Tips and Strategies for Managers | executive corner
Preparing for an automation renaissance
By Paul J. Galeski
It is an exciting time in the U.S. automation field. Capital is becoming more readily available. Demand for custom-manufactured products is surging. Our land, energy, and telecommunication costs are lower than in most other advanced countries. Our business infrastructure and intellectual property rights are more developed. And we are one of the world’s lowest-cost producers of raw materials – including oil and gas.
We are teetering on the brink of a real manufacturing renaissance, which will be driven in large part by industrial automation. Automation initiatives often have the largest return on investment and can most quickly impact the bottom line. The opportunities are abundant – but only if we can find the manpower to build business cases, develop and design solutions, and implement projects on budget and on time.
Unfortunately, the shortage of skilled automation professionals is putting a serious constraint on success. But why is there a shortage? First, the automation workforce is retiring and not being replaced quickly enough. In fact, 40 percent of today’s automation professionals are expected to retire in the next five years. Second, there are very few formal education programs for students to receive the training they would need to pursue careers in automation. And third, many aspiring engineers perceive the field of automation as less desirable than other seemingly more glamorous vocations, such as software development or medical technology.
It is going to take some time to overcome the factors limiting growth in the automation field, but the future of manufacturing depends on it. And it is up to us as leaders in automation to bring new blood into the workforce. I urge you to consider some of the following ways to do it.
Encourage young people’s interest in automation
If we do not offer ourselves as role models for the next generation, they will have no one to follow. Go talk to the kids at your local high school or junior high. Host meet-and-greets to tell everyone what automation is and how it is advancing deeply into enterprise connectivity, cybersecurity, and rich ergonomic interface display. Get them thinking about possible careers in automation. Automation is a rewarding and exciting field. Let’s get the word out. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Recruit new blood
Now is the time to focus on recruiting – even more than we have in the past. We should not limit ourselves to traditional recruiting methods. I urge everyone to seek out new opportunities. Let’s fish in some new lakes. For example, people with experience in the U.S. Nuclear Navy are particularly well-suited for careers in automation because they have exceptional knowledge of process, instrumentation, control, and procedures.
Retain the automation professionals you have
The average automation career tops off quickly. A new hire might start as an Engineer I, become a senior engineer, and eventually manage other engineers. But climbing this ladder usually does not take very long, which leads automation professionals to begin looking outside the field for more opportunities. To keep high-level talent in automation positions, we need to create ways for these workers to continue growing and developing in the automation field.
Start by defining paths for career advancement, offering two clear career paths: a technical path and a managerial path. Then consider providing education opportunities – encourage your employees to enroll in training programs through ISA and other organizations, and think about developing your own education programs. Finally, offer rewards and recognition – you know the impact automation can have, but not everyone does. Publicly recognize the employees who have improved efficiency on the line, increased quality, or delivered a system that makes operations safer. They will be glad they work for you and, most importantly, they will be glad to be automation professionals.
As industry leaders, we hold the key to the future of automation. We hold the key to workforce development. We hold the key to the ultimate success of manufacturing. No one else is going to develop our field if we do not. The buck stops here. We need to start early, telling our youth about careers in automation. From there, we need to recruit young talent right out of college. And once we have skilled professionals on our teams, we need to keep them by challenging and rewarding them. These are the people who will drive innovation – not just for us, but for our entire nation. The opportunities are all around us. It is time to seize them before it’s too late.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul J. Galeski (firstname.lastname@example.org), the CEO and founder of MAVERICK Technologies, specializes in high-level operational consulting, as well as the development of automation strategy and implementation for automation technology. He is a contributing author to Aspatore Books’ Inside the Minds, a series of publications that examine C-level business intelligence, and currently serves as ISA Automation Week 2013 program chair.