Quality Magazine

Workers Fight for Quality

May 5, 2003
"I'm burning out." That is what one quality professional said. And while not everyone that responded to Quality magazine's 2nd Annual State of the Profession Survey is in this state, this worker, apparently, is not alone.

"I'm burning out."

That is what one quality professional said. And while not everyone that responded to Quality magazine's 2nd Annual State of the Profession Survey is in this state, this worker, apparently, is not alone.

Today's quality professional works more hours, with fewer resources at his or her disposal than in the past. Compared to last year, average salaries are down, budgets are cut back. A majority feels that they receive little management sup-port; managers don't understand that quality equals financial growth. Many feel that their coworkers in manufacturing and assembly departments think their quality efforts are simply roadblocks to getting the job done.

And yet, an overwhelming number of them say they like their jobs.

They like it
Despite the long hours and occasional head-butting with management and manufacturing, more than 90% of the 2,400 people surveyed were at least moderately happy with their jobs. They point first to technical challenges and second to the feeling of accomplishment they get. Job security and salary are down the list of reasons to like their jobs.

Cindy Christensen is one of these satisfied workers. Christensen is a quality system manager at Mercury Minnesota Inc. (Faribault, MN), a metal fabricator whose clients include IBM, Kodak and Hitachi. Her wide-ranging duties are typical of many of those surveyed.

Christensen represents her company to customers and registrars, ensuring that the metal stamping company's quality and environmental management systems comply with the requirements of ISO 9002 and 14001. Her duties also include document control, internal auditing and applicable corrective and preventive actions, internal auditor training and maintenance of an internal audit team, and orientation and training of new employees.

"The things within my job that I consider to be the best parts include working with all levels of employees within the company, and the customer, vendor and registrar contacts that I deal with on a daily basis," Christensen says. "It gives me immense satisfaction to have a job where I can, and do, make a difference."

Christensen is in no way the only quality professional who wears many hats.

When survey respondents are asked about their primary job function, the answers include management, manufacturing engineering, manufacturing operations, quality assurance, and research and development. A short, and fairly straightforward list.

But, if asked about their day-to-day activities, the list grows. These tasks include supervising day-to-day operations, researching new methods and technologies, preparing and reviewing budgets, working to increase productivity, implementing quality methodologies such as Six Sigma, solving problems and putting out fires, evaluating proposals from suppliers, documenting adherence to formal standards and training employees.

Many hats
Another example is Jack Pipkin, who is a quality professional at the San Diego facility of Avail Medical Products, a contract medical manufacturer. Pipkin is involved with qualifying injection-molding tools to Operational Qualification and Performance Qualification criteria set by the FDA. He often takes new projects and helps them progress from design to manufacturing. He writes validation protocols and protocol reports, conducts statistical studies including gage repeatability and reproducibility, design of experiments, and statistical process control. He writes and revises procedures at the corporate and plant levels, and conducts supplier and internal audits.

"I get a variety of things tossed my way because I am an ASQ CQE, CQM, CQA, and CMI and have been in quality for over 25 years," Pipkin says, reeling off an alphabet of certification acronyms. "The best part of the job is making products that help restore people's health and working with customers who require sophisticated quality practices to assure processes are validated."

To get all of this work done, quality professionals put in a lot of hours. Nearly two-thirds, or more than 1,500 people, say that they put in overtime. Of the respondents, only 10%, or 241 people who are responsible for quality, said that they worked less than 40 hours a week. A higher percentage, 22.5%, works more than 50 hours a week.

As one respondent put it: "Fifty hours is an unwritten expectation. I plan to find a way to get down to that." Another said, "I could work 24 hours a day if I didn't limit myself."

Time constraints are the biggest impediment to getting the job done. More than three out of four of those surveyed said that the time crunch is negatively affecting their jobs. Many suggested that |better scheduling is needed for |production and introduction of new products. Greater communication should be fostered between the quality department and management, manufacturing, design and sales departments. Many people called for a greater emphasis to be placed on designing quality into products and production before manufacturing begins. Doing these things, some say, can help them meet deadlines and fit their 10 pounds of work into the 5-pound work week.

Take it home
For some, work time has bled into their personal time. Several people said they take work home with them and others were concerned about finding time to spend with their children and families. One said, "We all need to look at balancing our lives between work and our private lives." In the coming year, another respondent said simply, "children first."

The next 12 months won't see a reduction in hours, according to the survey. Two-thirds of those surveyed said their hours would remain the same, while nearly 30% expect that hours will increase. Only 4.5% said their hours spent at work are likely to decrease in the next 12 months.

While activity at many companies remains slow because of the economy and the aftereffects of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington D.C., many other companies are launching new products or have seen business increase. "We are growing rapidly here at this facility," one person said. "I predict I'll be working this summer around 20 to 25 hours extra a week because of new product launches."

Another big reason is ISO certification, which many respondents pointed to as a major undertaking for the coming year, as they prepare to transition to ISO 9000:2000. Maintaining standards is one of the most important yardsticks for whether the respondent would receive an increase or decrease in salary and bonuses.

Hit the pocketbook
This extra work should ideally translate into extra dollars, but overall that doesn't seem to be the case. "(As a) salaried employee, I am overloaded with work without extra pay," said one quality control professional.

For some, salaries are decreasing. "Due to the current economic strain," one worker said, "the hours will remain the same, but pay has been decreased by 15%."

More than half of those surveyed said they received an increase in compensation during the last 12 months. But on average, the amount of those raises were more than offset by salary decreases for other workers, some of whom saw more than a 15% cut in their base pay. The average salary for a quality professional was $64,810, a 2% drop from the $66,160 earned last year.

