What Quality Professionals Are Thinking

May 19, 2003
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You, reader, may be an E689, an Inspector, Tester and Grader. Or you might be an F797, a Production Tester, or an A056, an Industrial Engineer. These are the identification numbers the government has assigned to the work you do, the better to track the trends of your profession.

The first Quality magazine State of the Profession Survey also looks to track the nuts and bolts trends of the profession--salary and education, current work hours and future responsibilities. But the survey allows us to do a little more, to look into the heads of our readers, in a sense, and to shine a spotlight on some of their thoughts and concerns.

For the survey, done in April and May, Quality received responses from more than 1,600 quality managers, process and manufacturing engineers, and other quality professionals. The responses make some things very clear. Today's manufacturing quality workforce is a hardworking, ambitious and optimistic lot. In general, your work instills feelings of accomplishment, which is good, because there is an increasing amount of it. You expect to make more money and to progress in your job to a position of greater authority. What's more, to get these things, you are not afraid to put in long hours or learn new skills.

But current economic uncertainty has also got you a bit wary. You are worried about the economy in general and how that will impact quality budgets, which may impact your ability to do the job.

With staff sizes increasing for only about a third of those surveyed, workloads are straining against "40-hour" workweeks. Weeks have expanded to 45, 50 or 60 hours. For a few, most likely tired, quality professionals, the workweek exceeds 70 hours. Time constraints--only a 5-pound week in which to do 10 pounds of work--are a top concern for workers who wish that in the coming year they could develop better time-management skills.

Four years ago, the Bureau of Labor released a report called Emerging Occupations. There, in the document, nestled between utilization review coordinators and consumer credit counselor, is the job of quality assurance professional. The government report wasn't wrong. Quality assurance professionals have not only "emerged" in the American workplace, but now play a major role from the top to the bottom of the corporate hierarchy.

Those in the quality positions are leaders at their companies and perform an array of duties. They are involved in developing new products and meeting deadlines, they are charged with figuring out solutions to day-to-day problems and helping develop the quality processes that go into production. Then they document those processes to meet an increasing and changing array of standards. They administer quality assurance, total quality management or statistical control programs and formulate plans for quality improvement. They inspect or test raw materials, components or finished goods. They work on product specifications and analysis and evaluation of new products.

What's it worth
For this, they are paid an average salary of more than $66,000, in a range extending from about $30,000 at the low end to more than $200,000 at the top of the salary scale. As with most professions, the more education, authority and experience the quality worker possesses, the more money he or she makes. Not surprisingly, managers make the most, with average salaries approaching $80,000. Those with quality assurance titles make the least, at slightly less than $59,000. Even those workers without a management title, but who have supervisory responsibilities, average $71,000, which is substantially more than the $58,000 earned by those who don't have supervisory responsibilities.

In the workplace, education pays off handsomely--up to a point. High school graduates working in the quality field earn about $55,000 per year, on average, about $11,000 less than the $66,000 earned by those with four-year college degrees. An extra $25,000 is paid to those with master's degrees. However, those em-ployees with doctorates, the men and women in the lab coats who primarily work in research and development, on average earn only about $1,000 more than those with master's degrees.

Better with age
Experience, and, almost by default, age, also adds to the paycheck. The under-30 crowd makes $46,860, while those who are 50 or older make more than $70,000. The number of years in the career makes a big difference. Workers with more than 15 years of experience earn more than $70,000, while those with less than two years of experience make $58,700.

Still, the salaries earned by workers with tenures as short as two years are greater than those of engineering graduates, a reflection of the importance of real-world experience in the workplace. More than half of graduating engineers expect to earn $45,000 coming out of college, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Spring 2001 salary survey.

Regionally, quality workers in the Pacific states average more than $75,000, as compared to workers in the South Central states who earn $62,790 and are the lowest paid quality workers, according to the survey. Throughout the rest of the country, salaries fall in the $64,000 to $65,000 range.

The size of a company also makes a big difference. Quality professionals who work at companies with fewer than 50 employees earn $59,710. Those who work at companies that employ more than 1,000 people earn an average of $73,630.

Men, overall, make more money than women, $67,000 to $55,000, and have more supervisory responsibilities. On the other hand, more male respondents to the survey had advanced degrees, and were on average five years older with more experience in the industry than the female respondents. While the salary gap is wide, it may have inched closer because women re-ported receiving a slightly higher raise on average last year than men, 4.84% to 4.68%. However, a higher percentage of women said they did not receive any raise last year.

