If there is one lesson that companies in the food and beverage (F&B) sector can learn from the poison milk scandal on the mainland, which is still dogging the country 18 months after it broke, it is that quality is king. A great deal of that responsibility rests with quality assurance (QA) managers whose job is to improve the standards of manufacturing processes and products within a facility. Their work is different from that of a quality control manager who focuses on the testing of finished products to uncover defects. The QA manager's job is to improve the production process so that only a few minor faults make it to the final stage. 'A quality assurance manager develops strategies and plans to assure that quality is built into manufacturing systems,' says CK Ho, senior manager for operations at brewer San Miguel. They have to set up a system that defines the procedures for every step in the manufacturing process, ranging from the receipt of raw material to packaging and distribution. Once that is done, they monitor the performance of the quality system and ensure that the products meet both customer expectations and legal requirements. 'They liaise with staff and external regulatory bodies to ensure that the system is functioning properly and complies with internal and external standards,' Ho says. QA managers also advise on and implement changes to a company's quality system and train staff. For quality roles in the F&B industry, recruits typically have bachelor's degrees in chemistry, engineering or food science. Some may have an understanding of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system, and food safety and environmental science. Helpful traits and skills A quality assurance manager, who is analytical, will be able to efficiently pore over reams of internal performance metrics to determine where continuous improvements can be made. They also need to troubleshoot problems in the manufacturing process and suggest ways to fix them quickly. Team building skills are helpful because quality assurance managers are instrumental in bringing together staff from different departments to plan and agree on quality procedures. They are also called on to persuade employees, who are resistant to change, to adopt new methods that produce the best results. Background as an analyst is helpful Most quality assurance personnel begin their careers as QA analysts. They then progress to senior analysts, and in two to five years' time to a manager. According to recruitment firm Michael Page, a QA analyst is paid between HK$18,000 and HK30,000 a month, while a QA manager's salary ranges from HK$30,000 to HK$60,000. Allan Abrea, San Miguel's brewing and QA consultant, says some QA professionals have backgrounds in quality systems, such as standards established by the International Organisation for Standardisation, and skills in statistical applications. From there, they progress to more senior roles such as plant manager.