First in, last out. These are the general hours of good quality managers. They are hands on, always moving, constantly improving machines who aren’t interested in anything but surpassing their own intense quality standards. But what happens when their standards aren’t good enough for the customers?
The days of 1,000 page binders of procedure and control are still with us, yet online supplier profiles, online corrective action reports, and online database management are now part of the job. This is all while interfacing with suppliers, certification providers, and customers while preparing for what seems to be the daunting task of yet another audit of some kind. This, in a nutshell is what it takes to be a quality manager in the coming year. Does it ever get easier? No.
In order to supply big box stores, we need to obtain an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification, but which one? We need to get certified from a reputable certification body (CB), but which one? Sometimes a specific customer requires a certificate from a specific CB, which yet again forces multiple audits.
Consider the barrage of audits equivalent to a steady stream of guests funneling through your house. It would get a little tiring whether expected or not.
Today, most quality managers and food safety managers are working with consulting firms while simultaneously improving their internal teams. Continuous improvement for internal auditors and lead auditors doesn’t just stop at the latest GFSI or ISO training. It often includes Lean, Six Sigma Yellow, Green, and/or Black Belt certification. Understanding and implementation of Kaizen certification is also necessary, all while running a line which frequently consists of two to three shifts per day, six or seven days a week.
Please keep in mind that these are only the quality needs for outbound business. Internally, a quality manager is responsible for making sure his/her management team understands that the manufacturing product must hold up to stringent standards and pass inspection before being released for sale or further distribution. Often this is met with significant discourse as upper management is receiving concurrent pressure from a board of directors, shareholders, or corporate requirements to hit projected targets. Regardless of projections and pressures from above, it is the responsibility of the quality manager to hold their ground.
So the question to ask now is, why? Why would quality managers want to break into or remain in a role with so many internal and external challenges?
The answer is clear. As a quality professional, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of the general public. Your standards, in conjunction with local/global standards, help to maintain a level of safety that in a perfect world remains uncompromised. This level of safety is what allows consumers to eat a tortilla chip without thinking about bacterial disease, to open up a soda/pop without worrying about contents other than the drink within, and to sit at a dinner table without fear of the table itself collapsing. There really is nothing in your life that has not been created, produced, assembled, or consumed without first passing through inspection.
Take great pride in the fact that your job, though at times can feel thankless, is paramount to everything from keeping babies fed through the production of safe infant formula, to keeping your televisions working through the proper production on an assembly line.
A degree in food sciences or microbiology is the general course of action to step into the world of food safety. For general manufacturing, an engineering degree is most common. If you want to pursue a more senior position, a Master’s degree is generally required or preferred.
Professional certifications run from a Lead Auditor in food to becoming certified in Lean Principles and most importantly Six Sigma in general manufacturing. There are multiple levels of a Six Sigma Certification (Yellow, Green, Black, and Master Black). The difference between a quality manager with an MBA and a quality manager with an MBA and a Six Sigma Black Belt is $10,000 to $15,000 in additional salary per year. Not only does this designation place you in the upper echelon of the quality community but it will make you more desirable to future employers as well.
So why would anybody want to get into the world of quality?
Do you like to give your input and see a positive outcome? Do you like to see things follow a process from start to finish with little to no deviation? If you answered yes then your OCD has led you toward this career. Within the quality ranks, you can build, tinker, engineer, create, and, most importantly, protect product and process from defect and flaw. Once you’ve conquered your process, and can own it in your sleep, you are ready to graduate from quality manager to quality director (with a minimum experience level of five or more years in a quality manager or equivalent role).
Nearly five to 10 years of climbing through the ranks will eventually lead to a very comfortable and nicely compensated position of quality director. This of course can only happen with a strong work ethic, incredible educational credentials, and a solid work history. A person who has shown movement from organization to organization every one to two years isn’t going to achieve the position he/she is looking for through “job hopping.”
A suggestion for companies looking to attract top talent: Invest in your process. Tools make the trade and a solid set of tools will attract top talent. Tools aren’t as simple as a calculator and a drafting table. I’m talking about people too. The better the people, the better the candidate. You, the executive management team absolutely must, without a shadow of a doubt, support your new quality manager or director. You must be open to change and accept that you are wanting to hire this person because he/she has the necessary skills to improve your organization into the lean and mean machine it needs to be in order to reach the next level.
As a recruiter, I first ask the organization what its hot buttons are within its systems. Based on that answer, I then work with the organization to reevaluate the true needs of the written job description—frequently what is not written is far more important than the generic and obligatory job description.
The responsibility of the quality manager or director is to protect his/her brand as well as the safety of the general public from default or flaw. A qualified individual can start as a college student who is interested in sciences, who then obtains a degree, continues to an entry-level position within a quality department, and matriculates into the most senior quality position within an organization.
A Modern Quality Manager
Today’s position of quality manager requires an insanely dynamic person with an internal desire to achieve perfection, who continues to improve, and who has thick enough skin to manage the several dozen audits in a calendar year. Is it worth it? You bet it is because a quality manager is the backbone of an organization. Without the quality professional, products would crumble. Maintaining a quality manager position requires continuous improvement and education to remain an asset for a long and prosperous career.
Sperber is managing partner of Quality Resource Partners, an affiliate of MRINetwork specializing in search and recruitment of quality assurance, food safety, sales, and technical professionals within the food and quality sectors. Sperber has more than 10 years of experience in quality management and food safety. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.