Optimistic, yet wary
Both men and women who work in the quality field are part of an optimistic bunch. Nearly 83% of all workers surveyed anticipate a salary increase at their next salary reviews.

While the survey didn't ask workers how much of a raise they expect, a national survey by Hewitt Associates (Lincolnshire, IL), a human resources company, projects raises for U.S. workers to be 4.4% this year. According to Ken Abosch, a motivation content leader for Hewitt, average salaries rose in 2000 and were projected to rise in 2001 and beyond. "This is the first time we've seen salaries grow since the mid-90s. We believe this increase will continue, as companies compete for workers during the talent shortage."

A number of factors play into the increases and decreases in com-pensation that quality professionals receive. The largest percentage of respondents, 74.4%, said that their salaries and bonuses are based on overall company performance. Other major factors cited included meeting deadlines for new projects 55.7%; plant's overall operating performance, 54.4%; maintaining standards such as ISO, 53.3%; meeting product quality requirements at a certain volume/yield level, 42.1%; and taking leadership in implementing new quality technology, 39.7%.

Limited control
As the survey results show, raises are not always in a quality worker's hands. The economy plays a part and many of those surveyed ranked job security as one of their biggest concerns. They also worry that a tightening economy will force companies to tighten their quality belts.

While the survey results show that budgetary constraints are a top concern, this contradicts what the workers think their companies will do in the quality arena over the next three years. More than half said that their company is committed to increasing quality operations during the next 36 months. More than half of the companies are willing to be on the leading edge or one of the early leaders in implementing new measurement, test and inspection technology, respondents said.

SomeArial a good salary isn't enough to make people happy. Experts say that the euphoria of a salary increase lasts only for about a single paycheck. After that, workers need other reasons to be happy at work while they put up with longer hours and insistent customers, snowy Monday mornings and horrendous commutes, as well as pagers that go off during lunch and in the middle of the night.

Feels good
The best thing for a worker is to like what they do, and quality professionals apparently do. For those surveyed, the best aspect of their jobs, the one concept picked most often by quality workers, is a feeling of accomplishment.

If doing the job is so satisfying, then why are the majority of people, nearly 60%, only moderately satisfied? Perhaps the answer is ambition. They desire advancement--they like what they do, but they want more--and they believe measurement, test and inspection is an avenue to get it. For those surveyed, the chance to be a team leader is the job's second biggest attraction.

Quality workers are already leaders in their companies--more than 60% have supervisory responsibility and most supervise two to five people. But they are not satisfied. More than 75% of those surveyed said they had taken advantage of training opportunities.

The skills they would like to develop during the next 12 months include: project management, 53.9%; time management, 42.2%; problem solving, 41.8%; and em-ployee supervision, 21.7%.

While most educational opportunities involved traditional on-site or off-site seminars, nearly 15% of respondents had participated in an online seminar or Webcast in the last year. This is likely a reflection of the time and convenience advantages brought by the latest online training technologies, combined with the Web's expanding ubiquity in the corporate environment. During the past year, 84% of the respondents increased the use of the Internet on their jobs.

Hardworking
Finding the time to take these classes may be the biggest chal-lenge. Quality professionals work a lot. They work longer hours than the average production workers--the Bureau of Labor says U.S. production workers, overall, average a little more than 34 hours a week.

When workload grows, as new products are introduced or compliance to new standards is required, quality workers put in more hours. If they can't fit the work in during regular hours, they work overtime. More than two thirds of respondents average 40- to 50-hour workweeks and another 26% put in more than 50 hours. Over the past year, 40% of those surveyed had their hours increase each week and in the coming year, almost a third of them expect to work more. On the flip side, while only 7% expect to work fewer hours during the next 12 months, nearly two thirds expect their work weeks to level off, albeit likely at a higher set point.

Those surveyed who work extensive hours are compensated at a higher level than other workers, however. To earn more than $60,000, quality workers need to work more than 46 hours a week. To make more than $70,000 they need to put in more than 50 hours a week.

So there you have it. In general, the survey results reveal the quality profession to be rewarding as well as challenging, and a profession that--despite today's economic uncertainty--appears certain to play a role of continuing importance in manufacturing in the years to come. As the story unfolds, Quality will be there to track it.

Survey Methodology
All readers of Quality with e-mail addresses were contacted electronically and asked to click a hot link to the questionnaire. More than 1,600 individuals responded.

The charts and tables in this report highlight the major data gleaned from the survey responses. In cases in which multiple responses were allowed, the total may exceed 100 percent.

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