These dips affected both men and women. For men, who make an average of nearly 25% more than women, salaries dipped 1.8% to $66,160 from $67,340 last year. The average salary for a woman is $52,800, down 3.9%, from $54,970 a year ago. Men's salaries may be higher because a higher percentage of men have upper management positions, work in engineering and have more supervisory experience.

For those who reported a wage decline, the average overall decrease was 13%, while some workers saw paycuts of more than 15%. Those who got raises, meanwhile, saw their pay go up by an average of 5.35%. Men received an increase that averaged 5.34%, while women saw increases of 5.39%. But on the downside, men who reported wage cuts were hit with the biggest declines, at almost 13%, while women saw decreases of slightly less than 9%.

"I think that (salary discrepancy) has to do with the fact that quality is a male dominated field," says Christensen, "and that top management and customers don't immediately realize that a woman can perform as well as men in this profession." She goes on to say, however, that after she established herself and passed the "test," her colleagues accepted her as a professional, and often seek her opinion and expertise.

As seen in the charts in this issue and on Quality's Web site (www.qualitymag.com), salaries increase as education and experience increase. Company size and the industry in which one works are also factors affecting the bottom line. Many people who responded to the survey pointed to the slumping economy and market share as reasons for the drop in base pay, bonuses and raises.

Salary yardsticks
Company and plant performance are the two biggest yardsticks as to whether a person gets a raise or not. Also, those who are involved in ensuring company compliance with quality standards were also often in line for a salary bump. More than 40% said that pay increases were decided based on this criteria. For those people, as the deadline for ISO 9000:2000 comes rolling in, replete with its myriad paperwork, 2003 could be a very good year.

Many of those surveyed are doing all these duties, and more, with shrinking staffs and budgets. More than 46.6% point to budget cutbacks as a prime constraint to doing their jobs. Nearly four out of every 10 said that their quality staffs were reduced, while another 40% said their staff size has remained the same. Only 21% reported an increase in the size of the quality staff. Last year, 34% reported an increase, outpacing the 30% that cut staff.

One company laid off 40% of its quality staff in November, while at the same time scheduling production for new products.

"This is not a situation of trying to do more with less, this is simply trying to do the same with much less than is required," said one worker.

The budget cutbacks affect not only the size of the labor force, but also the tools and equipment provided to quality professionals to do their jobs. While 53.6% of those surveyed said that their companies embrace new technology, an almost identical number said that their companies will commit the same resources (41.1%), or fewer resources (10.1%), toward improving quality operations over the next three years.

Many respondents wished their companies would be more aggressive in new technology investments. One person, when asked what he would change about his company's approach to quality, said he wished he could get "approval (to buy) the equipment necessary to detect or fix defects before they reach a packer. You can't sort quality into product!"

Bottom line hurts
In the long run, many quality professionals say, this shrinking of resources will hurt company profits. Quality equals profits, they add, not quantity of product shipped.

"Placing better quality procedures in the production process will ensure complete customer satisfaction in part quality and on-time delivery," one said. Another respondent said that managers should not just say "ship it, and then cross their fingers and hope that the parts don't come back."

Unfortunately, because of time constraints, quality tasks are sometimes shoved aside. In answer to the question, "How do you meet quality needs that exceed your in-house capacity," respondents said that 17% of the time, the work just simply doesn't get done.

Measures needed
A number of those surveyed suggested that there is a need to establish metrics that show the cost benefits of quality initiatives. Too often, quality is seen as a non-value-added step in the production chain. "Financial justification of quality improvements is difficult when the benefits are mainly external," one person said. "The cost is well defined; the economic benefits (such as increased market share) are usually not."

If management could define these benefits, they would find that "Quality = $," one respondent wrote, while another said that his company should "elevate its (quality control department) from a 'must have' to a 'profit contributor' in the eyes of management."

Management. For dozens of those surveyed, it is almost a dirty word. Almost half of those responding pointed to management as their biggest problem. And while the comments are worded differently, the theme is the same -- a lack of commitment by management. Some of the terms used included management resistance, attitude, ignorance, inertia, roadblocks, commitment and conservatism.

According to the survey, managers tend to focus on quantity rather than quality. They tend to focus on the buzzword and quality fad of the day instead of using the correct tools and applying the correct methods, a number of respondents said. In effect, they don't "walk the talk."

Christensen added that she would like to see "improvement in top and middle management support of and daily involvement in the operation and maintenance of the quality/environmental system."

Pipkin agrees with this. "I think there is a lack of managerial support. I think it is because they (managers) do not have enough training in this area to recognize how a well-integrated quality system can help profitability. I think the solution is for top management to be required to get intensive training in quality assurance in the context of how it can help a business be successful."

Pipkin, like others surveyed, pointed to the need to focus on Six Sigma as a solution to quality problems. "I hope this is not a fad," Pipkin said. "I think it is something that, if top executives understand it and require it of their company, can help build quality into the fabric of a company through sound planning and practices."

Managers are not the only people who look askance at the quality department. Respondents said that many manufacturing and assembly workers blame the inspector when products are forced back to them by quality professionals who won't accept out-of-specification products. "Quality is part of the overall team concept," a respondent said. "We're not the bad guys, nor are we the log jam and bottleneck."

TECH TIPS

  • Quality professionals earn an average salary of $64,810. Men earned 25% more than women: $66,160, as compared to $52,800. One reason is that men are more often in upper management and have more supervisory responsibility.
  • Hours worked have increased for nearly one-third of those surveyed. More than 22% of quality practitioners work more than 50 hours a week.
  • Management's perceived lack of commitment to quality efforts is a common theme.