Becoming a Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) - Education & Certification

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Quality engineers use a wide variety of methods to identify, analyze, critique, and correct quality control procedures. Theirs is a job of constant revision, precision, and paying very close attention. This might involve testing products, taking part in demo groups and company think tanks, developing quality control systems, and analyzing quality assurance test results to ensure that the end-product meets the exact needs of the user.

A certified quality engineer (CQE) is a professional who understands the principles of excellence evaluation and control for products and services. These professionals use “Quality Principles” outlined by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The ASQ is the only certification authority on the mastery of quality assurance and engineering. Founded in 1946, the ASQ is the global leader in quality assurance practice.

A certified quality engineer (CQE) is a professional in the quality assurance field who holds a certification issued by the ASQ. An individual with this credential confirms their expertise, knowledge, and experience in quality engineering by skillfully managing the implementation of quality engineering processes. A background in statistics can help to round out the CQE’s ability to troubleshoot and identify problems in complex mechanical and tech systems.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an ASQ Certified Quality Engineer (CQE)

Step 1a: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Quality Engineering or a Related Discipline (Four Years).

While not necessarily a field in which you need a bachelor’s degree to begin work, prospective CQEs might find that employers favor those who possess a BS in a STEM discipline. Courses of study and programs in engineering, biology, mathematics, technical communications, pharmacy, and medicine are just a few examples of degrees that are highly sought after by employers.

For example, this 100 percent online bachelor of science degree in quality assurance at California State University boasts an inventive, evolving, and cutting-edge curriculum in statistics, critical thinking, oral communication, technical communications, mathematics, and quantitative thinking.

Prospective CQEs can apply for ASQ credentialing with only four years of industry experience if they have a BS degree (as opposed to eight years of experience).

Step 1b: Earn a Master’s Degree in Quality Engineering (Optional, Two Years).

A master’s degree can not only enhance a person’s skills in QE, but it can also reduce the number of years of experience required for certification. In fact, it cuts the original requirement of eight years of experience down to three years.

Master’s programs in quality engineering dig deeper into the complexities of the industry’s role as the last group of eyes to test a product or result. Arizona State University offers an online MS program in quality, reliability, and statistical engineering that is 30 credit-hours. ASU requires that half of all coursework must be in engineering or interdisciplinary subjects, including the completion of three credit-hours of work in applied engineering mathematics and three credit-hours in management or business. The program culminates with a specialized capstone project.

Step 1c: Earn a Doctorate in Quality Engineering (Optional, Three to Five Years).

As with a master’s in quality engineering, apart from the obvious benefit of being an expert in the subject, a doctorate can lower one’s practical work experience requirement for certification by five years. Three years of practical, professional work experience are still required, even after obtaining the highest degree offered.
This industrial and systems engineering program with a concentration in quality engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville may be a good fit for students seeking the terminal degree in the discipline.

Step 2: Gain the Required Work Experience for CQE Certification (Three to Eight Years).

All candidates must have eight years of on-the-job experience in the industry of quality assurance, quality engineering, or quality management. One to five of these years can be waived with the completion of a qualifying bachelor’s or graduate degree, respectively. In other words, all candidates must possess at least three years of decision-making experience and a total of eight years of experience in the industries mentioned above, or a combination of some amount of experience and post-secondary education. Specifically:

  • Earning a diploma from a technical school can reduce the eight-year experience requirement by one year, meaning that you’ll need seven years of additional job experience.
  • Having an associate’s degree reduces it by two years, and having a BS reduces it by half, for a total of four years.
  • Because the ASQ also requires that anyone applying to take the CQE exam has three years of decision-making experience in management, earning either a master’s degree or a PhD in quality engineering reduces the required years of experience by five years, for a total of three years.

Step 3: Apply for the CQE Exam (Less Than One Year).

