The quality profession has its own techno-geek equivalents: the Certified Quality Engineer, the Certified Reliability Engineer and the Certified Quality Technician.
The CQT is a big deal. More than 11,000 people have pursued and obtained the certification, and for good reason. As quality becomes more operationalized, technicians increasingly assist self-managed teams to improve process quality, speed up product development or improve customer servicethe foundation functions of every organization. Quality technicians now rank as the front-line troops in the battle to create competitive organizations.
What's going on? Two large forces are positioning technicians. First, new technologies are more powerful, versatile and user-unfriendly. However, technology still requires tweaking to the application and/or organization. So software technicians test printed circuit boards in real time. Chemists isolate and analyze rare plasma proteins using automated equipment. Quality technicians use automated SPC equipment to track process stability.
Second, boundaries between organizational functions have dissolved, and the distance between top management and front-line troops has narrowed. Information has become seamless. Technology acts as the great driver and lubricant making organizations more efficient and effective. Technicians now assume many functions traditionally performed by first-line supervisors and middle managers. In a quality organization, knowledge, skills, value and competencies take precedence over the old pecking order. Now technicians help design, manufacture, operate, maintain, sell and improve products and services.
Who is the CQT?
ASQ defines the CQT as:
"Ö a paraprofessional who, in support of and under the direction of quality engineers or supervisors, uses, in a responsible manner, proven techniques that make up the Body of Knowledge recognized by those who are experts in quality technology. Under professional direction or supervision, the quality technician analyzes and solves quality problems; prepares inspection plans and instructions; selects sampling plan applications; prepares procedures; trains inspectors; performs audits; analyzes quality costs and other quality data; and applies fundamental statistical methods for process control."
What's in it for you?
Get paid to learn. More organizations have instituted pay for learning to motivate and reward people. Everyone wins. You increase your skills, knowledge and pay. The company gains improved performance, quality-trained employees, a flexible work force and increased morale.
Apply practical skills. Companies focus on short-term quality projects to gain demonstrable results. They will identify a chronic problem, collect data, implement short-term actions and use the improvement results to foster a change in thinking. The goal is to eliminate the root cause of the problem. Quality technicians work at the center of this problem-solving, project approach.
Increase organizational exposure. Competitiveness requires full participation and customer awareness of all employees. They must know who their customers are, their requirements and how to satisfy them. Both established and new employees now are expected to have quality and customer skills to do their jobs. CQTs often train front-line team members in team skills, computer process applications, customer focus and quality literacy.
Increase professional recognition. One of the best things you can do for your career is to enhance your technical education with an ASQ certification. Many companies recognize the certifications. They enhance lifelong learning, they give you the inside track to jobs and enhance your reputation as a professional.
Follow an established body of knowledge. If quality is a profession, then quality professionals should work from an established and evolving body of knowledge. And their level of knowledge should be measured through CQT proficiency.
Keep up with the profession. The challenge for the CQT and everyone else in the rapidly evolving quality profession is to keep up with change. The profession isn't disappearing; quality is becoming operational. Each person and team is responsible for the quality of their processes and the ensuing products.
Follow the leaders. I've been talking with many ASQ-certified professionals regarding the value of certifications and the future of the profession. While the results of the survey are informal, the majority of the people I queried value their ASQ certification. An overwhelming number of them, especially supervisors and managers, recommend and/or require certification of others.
Improve organizational effectiveness. More teams and individual employees are being assessed for quality, internal/external customer satisfaction, cost-effectiveness and technological literacy. Why? Because more companies are placing greater emphasis on controlling product and service quality at the source. Front-line CQTs find themselves indispensable in this process.
Become an internal consultant. ISO 9000 policies, procedures and work instructions often state that process owners are responsible for their processes, including quality. To carry out quality functions, operating teams need quality experience and leaders. Quality technicians often consult with several teams, inspecting, controlling and improving operations.
Start at the top. Companies use the CQT certification to set technician salaries and gauge workplace competencies as well as employees' commitment to self-improvement, initiative and adding value.
Follow the money. Higher starting pay, improved working conditions and increased status induce people to become high-paid quality technicians and consultants. More administrative, production and operating jobs require extensive quality knowledge and abilities, mainly because of automation and electronic control systemsmany of which have quality tools embedded in them. Also, the graying of the technical work force has opened up more work opportunities.
Invest in something valuable. Technical training is becoming more valuable. As the cost of a college education continues to increase, it's difficult to justify spending thousands or even a hundred thousand dollars for a college degree that offers little return on the investment. A person with a technical education and skills is immediately employable.
Typical exam questions
Many ASQ exams have "gimme" questions, like: "Who's the quality guru in this list: Deming, Peters, Drucker, Smith or de Bono?" These questions can be understood and answered with little technical knowledge. The CQT test is different, focusing more on technical and specific information related to a quality technician's job. There are a few gimmies, although the wording and solutions of most questions are technical. Sometimes, there seems little difference between the knowledge required to pass the CQE and CQT exams. Some people find the CQT harder, particularly if they are new to quality or haven't been exposed to quality standards. Typical CQT questions include:
Question: You are plotting a control chart and the last two of three points are greater than 2 sigma, four of the last five points are beyond 1 sigma, and eight successive points are on one side of the center line. You should:
a. Stop the process immediately.
b. Take more readings and continue to plot.
c. Do nothing because no piece was out of spec limit.
d. Write a discrepancy notice to the supervisor.
e. Investigate to determine what has changed.
This question requires a person to understand process control. The process is still in control; however, something unusual is occurring, as indicated by nonrandom behavior (i.e., eight successive points on one side of the center line). The quality technician would figure out what's going on and investigate what has changed.
Question: End-item product audits will directly measure:
a. The outgoing product quality
b. The adequacy of inspection methods
c.The quality of capability of production
d.The adequate level of worker motivation
This is really a gimme. A person must understand quality terms, in this case specifically relate "end-item product audits" to its definition, which is "outgoing product quality." Unfortunately, not all questions in the exam are this straightforward.
Nuts and bolts
The CQT body of knowledge continually evolves. Every four or five years, employers and CQTs assess the information for relevancy and reliability. Changes are then incorporated into the exam. The CQT follows the usual ASQ format. The exam consists of 100 open-book questions and takes four hours to complete. The cost is $60 for North American ASQ members. The examinations are held twice a year, in early March and mid-October. ASQ is quite strict in meeting the application deadlines; pay attention to them carefully. Call client services at (800) 249-1948 for an application.
1.Richman, Louis. "The New Worker Elite." Fortune. Aug. 22, 1994. 56.
About the author
Greg Hutchins writes and lectures on quality. His firm, Quality Plus Engineering, offers internal CQM training. He wrote The Quality Book, which can be ordered through QPE at (800) 266-7383.