Becoming a Manufacturing Inspector: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a manufacturing inspector? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a manufacturing inspector is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Manufacturing Inspector

Manufacturing inspectors help ensure the quality of electronics, food, housewares, cars, steel, airplane components and a wide variety of other factory-made goods. The average pay is a bit below the national average, but for most jobs you need only a high school diploma. Weigh the pros and cons to see if a career as a manufacturing inspector is a good fit for you.

Pros of a Manufacturing Inspector Career
Minimum educational requirements (62% have just a high school diploma)**
Jobs available in a wide range of industries*
Pride of ensuring the quality of the products under your watch*
Ability to work with considerable independence and responsibility*

Cons of a Manufacturing Inspector Career
Lower-than-average salary (mean wage of $38,000 per year in 2014)*
Slow estimated job growth (just 6% over 2012-2022 decade)*
Some jobs require working nights and weekends*
May involve working around loud, dirty machinery*
Some inspectors have to be on their feet all day and/or do heavy lifting*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Manufacturing inspectors measure and assess raw materials, production processes and finished goods to make sure industry or manufacturer standards have been met. Because they work in a wide range of industries, the tools they use vary. Many use electronic devices, such as coordinate-measure machines (CMMs), while others rely on hands-on measuring equipment, like calipers. They must keep track of their inspections and, when they find defects, report them. Inspectors also work with supervisors to correct problems in the production process.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

In 2014, the average salary for quality control inspectors was around $38,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The middle 50% of the earnings range was $27,000-$47,000, and the top 10% were paid more than $60,000. If you are willing to move far north, you may improve your earnings potential. The highest wages were reported in Alaska, where the mean salary was $67,000 - $5,000 more than the next highest-paying state, North Dakota.

The job outlook for quality control inspectors is less than stellar. The BLS predicts employment growth of 6% from 2012-2022, which is slower than the national average. Quality control will remain important in manufacturing, ensuring ongoing need for inspectors. However, automated inspecting equipment has and will continue to take over some of the work.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

For entry-level jobs doing basic product testing, employers generally accept a high school diploma and provide on-the-job technical training. In high school, math and science courses are the most valuable in preparing you for inspecting work. But with quality control becoming more high-tech, additional education or training is becoming more desirable, if not necessary, in many industries. As a result, there are a growing number of postsecondary options in quality control and management and related fields such as nondestructive testing (NDT). There are courses to earn certificates and associate's degrees, as well as some bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Technical Certifications

In some fields, it may be important to hold one or more technical certifications, which are usually gained by passing an exam and possibly also meeting experience requirements. There are certifications in NDT techniques, which include magnetic particle testing, radiographic testing and visual testing. These may be issued by employers or organizations like the American Society for Nondestructive Testing. Certifications may also be industry-specific. The American Petroleum Institute, for example, offers certifications to pressure vessel inspectors, piping inspectors and above ground storage tank inspectors, and the American Welding Institute offers Certified Welding Inspector credentials.

What Employers Are Looking for

While technical specifications depend on the company and industry, employers in general want inspectors to have good communications skills and be detail-oriented. They also want self-motivated types who can work with minimal supervision and function well as part of a team. Good eye sight, the capacity to stand for long periods and the ability to do heavy lifting are commonly requested as well. Here are several real job postings from April 2012:

  • A steel manufacturer was seeking at least three die inspectors for a new plant in Ohio. Candidates needed two years experience in steel production, knowledge of or ability to learn CMM, metrology and other measuring tools and techniques, and capacity to read blueprints.
  • An aerospace equipment manufacturer in Connecticut advertised for a quality control inspector for the second shift. Qualifications included knowledge of shop math and manufacturing methods, familiarity with computers and blueprints and the ability to work with several types of inspection equipment, including calipers and micrometers.
  • A maker of medical equipment was looking to hire first-shift quality inspectors for its southwestern Florida factory. Among the requirements were two years of experience in quality inspection, knowledge of measuring equipment and blueprints and familiarity with relevant ISO and federal standards. Spanish language skills were a plus.
  • A major chemical company had an opening for a mechanical integrity inspector based in southeastern Texas. Candidates had to have five years of inspection experience, at least two relevant certifications from the American Petroleum Institute, knowledge of ASME codes and proficiency with Microsoft Office applications. A background in welding and familiarity with process containing equipment was preferred.
  • A small organic foods company outside Los Angeles, CA, advertised for a quality control inspector. Qualifications were solid math and communications skills, intermediate Spanish, knowledge of weights and measures and familiarity with food safety specifications.

How to Stand out in the Field

Knowing Industry Standards

Familiarity with relevant industry standards is not only a must for many inspection jobs, but also a good idea for anyone planning an inspection career. In some industries, like medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing, federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations are vital. ISO 9001:2008 and other guidelines from the International Organization for Standardization, which are general principles for quality management, are widely followed. You can assure prospective employers of your professionalism - and increase your marketability - by knowing the key standards in your target industry.

General Certifications

Once you have some work experience, obtaining a general certification can be a smart way to increase your value and versatility. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) grants a Certified Quality Inspector (CQI) credential that is broadly applicable in many industries. The main requirements are two years of work experience and passing an exam on a broad range of inspection skills and knowledge. In a 2007 survey, ASQ found that inspectors who held the CQI credential gained a $4,000 advantage in average salary. In addition, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing issues certifications that cover multiple NDT methods. NDT is used in many areas of manufacturing as well as construction, the military and other economic sectors.

Alternative Career Paths

Construction and Building Inspectors

If inspection is appealing but the pay in manufacturing seems a bit low, consider a career as a construction and buildings inspector. The work is similar to what manufacturing inspectors do, and it also requires no postsecondary education. But the average salary in 2011 was $55,000, according to the BLS - nearly $20,000 more than for quality control inspectors. Construction and building inspectors do, however, need knowledge of the building trades and may have to hold a state or local license. The expected employment growth for 2010-2020 is 18%, about as fast as the national occupational average and 10% better than for inspectors in manufacturing.

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

If working with data and measurements would suit you but spending your days in a factory would not, becoming a surveying or mapping technician might be a better career choice. The pay and educational and training requirements are similar to those of manufacturing inspectors, but surveying technicians work mainly outdoors and mapping technicians work indoors at computers. The mean salary for these technicians was $42,000 in 2011. The projected job growth for this career is 16% for 2010-2020, the BLS has calculated.

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