Start with taste of automation
As Bridget Fitzpatrick said in her June InTech article, “Tribal knowledge must go real time” (www.isa.org/link/FS_0609), the industry needs to “take back the future of manufacturing, and reaffirm it as an American tradition.” Fitzpatrick was referring to the loss of tribal knowledge with retiring Baby Boomers in the manufacturing world, and the forever-more lost “good old days” when “engineers knew every loop by name and field location. Upsets were common. People gained muscle memory of how to respond to upsets,” she said.
Yet although we know the profession is losing people, we are hearing even more dire news—students are not that interested in forging the field of engineering and automation. But while today’s engineers and students of technology might be engineering us out of muscle memory, perhaps there is a light at the end of the dark and dismal automation tunnel. Some students are still pursuing their computer technology skills, yet still peering around the automation corner to find out more of how they can meld the two.
As a junior working on a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology at Indiana State, University, Amanda Cockrell knew she did not want to sit behind a desk all day. She started out in school studying to be an electrician. She soon found the physical rigors and hours were not suited to her, especially as a young mother. She did not give up there though. After taking several information technology (IT) classes that went along with being an electrician, she decided that was for her.
“I looked more into IT and heard about the future of technology and where it’s going, and I developed an even greater interest,” she said. “They’re cutting back jobs in a lot of areas, but technology is booming, and they’re spending millions of dollars in technology.”
IT teams with automation
Cockrell actually attended one of the last ISA leaders meetings to find out just what IT has to do with automation. “I don’t really know the depth of it yet, but from what I’ve been told, it’s great for networking because the two go hand in hand. A lot of automators are looking for people in IT to assist with their needs,” she said.
Although she is not yet sure how she could specifically use her IT skills down the road in the automation field, she is still looking into what ISA and automation are all about. “I don’t fully know; the technology field is so broad. But right now I’m looking into networking within ISU, there are so many different possibilities out there,” she said.
Intrigued, Cockrell set about doing her own research on the difference between automation and technology. “To me, they seem like one in the same, but with automation being more engineering,” she said.
Of course, money is still a deciding factor in a career choice, and Cockrell is no exception. “Any college student ultimately is looking for a job making the highest income possible,” she said. But as far as automation is concerned, “it’s more of a worldwide thing, and that has always interested me—what other countries are doing.”
With her IT degree, Cockrell would like to start out with networking, “working with servers and wireless Internet right now. I don’t think any business runs without technology. There isn’t a corporation or business that can go without technology,” she said. “If there’s a larger business, there are servers and networking. I’ve learned a lot in networking, we can’t afford to shutdown, but we always have a backup, and we’re always preparing for that in case it does happen—to be able to fix it as quickly as possible. If you’re working with computers, you always have virtual networks. You can’t afford to be down long without having some kind of backup plan.”
Even though Cockrell is still investigating, she has not closed the door on automation. “There are really no limits on where technology, and from what I’ve seen, automation are going,” she said. “Nobody could have dreamed it would be where it is right now in the last 20 years. I can only imagine what it will be 20 years from now. It’s a field that is always growing and a great place to be.”
One way curious students can find out more about how their skills and education could play a big role in boosting the automation field is attend YAPFEST at ISA EXPO, 6-8 October 2009 in Houston. YAPFEST is an annual professional networking event for students and young automation professionals or those interested in entering the field of automation. For more information, visit www.isa.org/yapfest or find out what other students and young professionals are saying about the event on Facebook at www.isa.org/yapgroup.
Ellen Fussell Policastro (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes and edits Workforce Development.