career exploration techniques can also benefit those with established quality careers.

I consider myself stable and happy in my situation, but I went through the same career exploration process as Brad did. We started by filling out survey instruments designed to show our strengths and weaknesses and make connections between those and career potentials.

A Google search of “career assessment surveys” led to several thousand articles and links to various instruments. The one Brad and I used was Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP), which is available at www.assessment.com.

The MAPP survey consisted of 71 multiple-choice questions. After we finished, we received a report of our results. These results showed the job tasks we preferred, as well as the top 20 jobs that fit those preferences.

While the survey and some results were free, we had to prchase a package from the site to get the detailed results. The MAPP match feature was of particular interest to Brad because he could find five job matches. These allowed him to research the types of jobs MAPP identified to see if he had any interest in these fields. We were both interested in his results so we could get a handle on how best to plan his high school career.

Of interest to me in my career path, MAPP identified my styles of communication (which need work), learning and leadership.

I excelled in math, statistics, science and mechanics—good thing for an engineer—but was a bit surprised by some of the results that showed strengths in counseling and finance. I never imagined those as areas in which I might excel.

One of my not so surprising weaknesses was patience, but disorganization was unexpected because I always thought of myself as a very organized person. Filling out these career exploration instruments was useful for me in choosing good tools for self-improvement and self-enrichment.

It was truly amazing to see how a high school preparation exercise was applicable to someone with an established career. (We can learn something from our children, but we don’t have to tell them.)

Is there something you really enjoy doing but have never done careerwise? Did you ever want to do a certain job but said things like, “I have a mortgage. I have children. I have car payments.”

Prepare Yourself for Change

Even if you are not ready to change careers, it is a good idea to know where your strengths, weaknesses and interests can take you. Quality tools and techniques are applicable for all of the occupations predicted to have large vacancies.

Change is not easy, as Spencer Johnson alludes in the long-term bestseller, Who Moved My Cheese.”1 Perhaps circumstances will force you to find another position in quality—but in a different setting, such as healthcare, education or government.

Even more extreme, going from quality engineer to medical technician would involve coursework, change in pay or schedule or starting over in your work life, but if that is what you’ve always wanted to do, then do it. Your knowledge of quality principles and techniques will give you a head start in just about any field.


  1. Spencer Johnson M.D., Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way To Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life, Penguin Group, 1998.

TERESA WHITACRE is a quality assurance process leader for Respironics Inc., a respiratory device manufacturer and distributor near Pittsburgh, and principal of Marketech Systems. She authored a quality technology text used by the ASQ Pittsburgh Section for certified mechanical inspector and certified quality technician courses and has instructed both. Whitacre holds a bachelor’s degree in quality engineering from Pacific Western University, is a Senior Member of ASQ and holds the Society’s quality engineering, manager, technician and auditor certifications.

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