• By Jim Keaveney
  • April 30, 2016
  • The Final Say

By Jim Keaveney

Manufacturing still conjures up for many a negative image of hot\, dirty, and dangerous places that pollute our environment and deplete our resources. Reports of a plant explosion, emission, or accident can sometimes diminish the many ways that automation and process control has improved all of our lives.

Automation professionals make our world better in many ways, but sometimes our contributions are taken for granted until something goes wrong. Communication skills may not be our strong suit, but we all have an opportunity and obligation to share our experiences as well as our enthusiasm for our profession. Our stories need to be shared with management, peers, and family.

According to CareerBliss, we really like our jobs. Automation engineer ranked fourth on the 2015 happiest jobs in America list. The public needs to know that we do make a difference, and automation is a "cool" profession!

We need to do a better job of capturing the true life-cycle value of automation projects. Often we spend all our efforts justifying and implementing a project and not enough time capturing the value on the back end. If we fail to quantify the full benefits, we have lost a great opportunity to educate and remind our company leadership about the true value of automation investments. The alternative is being viewed simply as a cost center. Management needs to understand and appreciate how technology is applied to improve the bottom line through greater efficiency, asset optimization, and safety.

We need to proactively attract and mentor the next generation of automation professionals, because companies will be losing a vast knowledge base of critical subject-matter experts over the next five to 10 years. Millennials and Generation Zers are technically gifted, connected, and want to make a positive difference. We need to guide them and become evangelists for the profession within our companies by showing how we make a difference and validating that automation offers a great, challenging career path.

We also need to make this personal by supporting programs like FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and Future City competitions by attending events or serving as a mentor for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) school program. Also, check out the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges for Engineering (www.engineeringchallenges.org) that has identified 14 goals to help people around the world to thrive. The next Global Grand Challenge Summit will be held in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

Celebrate innovators like Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls who Code, and Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox. And let's not forget The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, who produced and starred in the television special i.am FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll� to get young people excited about STEM education and careers.

The Automation Federation and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) developed the Automation Competency Model in 2009. The model established nine tiers that define the profession and identify knowledge and skills to improve job performance. This is a framework for schools and universities to develop course work to prepare students for careers as automation professionals. Take a few minutes to learn more about the Automation Competency Model.

The American Association of Engineering Societies has leveraged that effort and recently worked with the DOL to develop an Engineering Competency Model outlining core competencies for advancement and success in the engineering profession. We all need to educate our governments about the need for STEM and manufacturing funding and focus. It truly is a competitive advantage and improves the quality of all our lives.

I would be remiss if I did not plug joining and getting involved in professional associations like ISA. The training and networking opportunities make you a better automation professional and a more valuable resource for your company and clients. Associations like ISA also provide an opportunity for you to give back to the profession and make a positive impact.

Working as an automation professional and helping to lead a great association like ISA must make me pretty cool-at least for 2016. Of course, my wife knows better and is not buying the logic, but that is not going to stop me from sharing my personal story and pride for our profession.

So-what's your story?

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About The Authors

Jim Keaveney is 2016 ISA president and northeast Atlantic regional manager and strategic account director at Emerson Process Management. He has been an active ISA member for more than 30 years, served in numerous leadership positions, and received numerous ISA honors. Keaveney earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Temple University and a master’s degree in business administration from Penn State University.