The cost of the CQE exam is $498. Register for free with the American Society for Quality to get the ball rolling and save $100 on the cost of the exam. Prospective CQEs can become a member of the ASQ for an annual fee of $169. Doing so will gives candidates full access to all ASQ resources, support, and industry news and updates.

This list of exam dates in 2019 and beyond can give aspiring CQEs an idea of how often exams take place. The CQE exam application and the ASQ “Certified Body of Knowledge” are both useful to begin the credentialing process.

Step 4: Prepare for the CQE Certification Exam (Less Than One Year)

The certification exam for certified quality engineers measures an applicant’s grasp of the ASQ’s Certified Body of Knowledge, which focuses on the topics of:

  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Quality control
  • Quality systems
  • Quality engineering
  • Product design
  • Product control
  • Process design
  • Process control
  • Theories of continuous improvement
  • Quantitative methods
  • Quantitative tools
  • Theories and techniques of risk management

Please note that the ASQ also offers CQE exam preparation. (Please refer to the end of this article for other exam prep resources.)

Step 5: Take the CQE Certification Exam (Timeline Varies).

Prospective CQEs can apply for the exam online or can download and mail their application to the ASQ. After applying, once the application has been processed and approved, soon-to-be CQEs will be informed of the examination location. Refer to the list of exam dates above for more information.

There are 175 multiple-choice questions on the test which must be completed within 330 minutes. The ASQ emails results within six to seven business days. To pass the test and become certified, it is required that applicants score a minimum of 550 points out of 750 total possible points.

The minimum expectations of a certified quality engineer, as listed by the ASQ, include a thorough understanding of the principles, systems, methods, tools, and standards of quality engineering, in addition to possessing a fundamental understanding of quality philosophies, organizational and team dynamics, customer expectations and satisfaction, supplier relations and performance, leadership, training, interpersonal relationships, improvement systems, and professional ethics.

CQEs also must demonstrate a working knowledge of reliability, maintainability, and risk management, including key terms and definitions, modeling, systems design, assessment tools, and reporting.

Additionally, the exam will test whether or not applicants have a fundamental understanding of a quality system and its development, how to accomplish documentation and implementation of domestic and international standards, and have a basic working knowledge of auditing (e.g., tracking, analyzing, reporting and problem solving).

Ultimately, the ASQ wants to ensure that CQEs will be able to observe, obtain, and analyze data using quantitative methods across a spectrum of highly-variable business settings to keep the process of analysis and improvement in motion.

Step 6: Renew CQE Certification (Every Three Years).

A certified quality engineer credential from the ASQ must be renewed every three years. This is so that practical and professional knowledge are always at the same level.

There are two ways to accomplish this. Option A involves simply retaking the exam in its entirety, which means studying the most recent edition of all relevant reference materials and handbooks. The end of this article lists some helpful resources for those hoping to study for the CQE exam. Option B for recertification involves acquiring recertification units by completing reskilling activities like professional development courses, specialty seminars, or extended and approved field work.

Where Do Certified Quality Engineers Work?

Some major industries that employ CQEs include manufacturing, aviation, space, defense, pharmaceutical manufacturers, oil, automotive, biomedical devices, natural gas, chemical energy, industrial equipment, engineering firms, construction companies, and tools.

Some of the skills essential to the certified quality engineering profession include those involving problem-solving, the ability to analyze data, exceptional organizational skills, leadership abilities, and interpersonal skills. Extended experience with theories of quality control, quality assurance, and laboratory regulations will help prospective CQEs get a leg up. Overall, a thorough knowledge of quality improvement techniques and tools, quality principles and standards, and a keen perception of quality system development are a few of the other critical skills necessary to such positions in the fields of manufacturing, medicine, automotive, and many others.

How Much Do Quality Engineers Make?

Certified quality engineers often find themselves working in a managerial capacity, supervising other certified quality assurance professionals, and organizing the finer details of complex projects. According to PayScale, ASQ-certified quality assurance engineers earned an average annual income of $86,000.