An exclusive survey finds that salaries of quality professionals rose for the third straight year, and they are expected to continue to rise in the coming year.

Quality professionals saw a pay increase in 2004 that drove up the average salary for both men and women for the third straight year, reaching records levels in Quality magazine's exclusive 4th Annual State of the Profession Survey.

For the more than 1,500 quality professionals surveyed, more than 85% of who carry a quality control, quality assurance or related title, the mean salary reached $66,570, up from the $65,190 reported in last year's survey. This also topped 2002's numbers, the second year of the survey, when salaries were $64,810. This was a decrease from the 2001 salary of $66,130.

The mean salary is $60,000, down slightly from last year's mean salary of $61,000 with 1.2% earning less than $25,000 and 9.5% earning more than $100,000. Those surveyed, were asked to give their salaries in $5,000 increments, and within those segments, the biggest percentage of salaries fell between $50,000 to $54,999, as 12% said that they made that much. More broadly, nearly a third of the workers, or 30%, make between $50,000 and $65,000.

In this year's survey, 59% received an average salary increase of 5.5%, compared to lat year's survey when workers received an average increase of 5.1%. About one third of the more than 1,300 people who did get a raise received a 3% increase. More than seven out of 10 received raises that fell in the 2% to 6% range.

Only 96 people reported not receiving a pay raise. Of this group, the average salary reduction was 12.7%. More than half of the 96 saw pay fall by at least 10%.

Still, salaries are expected to get even better next year. Many of those surveyed are optimistic that they will receive more money. About 70% say they expect a pay raise at their next performance review, while 29.9% say they expect salaries to remain the same. Only 1.2% feel that salaries will go down.

It's the economy

The extent of raises may reflect the economy at large. This year, as with last year, more than eight out of 10 people say that compensation is based on overall company performance. The second largest factor, indicated by 44.5% of those surveyed, is the operating performance of the individual plant. Meeting deadlines for new projects and maintaining standards are also factors that dictate the amount of increase or decrease in compensation.

Oddly, the survey reported that the task to transfer to ISO 9001: 2000 was named by only 12% of the workers as the basis for a salary increase or decrease. This is somewhat surprising in that 40% say it is their primary responsibility and more than 40% worked additional hours last year because of the transition.

As with every year of the survey, salaries were affected by a number of obvious factors such as education levels, type of industry, experience, geographic region and other factors.

For instance, about 60% of those surveyed have an advanced degree with the largest group, 40.2%, having a bachelor's degree. As would be expected, the higher the education levels, the greater the compensation. Just 1.4%, or 19 respondents, hold a Ph.D., but those who do earn an average of $143,320. On the other end of the spectrum, those who completed a certificate program earn $55,140, and high school graduates earn on average $53,080. Those with a four-year degree earned an average of $68,470.

Six Sigma and ASQ certifications also hold earning power. A Six Sigma Green Belt, for example, earns an average of $73,910 while a Champion earns $124,380. Those with ASQ certification, which represents the lion's share of designations held, earn an average of $68,240.

Salary by industry shows that workers involved with navigation and control instruments earn $103,130. They are followed by aerospace workers who earned $73,520 and those making electrical equipment who earned $73,160.

Quality professionals who work at companies with more than 5,000 employees earn an average of $85,140, while their colleagues at companies with less than 50 employees earn an average of $54,360.

Workers in the Western states are the highest paid with an average of $74,220 while those in the Midwest are the lowest paid earning an average of $65,040.

Workers with management titles earn an average of $108,860 while those with quality assurance titles earn $62,250.

During the past year, 50.1% of workers received a cash bonus, and of those that did, the average increase was 36.4% from the previous year's bonus.

In terms of company-paid benefits, about 95% of the workers receive health insurance and 82.5% receive dental insurance. Almost 80% say that their health insurance costs will increase over the next 12 months. About 85% say they have a pension or 401K program.

Women in the workforce

Women are gaining on men in some categories, but still lag behind in most categories. Women make up 11% of the work force, up from 10% last year, and eight of 10 hold quality assurance or quality control-type titles. About 43.5% have supervisory experience.

In this year's survey, women earned an average of $55,270, which is up from $53,280, but still less than the men's average salary of $68,120.

The majority of women work in fabricated metal manufacturing at 21.1%. Women also are making their presence felt in plastics and rubber manufacturing (12.9%), computer and electronic product manufacturing (11.1%), medical devices (9.4%), and aerospace products and parts (8.2%).

Salary basis

The quality worker wears many hats during a typical day. They have to; while almost half say staff sizes have remained the same, more people saw a decrease in staff than those who saw an increase. According to the 1,569 people who detailed their workload, implementing solutions to problems was the biggest part of their day. More than 78.3% pointed to this responsibility, followed by interfacing with management, named by 69.3%

More than 60% of those surveyed have supervisory responsibility with the majority of them overseeing two to five people. On average, the total number of employees supervised is 13.75, a number skewed somewhat by the 3.3% of supervisors who oversee more than 50 people.

But this is just the start. Quality professionals change hats frequently. Many have to adhere to ISO and other standards, and many of these workers led the effort to oversee the transition to ISO 9001: 2000. They implement quality methodologies, while being on the teams that help launch new products, develop new processes and decide what equipment to buy.

They do so at the same time that they face more stringent quality requirements and increasing productivity levels. Comments from the quality professionals regarding workload include the words "more" and "new": more responsibilities, new products. Many also use the word "less," as in less resources.

All of these factors add up to increased hours. The average number of hours spent at work by quality professionals is 47.5. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed work more than 40 hours a week. More than a quarter of the 1,522 people surveyed say that the time they spent in the work place is more than 50 hours a week. Compared to last year, 36% worked more hours than they did the year before.

In large part, workloads will probably not decrease next year, but perhaps, for some, it will not increase either. About 67% of the workers feel that hours spent at work will remain the same-meaning still high, but not any higher-but 28.5% feel that the hours will increase. Only 4.3% believe that the hours they spend at work will decrease.

Time constraints from the workload is the number one problem affecting jobs. To meet their quality needs, 65% of the quality workers say that they work overtime, and 2% say that work is outsourced to a third party. For about 16.2%, or more than 200 people, the work simply doesn't get done.

Other factors affecting the work place include budget cuts and dealing with suppliers. Some typical responses from the quality professionals as to why they must work harder, include:

• Increased workload with decreased number of employees

• More work to cover, more responsibilities and more expectations

• Customer is demanding that their suppliers take on more of the responsibilities than they historically had

• Program goals are not getting completed

• Work cannot be done in scheduled time

• Understaffing and increased sales, along with the transition to new quality management system.

The numbers show that the more skills a quality professional brings to the table, the greater the compensation for the worker. In addition, as new responsibilities are laid at their feet, quality professionals would seem to require new knowledge to help meet the demands placed on them. During the past 12 months, more than 1,100 workers out of the approximately 1,541 who answered this question, did take some type of training. Six Sigma and other like methodologies were the most-often cited types of training with 34.6% of workers enrolled. The ISO transition led 34.2% to take training.

Almost nine out of 10 workers say they would like to develop new skills during the next 12 months. The skills that most of the workers would like to improve include project management, 47.7%, problem solving, 45.5%, and time management, 38.7%.