Recently, a head hunter in California was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't find high-tech process quality engineers. These jobs paid very well. On the other hand, he had a more difficult time placing quality managers.
What's going on? A true paradigm shift has occurred for the quality professional in the last several years. The consensus seems to be that self-directed teams are responsible for the quality, productivity, efficiency, cost and effectiveness of their operations. Each person has effectively become a quality manager, responsible for engineering the improvements in his or her job.
Quality managers or directors preside over much smaller organizations as quality authorities and responsibilities have been operationalized. More often, the lead quality person has a few key people who train, lead and champion quality activities.
On the upside, recruiters can't find specialized quality engineers. The above-mentioned recruiter placed a high-tech process quality engineer for $70,000 per year -- at the salary level traditionally associated with a quality manager- or director-level position.
Who is the CQE?
The American Society for Quality Control defines the CQE as: a professional who understands the principles of product and service quality evaluation and control. This Body of Knowledge and applied technologies include, but are not limited to the development and operation of quality control systems; application and analysis of testing and inspection procedures; the ability to use metrology and statistical methods to diagnose and correct improper quality control practices; an understanding of human factors and motivation; facility with quality cost concepts and techniques; knowledge and ability to develop and administer management information systems and audit quality systems for deficiency identification and correction.
Who's sitting for the CQE?
The CQE is a popular certification. As of December 1996, there were about 34,000 CQEs. I conducted an informal survey to find out who was now sitting for the CQE certification.
Several years ago, quality professionals and managers were often sitting for the exam. As quality consulting became popular, many human resource, training and softer-side professionals needed the technical credential. ISO 9000 and QS-9000 then seemed to spur a new group of quality consultants who wanted the credibility that the credential bestowed .
Recently, it seems a new universe of people are sitting for the CQE, largely because quality has been operationalized. A new generation of people is entering the marketplace, people who have assumed quality responsibilities but have never been exposed to quality. Before, these people may have relied on quality control personnel to find and solve process problems. Now, these people are responsible for system, process and product quality. What technical knowledge and skills do these people need? And how can a person attest to knowing the fundamentals of technical quality? Answering these questions is why the CQE has evolved into the premier quality engineering certification and credential.
People recently benefiting from the CQE include:
Team leaders/members. Team participants need to understand their processes and how to ensure their stability and control.
Process specialists. Manufacturing engineers and process specialists need to conduct technical process analyses and understand sources of variation.
ISO 9000/QS-9000 coordinators. Many ISO 9000/QS-9000 registration coordinators don't have quality backgrounds. The CQE provides a quality system, prices and product foundation for preparing, receiving and maintaining registration.
Customer-supplier representatives. More work is being outsourced to key suppliers, who are assuming more design, delivery and quality responsibilities. Customer and supplier representatives are sitting for the CQE to understand how to partner and improve supplier system/process/product quality.
Professionals with quality responsibilities. The CQE introduces quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement tools to professionals from other disciplines who need to implement quality systems in their areas.
Ensurer of quality literacy
One quality engineer calls herself "the conscience of quality and ensurer of quality literacy." When I first heard this, I thought, "What's going on?" But it makes sense. As quality is being operationalized, the quality engineer's role is evolving from problem solver to that of process partner in finding the best solution. Quality ownership rests with the process owners. Problem solving is now a participatory activity. The quality engineer is more often subject-matter expert, facilitator and coach.
"Being a CQE allows a person to spread 'qualiteracy' throughout the enterprise or organization," explains CQE Melvin Alexander. "The CQE allows an individual to apply the right tools (techniques and technologies) in the right areas (problems, processes, services or products) to obtain the right results."
All of us who have been in the quality profession assume that quality has been integrated into many companies, even those that are ISO 9000 or QS-9000 registered. Wrong! I'm amazed by the veneer -- yes, quality veneer -- that seems to cover many organizations. In other words, quality has not been integrated into the company's culture or operations. There may be loads of paperwork, quality auditing and other appurtenances of what management thinks is quality. There may even be a quality department.
