All Roads Lead to Quality

Navy experience, ASQ certification and mentors carve out one man's career path

by Henry W. Robinson

At 17, most high school students are trying to decide what they want to do with their lives. I thought I knew, but as I have seen with many co-workers over the years, original aspirations often lead down another path. At graduation, I never would have thought that in 10 years I would work in quality assurance.

My father was a hard-working man with strong values who felt it was important to instill a good work ethic in his children. He made it quite clear that I was on my own if I wanted to go to college or technical school. Considering the high cost of four years of higher education, I did not relish the idea of paying off student loans for many years following graduation.

Dipping into quality

During my senior year, I looked at the military as an option. A recruiter encouraged me to test for an advanced program in the nuclear power field. I decided to take my chances, and two weeks after graduating from high school I was in boot camp.

During this time, I learned that the Navy wanted me to go into the mechanical field rather than electronics, where my main interest was. I was a bit disheartened, but I believe everything happens for a reason. Little did I know that it would help lay the groundwork for where I am today.

Following 18 months of training in mechanics and nuclear power, I was assigned to the USS Lafayette. I was eventually assigned the additional collateral duty of calibration petty officer, where I was taught to do some gauge calibrations and coordinate calibration of other gauges and instruments. I was responsible for making sure everything was calibrated according to schedule and maintaining the records.

As this process is often viewed as a quality assurance function, this was my first exposure to the field of quality—although I hadn't considered any career in the quality field at that time. During my four years onboard the Lafayette, I also assumed responsibility for maintaining the reactor plant manuals, standard operating procedures and all reactor plant records.

Through schooling and maintenance work, I became familiar with the Navy's quality assurance program, which was designed to maintain the safety of the nuclear submarine fleet. While undergoing a two-year refueling operation, I participated in various inspections and testing to ensure fluid systems met all necessary requirements.

These job functions further laid the groundwork for the future, although again, I never thought of the quality field as being a viable career path.

After four years onboard the Lafayette, I became a Navy recruiter. I was proud of my accomplishments and what the Navy had done for me, and I was eager to share my experiences and help others achieve their goals through the organization.

While this assignment did not have much to do with quality, it allowed me to guide young men and women into opportunities they might not have had elsewhere. I was successful in this position, and I achieved numerous citations and awards, including the Naval Achievement Medal.

After completing my tour as a recruiter, I decided to pursue a civilian career. I completed my last year in the Navy at the Philadelphia Naval Base onboard the USS Independence. There, I worked in engineering as the training coordinator and division officer's assistant.

The job reinforced my commitment to the importance of training, which has been a steadfast cornerstone of my career and is something I place great importance on today.

Moving on

While waiting to hear back about two nuclear power plant operator positions, I applied for a job as a quality control technician performing product testing at Electro-Science Laboratories (ESL).

I looked at this as a temporary job until something better came along, but within a few months, I started to realize that I really enjoyed doing this kind of work and started thinking about the quality field as a career avenue.

My quality manager at ESL, a mentor to me, encouraged me to join ASQ and learn more about the field. I gladly accepted additional responsibilities and pursued training courses that would allow me to further pursue a career in quality. During this time, I also completed an associate's degree in liberal arts.

After working at ESL for about 18 months, I was promoted to a quality control supervisor position. I then decided to look into ASQ's certification programs. It seemed that the quality field was not structured in quite the same way as many of the mainstream engineering disciplines.

While there were a multitude of small training courses, there were not many colleges or technical schools specializing in quality. I did not believe my two-year liberal arts degree was going to do a lot for me, as it became apparent that recognition in this field was largely based on experience and certification.

The next logical step for my career was to become a quality engineer. Typically, trying to promote yourself as a quality engineer without a bachelor's degree or experience in the position can be quite difficult.

ASQ certification was a means to that end. Those who have pursued this know how difficult it can be and what it takes to achieve it. It truly recognizes knowledge and experience.

After working at ESL for three years, I achieved ASQ's quality engineer certification, something I am still proud of 16 years later.

Certification lands a job

The certification allowed me to apply for a quality engineer job with ITT-Goulds Pumps. The manager, an ASQ certified quality engineer, was well aware of the certification process. Recognizing this certification and my past experiences with the Navy and ESL, he hired me. He became another career mentor, as he encouraged me to further my education and training.

As a quality engineer, I completed my bachelor's degree in quality engineering and became a certified quality auditor. My manager, looking to the future, made sure I was exposed to all different aspects of the quality field through varying job assignments and training opportunities.

After working as a quality engineer for seven years, my boss decided to retire, and I was offered the position of quality systems manager, which I have held for eight years. Most recently, I was promoted to quality assurance manager with some additional responsibilities as my previous position.

Role reversal

In my role as quality assurance manager and previously as quality systems manager, the mentoring I previously received has inspired me to encourage others in my department to seek training opportunities that will better them personally, provide greater versatility of resources within the department and strengthen our abilities to better serve the needs of the business.

I believe that individually we are all capable of many things, but collectively we are capable of greater things. Continuing to develop ourselves through training—whether it be formal or on the job—is key to our success in meeting the needs of the business and our customers in this ever-changing world.

Share your journey

If you have an interesting quality story to tell, consider submitting it for this column. E-mail your article to editor@asq.org and share your journey.

Henry W. Robinson is a quality assurance manager for ITT-Goulds Pumps in Ashland, PA. He earned his bachelor's degree in quality engineering. Robinson is a senior member of ASQ and a certified quality auditor and engineer.

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