Careers in Logistics: How to Become a Quality Assurance Specialist

Jun 27, 2024
Quality assurance is a field for the meticulous and the detail-oriented. Given their role in ensuring products perform as advertised (not to mention protecting your brand’s good name), QA professionals have every right to err on the picky side.

By holding products to precise standards, quality assurance specialists curb the production and distribution of inadequate or faulty goods well before they ever reach a paying customer. They also carefully audit product development processes to identify potential flaws, implement QA automations and ultimately help businesses avoid costly recalls down the road.

Here’s a look at how quality assurance lays the groundwork for successful businesses, including a quality control specialist’s day-to-day responsibilities and the evolving nature of the role:

Why Your Business Needs Good Quality Control

Remember back in January when that refrigerator-sized hole blew open in the side of an airborne 737 because of some loose bolts? No amount of nifty campaigning is going to sufficiently explain all the dirt the feds have found while investigating Boeing’s pattern of poor business practices; the damage has been done.

Without sound quality assurance, companies risk a lot more than customer complaints and a negative brand image. Obviously, no business wants to go viral for accidentally letting shrimp tails into a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but quality control isn’t just about preventing PR nightmares. A QA specialist is a resource for achieving all kinds of large-scale business goals — in case you missed it, customers are really into faster, more sustainable production and delivery these days.

Strong supply chains are composed of efficient processes, and few positions are better equipped to locate and remove supply chain inefficiencies than your resident QA specialist.

What Are a QA Specialist’s Key Responsibilities?

At a high level, quality control occurs at three main junctures:

First Article Inspection: Before production even begins, raw materials and components from suppliers are inspected and confirmed free of any defects.

Production Inspection: Periodic inspections are then performed throughout production to catch flaws in the manufacturing process, plus identify ways to reduce waste and other inefficiencies.

Pre-Shipment Inspection: Completed products receive a final inspection before receiving approval for distribution. These final inspections ensure only high-quality products make it into the hands of customers, reducing the odds of costly rejections, recalls or returns.

Numerous sub-inspections and reviews are conducted throughout the production cycle within these broader categories. As such, a quality assurance professional might also shoulder the following responsibilities as part of their day-to-day task list:

  • Reviewing product plans and blueprints to determine product specifications and quality thresholds.
  • Comparing everything from raw materials to finished products with established specs.
  • Removing and documenting products or materials failing QC standards and implementing fixes to flawed goods.
  • Carefully documenting all inspection processes and findings (don’t skip this one).
  • Verifying product labels, sorting and storage to ensure picking and packing accuracy.
  • Inspecting warehouses for cleanliness and compliance with safe storage guidelines.
  • Monitoring customer satisfaction and complaints.
  • Ensuring safety gear is used and hazardous materials are appropriately handled.
  • Reviewing the loading, unloading, handling and transportation processes to identify inefficiencies and risks to damaged goods.

How Is AI & Automation Changing Quality Assurance?

If there’s one thing the dual powers of automation and AI are good for, it’s accurately identifying patterns — and flagging anomalies — in large datasets.

AI-powered inspection (often termed some variation of “automated visual inspection”) is particularly adept at locating defects. That means everything from unreadable barcodes and inconsistent product coloring to damaged packaging and spoiled goods just got a whole lot easier to catch before products hit store shelves.

For quality assurance professionals, the prospect of automated systems quickly flagging damaged goods suggests a major opportunity to streamline the quality control process. Indeed, Intel’s “computer vision” pilot program reportedly saved the tech giant $4 million in operational costs within a year of implementation. Highly regulated industries (like pharmaceuticals and healthcare) are expected to invest heavily in automation to eliminate human error from production and packaging processes.

For those in professional QA roles, this equates to a more diverse set of skills needed to keep pace with automation’s growing presence. Someone still has to develop, implement and manage those automations — someone with years of hands-on QA experience and a thorough understanding of what to look for when tagging products as defective.

Businesses and organizations will vary in how highly they prioritize a working knowledge of automation and software management, but the expectation is for information technology to play a major role in a future QA specialist’s credentials.

Becoming a Quality Assurance Specialist: Job Outlook & Requirements

As we not-so-subtly hinted above, the outlook for quality assurance specialists, analysts and testers with some background in computer or information technology is extremely bright.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a slight decline for traditional QC inspectors in the years ahead, popular job search sites like Zippia and Glassdoor report more than 147,000 quality assurance specialists currently employed in the U.S., earning an average annual salary of over $63,000 and boasting a projected job growth rate of 6% between 2018-2028.

In effect, automation is shifting the focus away from physical quality control inspections (though these will surely remain a fixture in most industries to some degree) to roles like quality assurance analysts capable of managing the modern supply chain’s increasingly technological back-end processes.

Recommended Education & Experience

The quality assurance field encompasses a host of different positions, each with their own requirements and career pathways. That makes the “specialist” role a difficult one to pin down; for certain industries, a high school diploma and hands-on industry experience may be sufficient. However, a bachelor’s degree is the typical requirement for quality assurance roles working in manufacturing or engineering disciplines.

That said, there’s no replacement for on-the-job QA training. Additional schooling and certifications do hold some value, but most specialists build their careers by taking on progressively larger responsibilities in the role itself.

Key skills required to do the job well include an acute attention to detail, the ability to communicate effectively (collaboration with each major link in the supply chain is critical), proactive problem-solving skills and a familiarity with the basics of information technology.

Careers in Quality Assurance

Demand for good quality assurance specialists is expected to grow alongside the profession’s widening scope of responsibilities. Experienced QA professionals make for sound production processes and healthy businesses. They shield companies from financial losses and catastrophic product recalls, protect brand reputations and encourage customer loyalty by delivering on the promise of a good product.

Looking to land a job in quality control or further your current logistics career? Check out our careers page for details on working with First Call, and don’t miss hearing directly from the FCL team in our Q&A Series!

Join The First Call Crew

Want to build a career somewhere you can make a real impact? Consider joining the team at First Call Logistics. As a fast-growing 3PL, we’re expanding our footprint and hiring for multiple roles.

To learn more about our open opportunities, visit our careers page and apply today!

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