Who owns your career?

By Dean Ford, CAP

Because previous columns have focused on the intricacies of developing the workforce of the future, I want to take a slightly different twist on this important topic. From primary education through graduate learning, workforce development is vital to our growth as a profession. ISA has formed a partnership with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and the Automation Federation has developed the Automation Competency Model and is working with various learning institutions to develop automation-specific curriculum. With all of this work going on, what are we, the professionals who currently make up the automation workforce, doing to enhance our careers and support our own profession?

What is your career path?

Over the years, I have seen that an overwhelming majority of automation professionals do not have a solid, actionable career plan. I cannot explain why this is the case, but it seems to be the reality. How many of us have determined what we want from our careers? What do we want to be in five, 10, 15 years? The norm is the passive path, where we put our careers in the hands of others. As we gain more seniority in a company, often we are expected to take on more responsibility or we are placed in a position where our expertise and passion are misplaced. For instance, a great senior technical person may be placed into a project management role in which he or she will likely struggle to be successful and will feel out of place.

Automation professionals can find themselves in a variety of roles, such as technicians, engineers, managers, sales, service, field techs, commissioning specialists, technical gurus, and process experts. We can work for end users, systems integrators, vendors, engineering firms, ourselves, and many other employers. The possibilities are endless. With all these options, how do you differentiate yourself from others? How do you demonstrate your mastery of automation?

You have to be an expert at something

To succeed, you have to be an expert at something and be able to demonstrate that expertise to others. It is difficult to be an expert in the total field of automation, because the body of knowledge is so expansive. One of the best ways to demonstrate your mastery of the profession is that of certification. ISA has set the standard for certification programs in the automation profession. The Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST) and Certified Automation Professional (CAP) are designed specifically for this. CAP is a globally recognized certification demonstrating that the holder has a working knowledge of the automation profession and can be trusted to perform the duties required in automation.

Another avenue for U.S.-based automation professionals is the Control Systems Engineer (CSE) Professional Engineer’s license. Licensure, although not officially globally recognized, is still a strong differentiator for automation professionals. In addition, the CSE allows engineers to seal designs in the states they are licensed. The CCST and CAP are unique in that they are globally recognized. The CSE is only a state-by-state recognition in the U.S. if you want to use it in its official capacity.

None of these programs should be taken lightly. They come with obligations to perform your job ethically and professionally. The exams are tough and rightly so. To obtain the certification, it takes preparation and a lifelong commitment from you. There are ongoing requirements to keep your certification active and relevant. Once you obtain the certification, you too are held to the higher standard that the certification demands.

These certifications are administered by third parties and designed with very strict standards. They can be used by you to demonstrate to your employer and clients that you are an expert in your profession. It is important to note that by obtaining these certifications, you are committing yourself to upholding the high standards of the profession and to performing your job accordingly. Your peers, employers, and clients know they can trust you to do the right thing.

Take charge!

You own your career. Do not put it in the hands of your employer or manager. Get involved in your profession. Differentiate yourself from others by obtaining recognition through certification, licensure, or both. When you take active ownership of your career, you will see a marked improvement in your job satisfaction. Do your research and make sure the path you choose is the one you want. Be prepared to make the necessary changes to reach your goals.

I look forward to welcoming you to the group of certified professionals who have taken charge of their careers.

Reference: Trevathan, Vernon L., A Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge, Second Edition, ISA, 2006.

About the Author

Dean Ford, CAP, serves the professionals of Westin Engineering, Inc., as VP North American Engineering. In this role, he keeps our electrical, water and wastewater infrastructure safe, secure, and reliable—protecting both the public and the environment.

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