Certificate programs in quality control or quality assurance are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Most commonly dealing with quality control in industrial manufacturing, some programs are specialized and designed to build on a student's degree. Earning a certificate or degree aids in achieving the professional quality control certification, but work experience is necessary. Required courses depend upon the program's focus, but include technical mathematics, engineering economics, and statistics in quality control.
Associate's degree programs in quality assurance teach students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills to evaluate the systems that regulate quality. Administrative skills are emphasized in master's degree programs in quality assurance, in addition to leadership, quality regulations, and research methods. Certain schools offer their courses entirely online, so students who are working professionals can still attend school while maintaining their current employment. Some master's programs are available online.
Certificate in Quality Control or Quality Assurance
Certificates in quality control or quality assurance and control are offered at the post-secondary, post-baccalaureate, or post-master's degree level. They instruct students in quality control techniques and methods implemented in the field of industrial manufacturing. Quality control certificates offered in more specialized areas, such as pharmaceutical production, supplement a student's undergraduate or graduate degree. Certificate programs introduce students to concepts and procedures involved with maintaining a consistently high level of quality in manufactured products. Methods for establishing and implementing regulations and guidelines for quality and safety are introduced as well as essential quality tools and when it is appropriate to use them. The program's focus largely determines the course load. Courses are required in industrial engineering technology, manufacturing, architecture, and biological sciences. In some cases, general education courses such as English and math are required. Some courses that make up the certificate curriculum include:
- Technical mathematics
- Manufacturing processes
- Engineering economics
- Controlling quality through statistics
- Quality control for pharmaceuticals
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing practices
Associate's Degree in Quality Control or Quality Assurance
Although some schools offer instruction in quality control, quality assurance is the educational focus at the associate's degree level, which is subtly different though closely related. Two-year quality assurance degree programs instruct students in how to establish and assess the systems that check for quality as opposed to just simply inspecting quality. Students foster critical thinking and problem solving skills to manage continuous improvement of a company's products or system and, therefore, improving profitability. Courses are pulled from many educational departments, such as mechanical engineering technology, business management, and electronic engineering technology plus math, communications, and skilled trades instruction. Some specific courses include:
- Computer aided drafting
- Engineering technology
- Mechanical tools
- Industrial safety and health
- Reading and comprehending industrial blueprints
- Concepts and accepted practices in total quality management
Master's Degree in Quality Assurance
Quality assurance is highlighted at the master's degree level. These 27-33 credit hours degree programs emphasize communication and managerial foundations in quality assurance while addressing the advanced practical knowledge and abilities needed to work in an administrative position. Students are introduced to various quality systems standards, such as Six-Sigma, ISO and TL 9000. Methods for maximizing productivity and customer satisfaction while minimizing risk are examined. Along with a bachelor's degree in science/engineering, undergraduate courses in integral and differential calculus, mathematical statistics, chemistry, computer technology, physics and statistics are common prerequisites. Students take upper-level courses such as:
- Regulatory compliance as measured by statistical methods
- The human element in quality assurance
- Leadership foundations
- Quality regulations laws and ethics
- Quality assurance for software
- Quality systems and research methods
Graduates of a certificate program have access to a wide assortment of occupations in the field of quality control. Many of these occupations only require a high school diploma, but a postsecondary certificate may be desired by potential employers. Specific careers available include:
- Quality technician
- Quality inspector
- Quality auditor
The skills and knowledge imparted by quality control and assurance programs are applicable to careers in industries such as manufacturing, service and education. An associate's degree is an important step towards occupations such as:
- Quality engineer
- Quality process analyst
- Reliability lab technician
Master's degree holders tend to work in the administrative side of quality assurance. Quality management positions are available in industries such as health care, food and government. Specific job titles include:
- Industrial production manager
- Compliance manager
- Reliability engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects little to no change in the employment of quality control inspectors from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Payscale.com reported that the median annual salary of a quality control inspector was $47,987 in October 2016. Salaries ranged from $25,871 to $71,826.
The BLS expects a 4% decline in employment opportunities for industrial production managers between 2014 and 2024. The median wage for these managers was $93,940 in May 2015, reported the BLS. Most industrial production managers earned between $56,640 and $162,240 annually.
Professional certifications in quality control are offered by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Although these certifications rely heavily on work experience and higher education isn't required, a degree or post-secondary certificate may count toward some of the required work experience necessary to receive professional certification.
The ASQ also offers professional certification for many occupations involving quality assurance. Earning an associate's degree counts as two years of the required work experience, which in some occupations may be considered sufficient to receive full certification.
ASQ professional certification is aided by the completion of a master's degree in quality assurance, which can count for three to five years of work experience depending on the specific occupational certification. There are also many quality assurance continuing education programs that help students fine-tune their knowledge to a specific area of quality assurance. Continuing education programs exist for quality assurance in fields like nuclear power, computer software and higher education.
At the associate's level students learn basic skills needed to check for quality, while a master's program prepares students for managerial positions. Certificate programs in quality control or quality assurance may be pursued at both the undergraduate and graduate level to enhance these skills.