You'd be suited to a career in quality management if you're meticulous about meeting standards and customer expectations, and committed to improving business performance

Quality managers aim to ensure that the product or service an organisation provides is fit for purpose, is consistent and meets both external and internal requirements. This includes legal compliance and customer expectations.

As a quality manager, sometimes called a quality assurance manager, you'll coordinate the activities required to meet these quality standards.

Your role is concerned with monitoring and advising on the performance of the quality management system, producing data and reporting on performance, measuring against set standards.

You will need to liaise with other managers and staff throughout the organisation to ensure that the quality management system is functioning properly. Where appropriate, you'll advise on changes and how to implement them and provide training, tools and techniques to enable others to achieve quality standards.

Responsibilities

Quality managers use a variety of measures and management systems, such as total quality management.

Your work is specialised and the exact tasks carried out vary depending on the nature of the employing organisation. You may be involved in some or all of the following:

  • devising and establishing a company's quality procedures, standards and specifications
  • reviewing customer requirements and making sure they are met
  • working with purchasing staff to establish quality requirements from external suppliers
  • setting standards for quality as well as health and safety
  • making sure that manufacturing or production processes meet international and national standards
  • looking at ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency
  • defining quality procedures in conjunction with operating staff
  • setting up and maintaining controls and documentation procedures
  • monitoring performance by gathering relevant data and producing statistical reports
  • making suggestions for changes and improvements and how to implement them
  • using relevant quality tools and making sure managers and other staff understand how to improve the business
  • making sure the company is working as effectively as possible to keep up with competitors.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for quality managers are in the region of £23,000 to £28,000. It is often expected that you will have prior experience of working in quality or the relevant industry and so some starting salaries may be higher.
  • With experience, you could earn £28,000 to £50,000 depending on the level of the role and industry it is in. Some senior managers may achieve higher salaries than this.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours and conditions vary between sectors, but you may be required to start early and finish late, as well as carry out shift work, particularly in manufacturing. Other sectors may provide regular office hours.

Career breaks are possible, but quality assurance techniques change and develop rapidly so it is important to keep your knowledge up to date.

What to expect

  • Your work may be office based, as in customer service operations, or laboratory based, as in process industries.
  • Once you have gained some experience, self-employment and freelance work are possible by working as a consultant to small firms or trainers.
  • Jobs are available in organisations throughout the UK. Quality management is practised in all industries in the public and private sectors and by firms and organisations of all sizes.
  • Travel within a working day depends on the employer and may sometimes be frequent.
  • You may have to stay away from home overnight. Overseas work or travel may be required; for example, to visit customers, carry out supplier audits, meet to discuss quality plans or investigate particular quality issues.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates but a degree in a relevant area, such as business management, will be particularly helpful, especially if it includes quality management modules.

Jobs in certain sectors may require industry-specific qualifications so degrees in the following subjects could be useful:

  • engineering and manufacturing
  • physical/mathematical/applied science
  • polymer science technology
  • textile technology.

Relevant HND subjects are the same as those at degree level as well as production, materials science and printing and clothing technology.

A degree or HND in any subject that is specific to the industry in which you wish to work will be helpful.

Entry without a degree or HND is sometimes possible if you have substantial experience and training.

You might find it useful to join a relevant professional body, such as the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI). This provides regular newsletters, networking opportunities and free and discounted events.

Skills

You will need:

  • communication skills
  • the ability to persuade
  • interpersonal skills
  • problem-solving abilty
  • organisational and planning skills
  • skills in numerical and statistical analysis
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • an understanding and appreciation of other people's work disciplines, such as engineering and science.

Work experience

Many quality managers move into the job once they have gained experience elsewhere in the company or industry. This could be in project management or quality control roles, or other areas that help to show they have knowledge of how a company or organisation operates.

If you do not have this experience it may be helpful to take a relevant postgraduate qualification to show that you have an understanding of the area. Specific Masters are available in quality management and in subjects for more specific industries, such as food quality management. Search for postgraduate courses in quality management.

You may be able to start work at a lower level such as quality control technician and work your way up to the role of quality manager.

Try to obtain a relevant vacation job, seek out and talk to staff in supporting roles or arrange a work-shadowing placement to give you some background knowledge and experience.

Employers

You could find work as a quality manager in a range of industries. Many large companies and public sector organisations require quality professionals to ensure standards are met across goods, customer service and legal compliance.

Manufacturing organisations are big employers across mechanical engineering, civil, chemical, electrical and electronic engineering, as well as the pharmaceutical, textile, chemical, and food and drink industries.

Many other larger service providers, including healthcare organisations, banks, educational establishments, legal practices and government departments employ quality professionals.

Look for job vacancies at:

  • CWJobs
  • New Scientist Jobs
  • Quality Jobs - official jobs board of the CQI
  • Journals, recruitment websites and agencies associated with particular industries or service providers
  • Careers service vacancy lists.

Recruitment agencies sometimes handle vacancies.

Professional development

Major employers run graduate training programmes, which enable you to learn about all aspects of the organisation and provide experience through projects and other hands-on work.

Training and modular courses are available through the CQI. They have set up the CQI Competency Framework, covering skills required by quality managers in areas such as governance, context, improvement, assurance and leadership.

Further information is available from CQI Training and events.

When you have gained two years' experience in quality management, you can apply to the CQI to regrade your membership to practitioner level. If you then commit to carrying out a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) you can achieve chartered quality professional status. This will help with career development and show you have reached a recognised standard.

Most employers support CPD as it allows you to maintain and develop expertise as well as build networks with colleagues in other locations. If you work for a smaller company, you may find that you need to take responsibility for arranging and funding your own development and training. Relevant courses and events are run by the:

Once working as a quality manager, you will need to have a working knowledge of the national and international quality standards that are relevant to the job. For more information on these see the British Standards Institution (BSI).

Career prospects

Your career development prospects in quality management are good. Quality managers are able to progress while remaining within the quality function, which is becoming increasingly prestigious and central to organisations' activities, with appointments being made at all stages of management up to board level.

Work in quality assurance (QA) can also lead to management jobs in other areas of the business, such as:

  • customer relations
  • health and safety
  • human resources
  • production
  • technical sales.

Your immediate prospects may depend on the size and type of the organisation for which you work.

In large organisations, you may have more opportunities to specialise in a particular process area and to advance through the corporate structure.

In a small organisation, there may be the possibility to practise quality assurance in several different functions across the business, to feel closer to the front line of business activity, and to see the direct commercial impact of your contribution.

Becoming a chartered quality professional will help your career prospects as it shows you have reached a recognised standard. You will need to be either a member or fellow of the CQI and contribute towards continuing professional development (CPD). More information is available at Chartered Quality Professional (CQI).

With significant experience, it may be possible to work as a self-employed consultant, working on various quality projects for different organisations.