Understand the Full Process: Tips for Automation Career Success

  • By Bill Lydon
  • Workforce Development

Every year, I embrace the opportunity to attend the Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) meetings as the only outside observer. PAR meetings highlight one of the most knowledgeable groups of automation professionals gathered in one place, at any one time, to discuss automation issues. The 2019 PAR meeting, held pre-pandemic in October 2019 at a Novo Nordisk facility, revolved around the results of the group’s most recent survey. 

Survey respondents were asked questions related to the digital plant maturity model, automation challenges and solutions, and more. A significant portion of the survey also focused on workforce development issues, and the results are useful to both career individuals and managers of automation professionals.

First, some survey respondent demographics: Approximately 100 automation professionals from 19 pharmaceutical companies completed the survey. About 60 percent of respondents were from North America; 30 percent from Europe; 8 percent from Asia; and 2 percent from South America. Fifty-three percent were between the ages of 35 and 50; 30 percent were older than 50; and about 17 percent were younger than 35.

Respondents were asked to rank the skills necessary for a successful career in automation, from most to least important. Averaging the responses produced this ranking: 

  1. Understanding the equipment and the processes
  2. Strong communications skills
  3. Understanding software development and programming
  4. Creative thinking and detail orientation
  5. Equipment troubleshooting skills
  6. Ability to perform complex system tests.

At the meeting, members discussed these and other results. Comments indicated how important it is for automation engineers to understand the full process, get on-the-job training when they are new to the field, and understand the content and applications regardless of what new tools and technology are available. One PAR member commented, “Developing troubleshooting skills poses a real learning challenge. We see automation engineers going through troubleshooting to learn from problems.”

Survey respondents were asked what type of college technical courses and content they would like to see student engineers learn, in addition to automation fundamentals. The following are respondents’ top picks, from most to least desired:

  1. Software development techniques
  2. Networking technologies
  3. Cybersecurity
  4. Advanced analytics
  5. Robotics.

Survey respondents ranked the importance of specific training and development activities. Twenty-nine percent of respondents indicated that involvement in automation projects is the most important training and development activity. Sixteen percent of respondents said peer interactions on the job are most important. Notably, 20 percent of respondents who were younger than 35 said that formal training (outside of school, not vendor) is most important, while only 7 percent of those between the ages of 35 and 50, and 2 percent of those older than 50 chose that answer.

These are the three professional development courses respondents thought were most important: (1) automation, instrumentation, and traditional control technical content; (2) quality, qualification, and computer system validation; and (3) leadership. Many comments from survey respondents indicated people do not have spare time for personal training and development.


Read more about other parts of the PAR survey at https://www.automation.com/en-US/Articles/March-2020/2019-PAR-Insights-Automation-Workforce-Development.

About PAR

The Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable was founded more than 20 years ago by Dave Adler and John Krenzke, both from Eli Lilly and Company. At the time, its purpose was to provide a means of benchmarking and sharing best practices for automation groups among peer pharmaceutical companies. Lead automation engineers from around the world attended this user-only, two-day event. The participating companies in the 2019 PAR included Abbvie, Amgen, Baxalta, Biogen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim, ImClone Systems, Lilly, Merck, NNE Pharmaplan, Novo Nordisk, Perrigo, Pfizer, and Sanofi Pasteur.

Reader Feedback

We want to hear from you! Please send us your comments and questions about this topic to InTechmagazine@isa.org.

Like This Article?

Subscribe Now!

About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on Automation.com