This month’s question

I left quality management three years ago to pursue another career, and now am looking to get back into the profession. I might be a bit rusty after a few years. What education or certifications should I pursue to brush up and be able to compete with candidates who are out there now?

Our response

On behalf of quality assurance (QA) professionals everywhere, welcome back! Pursuing additional certifications and education is a great way to refresh and update your experience, especially after being absent from industry for a few years. Good for you for taking that first big step returning home to your “quality roots.” Here are a few suggestions to help you get back in the game:

  • Unconventional experience. Although you may have been absent from quality for three years, chances are your hiatus still included quality aspects of some kind. A car salesman, an accountant—even a hospital janitor—all must ensure quality is weaved into their day-to-day job duties, just as any quality engineer or inspector would. Identify the quality attributes that followed you into your previous career and boast the different types of quality that you were able to experience while “out of quality.” Not only does it show your diverse background, it also shows your ongoing commitment to quality.
  • Certifications. It probably goes without saying, but ASQ certifications are a great resource. Visit https://asq.org/cert/right-for-you and peruse the different ASQ certifications that best fit your interests. The website has a table that describes each certification, as well as brochures and fact sheets with additional information. ASQ certifications will give you the upper hand and show potential employers you know your stuff.
  • Higher education. Although it is often easier, faster and cheaper to obtain a certification, additional credentials from a higher-level institute may be appropriate. If you are looking at pursuing a career or field that requires a higher-level degree, check out local (or online) colleges and universities to see what they offer.

    Before making such a large financial commitment, however, research the opportunity you want to pursue and determine whether a higher (or extra) degree will be beneficial to your career path.

  • Other education. It might be worthwhile to look outside of traditional educational settings and consider other types of continuing education, such as webinars, conferences and discussion groups. I present webinars through a variety of different online compliance and training websites, for example, and find that my target audiences usually are quality professionals looking to strengthen their skill set in another area of QA.

    This is especially beneficial if you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Being able to take courses that can provide you the most information on a specific topic is the easiest way to target learn. For example, if you know risk analysis is a skill set your future job opportunity will require, search for online resources specific to risk.

  • Standards and requirements. Depending on the field or industry, you might want to re-read some of the requirements related to your future QA role. My specialty is medical devices, so I make sure I’m constantly up to date on any changes to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, as well as requirements set forth in ISO 13485—Medical devices—Quality management systems—Requirements for regulatory purposes.

    Many of these regulations and requirements are cumbersome to read in one sitting, so brush up on individual and relevant sections as opposed to the entire document, and pay particular attention to any recent changes.

  • Guidance documents. There also are tons of guidance documents available online that may be useful. For medical devices, for example, some of the big consulting firms and notified bodies consistently publish white papers and blogs to spark discussion about new information in the field.
  • Group support. Lastly, I highly recommend connecting (or reconnecting) with your local ASQ chapter, division or section. Not only is it a great way to learn about a new, trending topic, it’s also a great way to network in your area. Chances are there are folks in your community who can help you ease back into the quality pool and provide guidance, additional resources and—most importantly—encouragement.

Good luck!

This response was written by Denise Wrestler, QA/RA Consultant, CYA Medical Device Consulting, Dallas.

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