by Peter Holtmann
Quality professionals play an integral part in the maintenance and development of industry. They also contribute to the advancement of our lives through better practice and more confident outcomes. What we need is a clearer description of the pathway into the auditing profession and a supportive environment to foster excellence of our profession.
Let me describe my thoughts through summarizing my career in quality.
If you’re like me, “quality” wasn’t a topic of conversation or a thought pattern until I entered the manufacturing world. I came from a university focused on empirical sciences and hard facts about our planet and our universe. The mythical “left-brain,” analytical logic told me that, as in life, work was guided by inalienable facts that were hard coded into the fabric of running a business.
I began my quality career working in laboratories, relatively insulated from the manufacturing environments that these jobs supported. After a time these jobs showed me that challenges for my inquisitive nature lay in other pursuits.
At the time the only training I received was my bachelor’s degree; no mention of quality practices or processes were uttered to me. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know to advance my career.
A brief work reassignment with an employer saw me working with data to find patterns, sequences, trends, and predictions for manufacturing processes. I had begun my foray into quality without even realizing it. All I knew at the time was, “this statistics stuff is great! I want to do more of this.”
My first real experiences with quality practices was when working in the scientific affairs department of a food flavoring company. Here we had to control processes and record practices that led to compliance with regulations. It was interesting because it touched on my statistical penchant and allowed me to use some of the scientific practices by examining processes and recording them with the goal of bettering, refining, and maximizing their efficiency.
This company decided that quality was the next marketing angle for its business. (Yes, at that time the thought was that quality certification was a marketing edge.) For me, this directive meant a tap on the shoulder and a “go do a course on quality and how to audit it internally” conversation.
The course was great. I enjoyed it and it helped bring together some of practices I had been experiencing and learning on the job. But it was reaching me on a very different level. Once I recognized the value of “quality,” I saw its boundless uses and opportunities to improve my own life by seeking out quality inclusions into my personal life.
I keep putting quality in quotes because its meaning is somewhat ethereal for me; I can relate it to anything from safety to security to the environment all the way through to community and communication standards. The “right-brain” artistic, creative, lateral side kicked in and I could see that although quality had roots in using data to improve effectiveness, it was the connection to a pursuit of continuous improvement that excited me more.
Thus ended my formal training in quality for some time. My employer invested just enough in my training to enable me to implement a quality system and to answer external auditor questions.
Eventually, I went on to become an external auditor, trainer, and consultant in all things quality. I turned my interest in science, energies for quality, and an emerging passion for teaching into a career that helped many companies and scores of individuals find an interest and a career in quality.
So here I sit and reflect on my professional development in the fields of quality and wonder how much further could I have taken the pursuit of excellence if I had been offered further training and shown a career path for a professional delivering quality practice.
These days it’s a philosophical pursuit for me, and I look for ways of improving other people’s quality of life through acts within my business and within my personal life.
Career paths for quality professionals seem a little contorted. From the thousands of people that I connect with each year as the CEO of a personnel certification body, I see people coming from quality departments and entering the audit profession. I don’t see many people entering the consulting path, and I receive even less feedback on how professional trainers got their start in quality.
I would like to find out how a career path and a structured professional development program for quality professionals would aid our profession.
I have often wondered what led others down the path to quality. So here I welcome your stories, thoughts, and comments.
About the author
Peter Holtmann is president and CEO of Exemplar Global (formerly RABQSA International Inc.) and has more than 10 years of experience in the service and manufacturing industries. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and has worked in industrial chemicals, surface products, environmental testing, pharmaceutical, and nutritional products. Holtmann has served on various international committees for the National Food Processors Association in the United States and on the Safe Quality Foods auditor certification review board.