However, is the company truly a quality organization? The quality manager removed from operational responsibilities sometimes has little or no influence on what occurs in administrative areas, on the production line, with the product-development teams or with customer-supplier partnering teams. As part of process or project teams, the line quality engineer has direct influence on how quality is being integrated and improved.
There are few baccalaureate, masters or Ph.D. programs in quality engineering in the United States. There are also very few barriers to entry to becoming a quality expert, consultant, engineer or trainer. The marketplace hates a vacuum. The ASQC saw the need for continuous learning and filled the vacuum with technical certifications. The Certified Quality Inspector, Certified Quality Technician and Certified Quality Engineer provide a formal, recognized process to attain specialized knowledge, be recognized by a professional association and demonstrate continuous learning.
More companies view continuous training and learning as a value-adding investment in their competitiveness. However, organizations don't readily admit that all teams and employees need to learn how the organizational systems work, as well as how work processes add value in an unbroken chain of product and service delivery. The ability to learn, understand, apply and improve processes is a litmus test of how likely a company will be to develop new products, lower costs, improve safety and reduce time to market.
Employees need the new skills, knowledge and attitudes to successfully master the changing competitive and workplace environment. They need to learn new techniques, quality tools, team management skills and new machinery. The CQE certification attests that employees have the requisite technical system and process tools to control, assure and improve quality.
The CQE exam consists of "what is " and "how to" technical questions. Technical and statistical concepts and definitions take up most of the certification. The following are typical questions from the ASQC certification brochure:
Question: Which of the following tests is nondestructive?
a. Charpy impact
b. Electrical conductivity
c. Shear strength
d. Stress corrosion
This typical question deals with concepts and definitions. Many answers in the exam can be arrived at using the process of elimination. Nondestructive testing means a product is tested and not destroyed. So, if you know this, then several answers can be eliminated immediately. If the test taker didn't know what the Charpy impact test was, he or she could eliminate this answer by inferring that impact would affect the integrity of the material. In the same way, shear strength could be eliminated by inferring that shearing destroys a product.
Question: One of the most important reasons for a checklist in an "in-process" audit is to:
a. Ensure that the auditor is qualified.
b. Obtain relatively uniform results.
c. Minimize the time required to complete the audit.
d. Notify the audited function prior to the audit.
While c is another possible answer, the best answer is b. A checklist tells an auditor what to look for. Again, a fundamental element of quality control is to eliminate sources of variation. Different auditors may audit a process, and common checklists ensure that all auditors are evaluating the same process criteria the same way.
Bottom line: Why should you sit for a quality certification such as CQE or CQMgr? Good question.
Traditionally, companies told employees what is necessary to perform a task or job satisfactorily. The company provided resources and training to ensure the task was performed according to company policies, procedures and expectations. This has changed as more companies move toward a system of developing employee potential through certifications, just-in-time training and self-development.
Self-development means that employees are encouraged to enhance their skills, knowledge and capabilities. A company can tell the employee what needs to be done, but the employee is ultimately responsible for ensuring that he or she has the skills to get the job done. The employee also has the information, resources, broad direction, networks and even mentors to pursue self-development.
There are several major assumptions in self-development. First, the companies are relying on the individual to determine what is the best method to do a job, to continue to add operational value and to develop the right career path to get there. The company is relying on the individual's skills, resources and abilities to ensure that he or she will get the job done. The company is also saying that accountability for success is now shared between the company and the individual. The employee assumes more responsibility as the contract between employee and company changes. The employee must show initiative, be resourceful and get the job done. In other words, value must be added. Tough talk for tough times.
As more job postings detail specific requirements, employees can look at the requirements and understand what needs to be done to get the next promotion or job transfer. This empowers employees to be responsible for their own career.
Remember this date
The next test is December 6. Call the ASQC at (800) 248-1946 and request the CQE Certification Brochure B0050 for complete requirements. The application due date is October 10. Don't miss it, or you'll have to wait another six months.
About the author
Greg Hutchins is an author and lecturer on quality. His firm, Quality Plus Engineering, offers internal CQM training. He wrote The Quality Book, a sourcebook for the CQMgr., which can be ordered through QPE at (800) 266-7383.