Process improvement involves implementing strategies to reduce cost and improve productivity in manufacturing facilities and other types of businesses. Individuals who are interested in learning about process improvement, either to secure a job in manufacturing or to boost their skills as a working professional, have a few options from which to choose. Undergraduate certificate programs cover the basics in the field, while advanced degree programs can prepare graduates to work in management or consultation.
Certificate in Manufacturing Process Improvement
Students in these 1- to 2-semester programs learn to minimize cost and waste while improving productivity and product quality. Because quality in manufacturing requires knowledge of a variety of job functions, programs may require visits to manufacturing facilities as part of the curriculum. Applicants to these programs are required to have completed high school.
Students learn to set goals, satisfy customer requirements and create ways to perform a job properly the first time. Other topics covered in these programs may include:
- Internal auditing
- Quality assurance
- Work cell design
Graduate Certificate in Lean Six Sigma
These 1-semester programs are offered through business administration or engineering management departments. Students prepare to improve efficiency by defining problems, measuring achievement, analyzing and improving shortcomings as well as controlling future processes in a variety of workplaces. Online training options are available.
Applicants to these programs are required to have completed a Bachelor of Science degree in a scientific discipline. Some programs require that students already be enrolled in a graduate program prior to admission or have at least two years of relevant experience
Improving processes requires knowledge of data analysis, analytical tools and business management. Additional topics that might also be available to students include:
- Design methodology
- Management strategy
- Manufacturing systems
Master of Business Administration Programs Covering Process Improvement
In addition to looking at case studies, students in these 18- to 24-month programs learn about how quantitative methods and supply chain fundamentals relate to process improvement. Programs may either be called process improvement programs or take their name from the name of an industry method of process improvement, like Six Sigma. Some programs offer students the opportunity to serve as unpaid quality improvement consultants at various worksites.
Applicants are required to be college graduates, though not necessarily from a specific type of program. Candidates for admission are generally also required to submit GMAT scores and a professional resume to complete their admissions packet.
Programs prepare graduates for employment in health care, manufacturing, retail, finance, logistics and consulting services by focusing on the underlying principles behind business administration and process improvement. Topics commonly covered in these types of programs include:
- Project management
- Quantitative methods
- Supply chains
Popular Career Options
Entry-level workers are often employed in the following roles:
- Materials inspectors
- Mechanical inspectors
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that quality control inspectors in the U.S. little to no change in the number of jobs over the course of the years 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers held 496,600 jobs across the country. These professionals earned a median annual wage of $36,000 as of the May 2015 BLS report. According to the same source, the highest paying wages were found in the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industries.
Certification and Continuing Education Information
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) offers certification to Quality Inspectors who have two years of relevant experience and a high school diploma (www.asq.org). Those who have not completed high school are required to have an additional three years of professional experience in mechanical inspection or a related field.
Earning the credential requires that applicants pass a 4-hour, 100-question, open-book examination. Recertification is not required as the Quality Inspector credential is a lifetime certification.
The ASQ also certifies quality managers, auditors and engineers. While certification requirements vary by credential, applicants are commonly required to have at least eight years of related experience, with at least three years of this experience in a decision-making position. Recertification requirements must be met every three years; recertification requires that applicants either take an examination or prove a certain amount of continuing education credit.
A variety of types of Six Sigma Certifications are offered through ASQ, for both the project level and the organizational level. Some credentials - like the Six Sigma Green Belt certification - are lifetime certifications, while others require renewal.
Doctoral training in business administration is available both as Doctor of Business Administration and Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration programs. These programs generally take 4-6 years to complete.
There are several educational options for potential students who want to pursue a career in process improvement, including undergraduate certificate programs and graduate-level certificate and degree programs. Many MBA programs cover process improvement, or students may choose to get Lean Six Sigma certifcation.