How to Explain Your Quality Job to Young Kids in 4 Steps

First-graders learn the concept of quality 
through a paper airplane building exercise.

When it was time to celebrate Career Day at my daughter’s school, she begged me to come talk to her first-grade class. I dreaded it. How do you explain to 6- and 7-year-olds what a quality manager does?

In my eight years in the quality field, I’ve hosted over 200 client audits and faced some of the strictest auditors. I’ve spearheaded six ISO audits, the most recent of which was held last November, when
MasterControl became one of the first companies in the world to successfully complete an audit under the new ISO 9001:2015 standard.

Yet, the idea of talking about quality to elementary-school kids intimidated me. If you’re a fellow quality professional facing the same situation, here’s how I overcame my fear and completed the formidable task successfully.

Explain Quality in 4 Easy Steps

“Show and tell” is an effective method of presentation for young kids, so I prepared a printed handout to accompany my “speech.” When you make your presentation, be sure to include lots of photos and graphics.

Step #1:
Introduce yourself and your company in the most basic way.
I work for a quality and compliance software provider that caters to life science and other regulated companies. To simplify the concept of quality and compliance, I told the class that MasterControl makes software for medical manufacturers and that making our software correctly helps keep patients safe.

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Step #2: Describe what you do in terms that kids can relate to.

While the idea of audits is beyond the grasp of first-graders, they can relate to trips. I told the class that part of my job is to travel to England, Japan, and various parts of the United States to make sure our software is made correctly. I illustrated the three countries using their flags.

Step #3: Choose a simple craft that will demonstrate the importance of quality and show the kids how to make it.
I made paper airplanes with the class. I prepared a set of instructions and told the kids to follow them correctly so their airplanes will deliver medicines to the people. If they don’t make their planes correctly, the medicines will not be delivered! Showing them how to make a paper airplane is the equivalent of training in the world of quality. Below are the instructions both written and visual.

How to Make a Paper Airplane:

Refer to this diagram:
  • Lay the paper on a flat surface with the lines facing down
  • Don’t have the lines facing up at you
  • Bend the top right corner of the paper until you can see line #1
  • Fold line #1 towards you
  • Bend the top left corner of the paper until you can see line #2
  • Fold line #2 towards you
  • Bend the right side of the paper until you can see line #3
  • Fold line #3 towards you
  • Bend the left side of the paper until you can see line #4
  • Fold line #4 towards you
  • Bend the left or right side of the paper towards the middle until you can see line #5
  • Fold line #5 down the middle
  • Now the red lines are facing you
  • Bend the top of the paper down on line #6
  • Turn the airplane over
  • Bend the top of the paper down on line #7
  • Now unfold lines #6 and #7 so that the airplane lies flat on its side with line #8 facing you
  • Bend the paper on line #8 away from you
  • Turn the airplane over
  • Bend the paper on line #9 away from you
  • Now refold lines #6 and #7 
Step #4: Look at each kid’s project as a way to explain the concept of inspection.

I asked the class, “Does your airplane look like the picture I showed you?” Then I told them we will have a quality inspection of their projects. So they looked at each other’s “product” to make sure it was done correctly and then I also looked at their airplanes for confirmation.

Next time a child in your life asks you to speak to her or his class about what you do for a living, have no fear! It’s entirely possible to explain your complex quality job in four easy steps and at the same time have fun with the kids.

Lillian Erickson is MasterControl’s global quality manager for the U.S., U.K., and Japan. She spearheads the company’s quality-related efforts, including its ISO 9001:2015 certification audit. She has worked in the field of quality for the past eight years, starting in document management and then specializing in quality compliance. During that time, she has hosted over 200 client audits, led six ISO audits, and participated in over 10 FDA, EMEA, and other regulatory entity audits. She is passionate about making quality an accelerator of business rather than a bottleneck. 

Erickson received a master of professional communications degree from Westminster College with an emphasis in technical writing and rhetorical analysis. She also obtained her ASQ-CQE while in graduate school.