The big picture
By Steve Pflantz
Workforce development is a hot topic among the ranks of ISA and the Automation Federation (AF) these days, as well as with a host of other organizations and agencies around the world. Recent articles have covered specific components of workforce development, so I felt maybe it was time to pull back and take a quick overall view of what is going on collectively within ISA and AF and present the big picture.
Starting on the Kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) front, we are engaging in the support of the overall Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) initiative. As working professionals, this makes sense, as it equates to long-term recruiting of future professionals to feed our starving profession. From a physics perspective, the sooner you establish the course, the easier and more efficient the journey. Affecting a student’s chosen path prior to high school is critical so they take the prerequisite STEM classes needed to prepare for engineering studies. The critical range of students to reach is likely in grades 6–8. I have worked with kids in this age range: They are sharp, they understand the importance of a career, they know what a good income is, and once they see the carrot dangling in front of them, they are not afraid of a few years of hard work. The end result: More students in the pipeline to becoming technical professionals. The National Career Development Association, one of the latest member organizations of AF, represents career and guidance counselors around the world. The 5,000 members of this organization provide the pathway to present to students throughout their education years the importance of what STEM means to their futures and give them insight into career paths in the automation profession.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an exciting organization energizing young people all over the world to find out what STEM means through robots. AF, along with ISA, developed an alliance with FIRST to help deliver the message about FIRST and add our voice about automation. Building and competing with robots is a fun and effective way to ignite the interest and passion for pursuit of technology among the K–12 crowd. Over 250,000 students are having fun experiencing technology, learning to embrace technical challenge rather than shy away, as well as learning interpersonal skills needed when they reach the working world. AF members are stepping up to the plate as volunteer mentors, technical advisors, trainers, and so on. Growing this effort is building our foundation for the future.
ISA’s cool jobs program is still active and working to show students in junior high and high school that automation careers are fun and achievable—more so than what typical society presents as cool and viable career paths. Automating amusement park attractions or high-tech factories using the latest technology are but two examples of opportunities they are exposed to.
With AF’s work the U.S. Department of Education at state and federal levels, we are helping build technical education programs and curriculums that promote and teach technical skill sets. These efforts cover the range from automation focused curriculums in high schools to developing ABET accredited automation engineering curriculums. Do not forget the long running support from ISA for post secondary technical education programs.
Programs are in place to pick up the students once they leave the academic world and enter the working world. Things are quite different there compared to the world they lived in the last 12 to 16 years. While they have already made a definitive choice for a profession, there are still many opportunities and choices to make. Some guidance in navigating the many options is crucial, and it is the basis for the ISA Mentoring program and YAPFEST.
The ISA Mentor program allows young professionals (and everyone else) to seek out a technical professional in a specific industry sector and/or technical expertise areas to be their mentor. YAPFEST is an annual ISA Automation Week event to gather Young Automation Professionals (YAP) (age 30 and under) together with seasoned professionals for networking and mentoring. ISA Sections have been reaching out to post-secondary students and new professionals to attend local section activities for many years and continue to do so. Face-to-face mentoring and networking opportunities are abundant.
For an active professional in the automation field, it takes little time to realize continual learning is crucial until retirement at age 65+. Technology changes in the timeframe of months, so one cannot even think about taking a break from learning. The “continuing” in continuing education soon jumps out as the more significant word of the pair. And the tests thought to be left behind in school rear their ugly head again. Not only do you have to continue learning, but you need to prove you learned and can put it to practice.
A core competency of ISA has always been education and training for the practicing professional. Training materials and classes for nearly every level of skill and technical subjects are available. As technology evolves or is developed, new training follows along via books, seminars, conferences, training classes, and online learning, to name a few.
In the “prove you know it” category, ISA is the provider of content for the Control System Engineer (CSE) Professional Engineer license. ANSI-approved certification programs for Control System Technicians (CCST) and Certified Automation Professional (CAP) are also in the offering for those who need a technical credential. The Safety Instrument System certificate program is recognized by OSHA, and development of more certificate programs is in the works.
From time to time, groups of workers are displaced and need to seek out a new profession. AF is working with the Veterans Administration to develop training and mentoring programs for all veterans leaving military service. Leveraging ISA training and mentoring programs, the hope is to facilitate bringing veterans into the automation profession. The program, as developed, will lend well to being put in place for nearly any other group of displaced workforce, anywhere in the world.
The catalyst that truly brought all these pieces together, and also serves as a foundation for all workforce development activities, is the Automation Competency Model developed by AF in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) a little over three years ago. Efforts by the then new AF brought AF to the DOL as they were beginning the important initiative to reach out to industry professionals for joint development of competency models. These competency models were to outline the education and skills needed for workers in all areas of the manufacturing sector in the U.S. The goal was to have professional organizations and professionals define what education and skills are needed, document that information, and make it available to students and educators at all levels as a guide for training programs and education curriculum. Based on outlines of the CCST and CAP program, it is no surprise it hit the mark to now clearly define the automation profession.
Any engineer or technical person will tell you if you can define it, then it can be built. Definition provides clarity, and so the puzzle came together in what is now a comprehensive and growing program within ISA and AF. The Competency Model helped us realize and articulate the grand plan, which attracted a phenomenal number of agencies and organizations to the workforce development cause. Synergies among this collection of programs and activities range from professionals inspiring kids by showing they care, to the energy and enthusiasm of those student re-vitalizing seasoned professionals.
There are many more aspects and programs related to workforce development that were not mentioned, but I think you now get the picture that workforce development is solidly in place for the K–65+ crowd.
For more information, go to: www.isa.org and www.automationfederation.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Pflantz, P.E. is an associate at CRB Consulting Engineers, Inc. and a technical lead for the company’s Automation & Electrical Engineering and design staff. He is the vice president-elect for ISA’s Professional Development Department, and chair of the Automation Federation Membership Committee.